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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
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Last edit by: sonyeoshin
Best seat advice
See update in post 500
See update in post 690


Best seat on the Island Hopper .. {closed to new posts}

An Island Hopper [Micronesia] Definitive Guide on Where to Sit [UA B737] {this thread}

FAQs derived from findark's post (post #500)
What is the Island Hopper?

The Island Hopper is a United route between Honolulu and Guam, stopping at the islands of Majuro, Kwajaelin, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk in between. The Island Hopper operates in both directions, and skips Pohnpei on certain days. You are allowed to get off the plane and "transit" at each stop except for Kwajaelin, which is a US Army base.

This route is similar to Alaska Airlines' "milk run" routes in rural Alaska. All of these routes serve as lifelines for the residents living in areas served by the routes, as the sole connection providing supplies and transportation to/from the rest of the world.

What is the Island Hopper schedule (as of 2024)?
UA154 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM.
UA155 (the full Hopper) departs Mon/Fri and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWA-MAJ-HNL.
UA132 departs Sun/Wed and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA).
UA133 departs Sun/Wed and flies GUM-TKK-PNI-KWA-MAJ-HNL (skips KSA).

UA193 (GUM-ROR-MNL) departs GUM on the evenings of Tue/Fri and flies GUM-ROR-MNL.

The Hopper arrives around 1800+1, so in order to do the entire flight without a stopover you would need to depart HNL on UA154 on Monday morning.


Should I experience the Hopper?

If you like hopping through short segments, with beautiful island views, as well as a constant parade of amazing cloudscape between islands, the Island Hopper may be for you!

Which direction (west or east) is better?

The prevailing wisdom here seems to be in favor of taking UA154 (HNL-GUM). findark did 155 from GUM to HNL, and I think there were some overlooked benefits. The eastbound Hopper has the advantage of doing all the fun stuff in the morning and afternoon when you're fresh and eager to enjoy. 14 hours onboard a 737 is a long time*, and doing it eastbound you can give in to the exhaustion and conk out for the final MAJ-HNL segment. Even the HNL arrival was actually not too bad - it's only 10:50pm Guam time, so if you head on to a hotel you're pretty much in line for a night's sleep.

The most notable downside of taking the Hopper eastbound is that you visit MAJ in darkness. We ran about 25m late the whole way, and it was full dark by the time we touched down in MAJ. Whichever way you go, don't do it on a Wednesday! Kosrae was my favorite island, and it would be a shame to miss it.

*And, I learned, while the flight mechanic hops off in MAJ and the pilots get to work in shifts, the cabin crew are on duty for the whole 14 hours. They were understandably a bit burnt out by the middle of MAJ-HNL, but were simply outstanding nonetheless - greeting kids and handing out wings as they boarded in MAJ.


What's with the plane configuration?

The Hopper is currently flown by a GUM subfleet 737-800 (currently Version 4 on the United website - Row 1 is set back several inches which yields fewer E+ seats). The seatmap is loaded as the "Asia local" 737 map, which looks roughly like a 737-700. Like with other "generic" maps, it will update to the full seatmap about 4 days before departure, when the additional rows will appear.

1AB are blocked for the augmented flight crew, who change places with the pilots in the cockpit at MAJ. 2AB are also blocked because the crew rest seats at 1AB will recline until almost touching row 2, and it is usually used for crew storage.

Where should I sit?

The key here is understanding approach and wind patterns, along with each airport's runway configuration. The following stops and runways are on the north side of their respective islands:

TKK (4/22), PNI (9/27), KSA (5/23)

The following stops have runways on the south side of their atolls:

KWA (6/24), MAJ (7/25)

The prevailing winds at this latitude blow from the east, so a typical landing goes from west to east (into the wind). Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ. If you are flying westbound, or you land backwards at any stop on the eastbound flight, then the flight may need to position into the approach, usually by overflying the island at higher altitude out to sea. In this case, both sides of the aircraft will get views, although the closer views belong to the "correct" side. In my case, we landed "backwards" on 22 at TKK, and used the regular 9, 5, 6, and 7 at the other stops.

You should absolutely have a window seat - why else are you here?! The best seats are therefore any window in the Business cabin (note that 1A and 2A are blocked), 7AF and 8AF in Economy Plus (10AF has a misaligned window but is okay, the missing window will kill you in 11 and then the wing really starts intruding), and anything nice and far behind the wing in Economy. In this vein, I declined an upgrade on GUM-TKK since only 2E was left, and we flew in 4A/7F, 2F/4A, 2F/3F, 3A/4A, 3A/4A, 2F/7F.


What can I do at the stops?

