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

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
FlyerTalk Forums Expert How-Tos and Guides
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 28, 2018, 7:34 pm
  #736  
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Originally Posted by travelexpert
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?
On my reservation, I was able to choose segment by segment ahead of time and at online checkin.
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Old Oct 1, 2018, 9:45 am
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Originally Posted by Pseudo Nim
On my reservation, I was able to choose segment by segment ahead of time and at online checkin.
Was your reservation booked as HNL-GUM (or GUM-HNL, depending on direction of travel), or was it booked with one of the islands along the way as a destination? For example, maybe booked HNL-MAJ-GUM, etc? I have a reservation coming up in January and my reservation only shows GUM-HNL, even though it's UA155. I would really like to be able to break up the flight into individual segments ahead of time (in order to select the side of the plane, as well as maybe have CPU availability).
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Old Oct 1, 2018, 10:10 am
  #738  
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Other than scattered reports of getting per-segment seat selection after check-in, you must split the segments in order to select seats on a segment-by-segment basis. This is extremely difficult (although possible) if originally booked as a direct flight, especially if that was because it's the only way your ticketed fare permits the Hopper.
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Old Oct 1, 2018, 4:17 pm
  #739  
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
Was your reservation booked as HNL-GUM (or GUM-HNL, depending on direction of travel), or was it booked with one of the islands along the way as a destination? For example, maybe booked HNL-MAJ-GUM, etc? I have a reservation coming up in January and my reservation only shows GUM-HNL, even though it's UA155. I would really like to be able to break up the flight into individual segments ahead of time (in order to select the side of the plane, as well as maybe have CPU availability).
Definitely HNL-GUM as part of a North America - Asia ticket. Was booked as a P fare, there were no special permissions or restrictions that I could attribute to the ability to pick individual seats...
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Old Oct 4, 2018, 9:53 am
  #740  
 
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Seat plan on Island Hopper

I have booked a MNL-ORD via GUM/TKK/PNI/KSA/KWA/MAJ/HNL in Y starting 14th Oct as one booking through United website (Yes long flight but have 14 hours in HNL)
The seat plan for GUM-HNL shows just one middle seat in row 18 or something. Surely this far out there should be more seat? I am Premier Platinum and obviously trying to grab 7A or 7F

So I used the Upgrade Cabin tab and said that I could upgrade (wait list) both MNL-GUM and GUM-HNL using the same regional upgrade coupon so I have done this. When will I know that if it clears? If this fails how do I snag 7A or 7F? I suspect if I wait until I get to GUM I will be out of luck.....Is my status going to help?

I was offered $500 upgrade HNL- ORD so just paid for that (appeared on credit card) but does not appear in booking.

Thanks

FlashKIwi
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Old Oct 4, 2018, 1:04 pm
  #741  
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Originally Posted by FlashKiwi
I have booked a MNL-ORD via GUM/TKK/PNI/KSA/KWA/MAJ/HNL in Y starting 14th Oct as one booking through United website (Yes long flight but have 14 hours in HNL)
The seat plan for GUM-HNL shows just one middle seat in row 18 or something. Surely this far out there should be more seat? I am Premier Platinum and obviously trying to grab 7A or 7F
I assume you are flying UA155 GUM-HNL on 15 October, as this fits your description of the seatmap. This is a direct flight, so you will only see seats which are available on all 6 segments. As of my writing this, there is one such seat: 21E. There's a little bit of dispute here but I believe it is not possible to choose individual seats until check-in without getting the segments split, which would be a very difficult task,

You're within 14 days of departure; it's not really "this far out" by any stretch of the imagination.


However, you will have one advantage. At approximately midnight US Central Time on the third night before departure (this is probably slightly over 72 hours prior), the frame assigned will firm up and the blocked rows 4, 14, 15, and 34-38 will become available. If you act quickly, you should be able to snipe any of those in Economy.