The best thing to do is get off the plane! You can take tarmac photos and get amazing close-ups of the plane. You will then be shepherded into the gate area, where there are restrooms (some lacking soap and/or towels) and often locals selling souvenirs and snacks. On our trip, the most substantial souvenirs were available at MAJ. If the flight is running late they will make an announcement requesting transfer pax to stay on the plane; however, as obviously savvy travelers who were along for the whole ride and could get on/off quickly with no bags to stow, we got absolutely no pushback from the purser whenever we went outside anyway.

If you do disembark, you are required to take all carry-on baggage with you. They conduct a security sweep onboard the aircraft and will remove unclaimed bags. As is mentioned many times in this thread, KWA is the exception - as it's a US Army base you cannot get off unless ticketed to there. On our flight, we were requested not to take photographs but were allowed to look out the window. I didn't see anything terribly interesting.

You can also use WiFi in the terminal/transit area when you disembark and at some stops you can get your passport stamped. MAJ, PNI, and KSA have confirmed free WiFi. Passport stamps have been confirmed at PNI, KSA, TKK without "exiting" just ask security about getting a stamp at these 3 airports and they should be able to accommodate you.

Should I check my bags?

Yes. As annoying as it was to wait ~10 minutes for our bags in HNL, it was a lot less annoying than having to haul them around each stop, and find bin space again once on board.


What is the food situation?

Going east is a slightly different meal schedule than west. GUM-TKK and KSA-KWA are coded Snack, and MAJ-HNL is Dinner. The first and last meals are reasonably substantial in J (think like a Breakfast and Dinner code) and somewhat small in Y (somewhat less than a meal in int'l Y - was six pieces of fruit and a muffin in the morning, followed by a turkey sandwich for dinner). The middle snack was just a pass of the snack basket up front; neither of us sat in Y that segment but I would guess they just offered almonds. Additionally, every segment they were offering J pax some packaged almonds.

My general verdict is if going the distance in Y, pack some snacks or buy them at the stops along the way. If you're in J then there's enough food for 14 hours of sitting.


And how about IFE?

Look outside! That's actually about all the IFE there is. The GUM fleet has no WiFi and only DirecTV. Note that DirecTV does not work outside of CONUS, so really it just has the 8-10 looping movies of DirecTV (slightly different movie set for an Asian audience). The movie loop resets at each stop, so unless you want to watch the first 1h30 of a movie six times, there's not much use to the IFE. It is at least free in Y. I brought a book and read it for the middle 20 minutes of each segment and until I fell sleep on MAJ-HNL.


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

Empirically, yes! We were offered upgrades of 11/12 eligible segments; I declined a GUM-TKK upgrade to keep my window, and my companion's MAJ-HNL upgrade was eaten by UA IT (agent in MAJ apologized profusely but understandably wasn't going to remove the already-handed-out upgrades to the next 2 pax on the list).

In order to have any shot, however, you need to be able to split the direct flight into six segments. This generally cannot be done on a mileage ticket or a paid through fare, and would need to be done via multi-city ticketing if visiting an island. In my case, I spent a very long time getting an extremely wonderful pmCO agent who was able to hack my ticket together with 9 connections on the way home. As this is also the only way to choose different views for the different approach directions, I recommend asking for this rather than for upgrades. It causes quite the headache for UA systems, but in the end I felt like it was a huge benefit to fly pretty much all of it in J. Absolutely something I credit to the value of being 1K: I was able to ring the 1K desk many times to get agents to deal with the various hiccups that came along with a PNR that had eight tickets and at one point 36 segments attached to it.

The first five Hopper segments (going east) are CPU eligible; MAJ/HNL requires a GPU. We had GPUs on our reservation and did a mixture of advance clearing and clearing at the gates in the islands (where amazingly enough they had the new J BPs waiting!).


Where to stay and what to do in GUM and HNL?

I think this depends on lot on which way you're going. Flying east, we arrived in GUM around 11pm (maximizing time in Tokyo, but not crazy enough for the 2am arrival), and spent the night at the Days Inn Tamuning. It was at the very bottom of my quality standards, but quite affordable and with 9h45 of total ground time all in the dark I did not want to pay double for a beachfront property I would never enjoy.

In HNL, I took up the excellent recommendation in this thread of the Best Western Plaza Honolulu. It was the cheapest of the few airport hotels in HNL. Having cleared customs by 3:45 (we arrived late), it was off to bed quickly. The arrival is only ~11pm Guam time, so I highly recommend going straight to a bed on arrival in HNL. Afterwards, we took advantage of the 24h connect rule to spend the whole day in HNL before continuing on home to SFO. We were pretty exhausted after another redeye home, but the beach time in Hawaii was well worth it, especially after being taunted by all the beautiful mid-Pacific islands.

Big Metal Bird Episode 8: Island Hopper - 2018
Originally Posted by COEWR2587
They just did a video in the Micronesia island hopper flight which is pretty interesting
https://youtu.be/TPueM5OF1Wc
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UA's Micronesia Island Hopper - consolidated questions, advice, ....

Old Sep 13, 2018, 7:18 pm
  #721  
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I can comment on the stamps. I basically went in just saying "hi, would you mind stamping my passport - not immigrating but really want one from each stop" or something like that. I did not use the word "souvenir" after MAJ where they told me they don't do souvenirs (so I just hung around the secret door until they acquiesced and stamped my passport so I would go away, lol).

Be polite, friendly, but insistent. They'll do it, they're definitely used to it at this point I'd think. Beg if you have to - what's a little bit of begging after that many hours on the plane? :P
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Old Sep 13, 2018, 10:40 pm
  #722  
 
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Originally Posted by Redwood839
Hi All,

I'm about a month away from my Island Hopper experience eastbound on UA155. Couple of questions:

1) I'm currently in 8F with my wife. I think eastbound we're on the wrong side but there's confusing info, would it be better to move over to A/B?

2) I currently arrive into GUM at 150AM from NRT and depart on UA155 at 820AM. I don't think it's worth the hotel for a couple of hours. Is there a suitable place to lie down/sleep at the airport? Would like to be rested for the long flight ahead.

3) In terms of getting the stamps, is it matter of just going to an immigration kiosk and asking for a "souvenir" stamp and turning around and going back to the gate area? From what I read MAJ is the hardest to get one at.

Thanks!
As for #1 , a flight attendant told me that there is really no best side because the approach and landing directions change quite a bit. On my flight, sitting on the left was definitely better in most cases but not to the point where I really cared, cause we flew over and around on almost every approach..

#2 : GUM is a pretty small airport without much comfort. I'd consider finding a nearby crash pad or just staying up. It's not like Vienna where you can hunt for a great spot and eventually find it.

#3 : I think you are overestimating the size of the airports It's really just an arrivals 'room' and a departure 'room' at those tiny airports. In Majuro, the immigrations guy is in a little room that is between the two, with windows on both sides. You just open the door where people are supposed to come out when they just got stamped on departure - it's behind the little snack bar. If they are stamping people in (because a lot of people get off in Majuro) then wait patiently for them to finish. Expect some rude looks and just nicely ask 'can I please get a passport stamp?' - they know why you are there are why you are standing on the wrong side. No explanation is needed.

Have fun!

Also, I really agree with those who recommend you chat with the locals. Try to do this! Very interesting conversations and they all seem to have a ton of food which they are happy to share. Nice fruit and banana chips.

I sat next to a guy from Majuro to Kosrae and expect for the fact that he was constantly releasing truly awful farts for 3 hours, he was very cool and I learned all kind of things!

Last edited by WineCountryUA; Sep 13, 2018 at 11:41 pm Reason: merging consecutive posts by same member
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Old Sep 14, 2018, 4:16 am
  #723  
 
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Originally Posted by Redwood839
2) I currently arrive into GUM at 150AM from NRT and depart on UA155 at 820AM. I don't think it's worth the hotel for a couple of hours. Is there a suitable place to lie down/sleep at the airport? Would like to be rested for the long flight ahead.
If you have Priority Pass, the Sagan Bisita Lounge is open 0000-1000 and they have showers.
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Old Sep 15, 2018, 7:19 pm
  #724  
 
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Thank you all for your responses, I appreciate it. I might put my wife to ask for the stamps, harder to turn down lol. I'll see what I do about GUM. I'm on a open jaw from LAX-HKG, so I don't think I can change my departure flight without it increasing 10,000 USD. No priority pass either, so looks like sleeping on a bench it is.
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Old Sep 16, 2018, 2:23 am
  #725  
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Originally Posted by Redwood839
I'm on a open jaw from LAX-HKG, so I don't think I can change my departure flight without it increasing 10,000 USD. No priority pass either, so looks like sleeping on a bench it is.
If you are arriving NRT in time to catch an earlier NRT-GUM, you should be able to use SDC (same-day change) to take the flight for free (assuming Gold status and some amount of empty seats). If you don't get to NRT in time, changing is much more complicated depending on your full itinerary. I know I was wondering (non-seriously) if UA would just let me spend the night in a J seat on the 77G flying the route
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Old Sep 16, 2018, 6:29 pm
  #726  
 
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Originally Posted by Redwood839
Thank you all for your responses, I appreciate it. I might put my wife to ask for the stamps, harder to turn down lol. I'll see what I do about GUM. I'm on a open jaw from LAX-HKG, so I don't think I can change my departure flight without it increasing 10,000 USD. No priority pass either, so looks like sleeping on a bench it is.
I just sent you a PM! We may be on the same flight and if so I’d be happy to guest you and your wife into the lounge, where I’m already planning to spend the layover.
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Old Sep 17, 2018, 6:58 am
  #727  
 
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Originally Posted by MTan


I just sent you a PM! We may be on the same flight and if so I’d be happy to guest you and your wife into the lounge, where I’m already planning to spend the layover.
Just replied, thank you for your kind offer!
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Old Sep 23, 2018, 3:50 am
  #728  
 
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Originally Posted by findark

Where should I sit?