Originally Posted by FlashKiwi
So I used the Upgrade Cabin tab and said that I could upgrade (wait list) both MNL-GUM and GUM-HNL using the same regional upgrade coupon so I have done this. When will I know that if it clears?
This is probably a system bug, as GUM-HNL should require a GPU, not an RPU. However, if it is waitlisted, you could clear any time between now and departure. Current GUM-HNL inventory is J3 P3 PN2 R0, so hard to say.

Originally Posted by FlashKiwi
If this fails how do I snag 7A or 7F? I suspect if I wait until I get to GUM I will be out of luck.....Is my status going to help?
7A/F are already assigned on some of the segments, and it's unlikely to change. Some other segments have it available; e.g. I see 7F on PNI-KSA-KWA (I did not do an exhaustive search).
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Old Oct 4, 2018, 6:07 pm
  #742  
 
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Thanks. Guess I will be playing a lottery. I had assumed status may assist in seat selection. As I check in in MNL can I get them to look at it or do I have to wait for GUM?
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Old Oct 4, 2018, 7:03 pm
  #743  
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I think you might be able to select individual segment seats online when you check in, but definitely worth asking at the counter in MNL (but probably contract staff there). I'm not entirely sure since I flew the Hopper with the segments split. Status helps with the seats, but others have status too (or have paid $$$ for the same privilege)

I would reiterate that if you at least want a window, be on the lookout for 34F or 35F when they unblock. Should give you an unobstructed view of the islands.
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Old Oct 9, 2018, 10:08 am
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I've now moved my flights to Nov 14 on the hopper. Anyone on that flight eastbound?
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Old Oct 16, 2018, 10:18 am
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Thanks for everybody's help!

Just arrived in MSP after marathon weekend of flights on the Island Hopper. Had some issues with transit in MNL on my way to GUM. Managed to allocate seats at GUM. The check-in person knew immediately what I wanted to do and very quickly printed boarding passes with 7A, 7A, 7A, 32F, 8A and 8A. Someone had already snagged 7F which turned out to be fellow FlyerTalker MTan. The left hand side was fine and got some great views. Highly recommend the trip!

Bring some snacks otherwise you get very hungry by the time you get to HNL!
princeville, MTan and findark like this.

Last edited by FlashKiwi; Oct 16, 2018 at 11:15 am
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Old Oct 16, 2018, 2:44 pm
  #746  
 
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Originally Posted by FlashKiwi
Thanks for everybody's help!

Just arrived in MSP after marathon weekend of flights on the Island Hopper. Had some issues with transit in MNL on my way to GUM. Managed to allocate seats at GUM. The check-in person knew immediately what I wanted to and very quickly printed boarding passes with 7A, 7A, 7A, 32F, 8A and 8A. Someone had already snagged 7F which turned out to be fellow FlyerTalker MTan. The left hand side was fine and got some great views. Highly recommend the trip!

Bring some snacks otherwise you get very hungry by the time you get to HNL!
The Wiki above mentions that "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", but you're saying you were on the left side on each segment except for KSA-KWA, correct? And you didn't think that being on the left side was any worse than being on the right? Or, now that I think about it, you'd have nothing to compare it to, I suppose. But were there any islands where you flew in/out, and never really got to see it from the air?

My girlfriend and I have an island hopper GUM-HNL trip coming up in January, and I'm trying to figure out what side of the plane we should sit on. It looks like 8AB are available, as are 10AB and 10EF. Do you think it's worth us getting 8A and 10A so that we both have window seats? It would be nice to sit together for the long MAJ-HNL flight since it will be dark outside by then...
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Old Oct 24, 2018, 10:58 am
  #747  
 
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Originally Posted by HkCaGu
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.
We just flew on the Island Hopper this past Monday the 22nd Eastbound. TKK was under heavy/torrential rain and we were not diverted to PNI. Actually, pilots missed the approach to 4 and decided to go around (amazing pic from the runway while going around). I thought we were going back to 4, but they tried 22 and managed to put the plane down (insane landing, Loved It) and hit the breaks. Of course, personnel from UA were waiting for us with umbrellas to deplane. Got the stamp and back to the airplane to keep going towards HNL.