The key here is understanding approach and wind patterns, along with each airport's runway configuration. The following stops and runways are on the north side of their respective islands:

TKK (4/22), PNI (9/27), KSA (5/23)

The following stops have runways on the south side of their atolls:

KWA (6/24), MAJ (7/25)

The prevailing winds at this latitude blow from the east, so a typical landing goes from west to east (into the wind). Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ. If you are flying westbound, or you land backwards at any stop on the eastbound flight, then the flight may need to position into the approach, usually by overflying the island at higher altitude out to sea. In this case, both sides of the aircraft will get views, although the closer views belong to the "correct" side. In my case, we landed "backwards" on 22 at TKK, and used the regular 9, 5, 6, and 7 at the other stops.

You should absolutely have a window seat - why else are you here?! The best seats are therefore any window in the Business cabin (note that 1A and 2A are blocked), 7AF and 8AF in Economy Plus (10AF has a misaligned window but is okay, the missing window will kill you in 11 and then the wing really starts intruding), and anything nice and far behind the wing in Economy. In this vein, I declined an upgrade on GUM-TKK since only 2E was left, and we flew in 4A/7F, 2F/4A, 2F/3F, 3A/4A, 3A/4A, 2F/7F.
For those of us who are not very sophisticated, can you please state left or right side of aircraft for each segment: flying west, and then east?
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Old Sep 23, 2018, 4:51 am
  #729  
 
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Originally Posted by travelexpert
For those of us who are not very sophisticated, can you please state left or right side of aircraft for each segment: flying west, and then east?
Originally Posted by findark
Therefore, in order to have best views on final approach and initial takeoff, you want to be on the starboard (right, F) side for TKK, PNI, and KSA, and on the port (left, A) side for KWA and MAJ.
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Old Sep 27, 2018, 9:05 pm
  #730  
 
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I just saw that a Air Niugini 737 landing in TKK ended up in the water. Everyone is safe, but that must have been quite a ride. I'm sure all of us who have been on the island hopper remember TKK's short runway and how firmly the pilot put the plane down there!

Plane overshoots runway in Micronesia and lands in ocean - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
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Old Sep 27, 2018, 9:09 pm
  #731  
 
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Yea no room for error on that runway!
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Old Sep 27, 2018, 9:37 pm
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Due to the many short runways, the Island Hopper may have to reduce load if heavy rain is forecast, AND to carry fuel to a planned diversion.
Looks like Chuuk was in quite a bit of rain this Friday morning, September 28.
UA155 skipped TKK and flew directly to PNI, arriving early.
From FlightAware data, looks like 155 didn't try landing in TKK and was diverted early on, meaning it was due to airport closure after PX73 crashed.
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Old Sep 28, 2018, 3:08 am
  #733  
 
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Flown the hopper many times. Chuuk is prob the most ‘interesting’ approach. Not a big deal, but you have to be ready for the chop from hills on Weno the last 200 feet. When it doubt plant it and stop it. Sure beats the aquatic alternative. That said reports here seem to indicate they landed short of the runway.
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Old Sep 28, 2018, 8:41 am
  #734  
 
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The Guardian article on the TKK incident actually quotes a local who gives a shout out to United and its Island Hopper pilots.

“Air Niugini had only recently begun flying that route with the larger Boeing planes, Colson said.

“United is mostly the only airline that comes out here, and it’s been that way for years … There are flights every day but this has never happened before. Mainly because this route is considered one of United’s hardest routes for the 737, so they … send their best pilots out here for the island hopper.””

https://www.theguardian.com/australi...lands-in-ocean

As info, today (Friday 28SEP)’s UA155 diverted and flew nonstop GUM-PNI, bypassing TKK.
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Last edited by aoumd; Sep 28, 2018 at 9:00 am
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Old Sep 28, 2018, 7:28 pm
  #735  
 
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An earlier thread suggests one can change seats for specific segments within a single reservation.

I do not see a segment-by-segment seating opportunity online.

Called 1K desk to see if possible--answer was no.

Is gate agent the only option for choosing different seats within a single record locator?
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