Ohh, and to those that say it is only a once in a lifetime trip, as an AvGeek, I can say I am now looking forward to flying it westbound. Also, at $336.11 for the entire ticket via HKG/PEK-NRT-GUM, I just think I will do it as soon as I can get a good itinerary and price for 2019. That will also help me retain my *Gold, as this trip was great part of me re qualifying this year.
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Old Oct 24, 2018, 11:16 am
  #748  
 
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Originally Posted by carlitos
We just flew on the Island Hopper this past Monday the 22nd Eastbound. TKK was under heavy/torrential rain and we were not diverted to PNI. Actually, pilots missed the approach to 4 and decided to go around (amazing pic from the runway while going around). I thought we were going back to 4, but they tried 22 and managed to put the plane down (insane landing, Loved It) and hit the breaks. Of course, personnel from UA were waiting for us with umbrellas to deplane. Got the stamp and back to the airplane to keep going towards HNL.

Ohh, and to those that say it is only a once in a lifetime trip, as an AvGeek, I can say I am now looking forward to flying it westbound. Also, at $336.11 for the entire ticket via HKG/PEK-NRT-GUM, I just think I will do it as soon as I can get a good itinerary and price for 2019. That will also help me retain my *Gold, as this trip was great part of me re qualifying this year.
I was looking forward to checking out the flight path for your GUM-TKK flight in FlightAware, but it doesn't seem to show a go around (and the map shows a VERY direct route, so I'm not sure it's accurate at all). https://flightaware.com/live/flight/...230Z/PGUM/PTKK

Anyway, what would you recommend as far as which side of the plane for the eastbound journey? And were you able to split the reservation in order to choose seats for each segment?
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Old Oct 24, 2018, 12:24 pm
  #749  
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Originally Posted by carlitos
We just flew on the Island Hopper this past Monday the 22nd Eastbound. TKK was under heavy/torrential rain and we were not diverted to PNI. Actually, pilots missed the approach to 4 and decided to go around (amazing pic from the runway while going around). I thought we were going back to 4, but they tried 22 and managed to put the plane down (insane landing, Loved It) and hit the breaks. Of course, personnel from UA were waiting for us with umbrellas to deplane. Got the stamp and back to the airplane to keep going towards HNL.
I chatted with the off-duty pilots about the landings.. the little runways (of course) don't have ILS so in heavy cloud it can be a really exciting landing flying the RNAV approach but then it's basically the pilot, the plane, and the runway

Our approach into PNI was through some light rain but we were popping in and out of clouds and they couldn't have had a clear eye on the runway until very short final.
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Old Oct 24, 2018, 1:49 pm
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
The Wiki above mentions that "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", but you're saying you were on the left side on each segment except for KSA-KWA, correct? And you didn't think that being on the left side was any worse than being on the right? Or, now that I think about it, you'd have nothing to compare it to, I suppose. But were there any islands where you flew in/out, and never really got to see it from the air?

My girlfriend and I have an island hopper GUM-HNL trip coming up in January, and I'm trying to figure out what side of the plane we should sit on. It looks like 8AB are available, as are 10AB and 10EF. Do you think it's worth us getting 8A and 10A so that we both have window seats? It would be nice to sit together for the long MAJ-HNL flight since it will be dark outside by then...
It was great meeting Flashkiwi unexpectedly on the Oct. 15th eastbound hopper! We IDíd each other in TKK when we both went in to grab a stamp!

I also have nothing to compare it to, but the views from 7F were fantastic! It did seem as though the first couple islands we landed on were on my side (I.e. open ocean for the A side, as the runway is on the edge of the islands), but that doesnít include the possibility that the approach and cruise views were as good or better on the A side. There are plenty of smaller islands nearby that arenít the ones you land at.

Second the stock up on snacks comment. We were served a mini muffin and a small container of cut melon on the first leg, GUM-TKK, a series of almond packs all the way to MAJ, then a cold half sandwich and granola bar from MAJ-HNL. Some of the stops have places to buy light snacks (TKK, KSA), or even a full plate of food (PNI, MAJ). If you intend to buy food or souvenirs on the stops, make sure to bring USD. There is no ATM accessible at any stop, and none of the vendors take cards!
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