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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
Print Wikipost

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

Old Oct 24, 2018, 2:24 pm
  #751  
 
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
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?
It actually shows a straight line from GUM-TKK. But again, insane landing and probably my favorite out of all the island hopper landings.

I rode all the island hopper on 7F while my brother rode it on 7A. Mechaninc had 7C for him and 7B blocked all the way until MAJ and I had only a Guam Banker women on 7D til KSA. So middle seats open and both windows were amazing. My brother caught all from his side on Iphone camera and I, of course, have everything on Iphone camera from my side. I did not split my reservation, as I had an amazing window confirmed and was not going to risk it with upgrades. I had so much food at the United Club before departing and took some munchies for the trip. Now, from MAJ to HNL, I slept all the time and mechanic seat got assigned to a women while another women and her young daughter were assigned 7D and 7E. Landed in HNL @ 3am, perfect for a connection to LAX at 7am. just for the record, as I was waiting for TSA to open at HNL, I saw that there was an extra section to MAJ 45 minutes after the regular schedule service to MAJ was to depart. a 737-824 for the normal flight and a 737-724 for the extra section, which was delayed. How can they be operating two island hoppers on a same day??? wow, and that is considering the extra section was schedule with only 3 stops

Both sides are perfect !!!
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Old Oct 30, 2018, 10:17 pm
  #752  
 
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Sorry for delayed reply. After reviewing mtans photos from the right hand side there were better views of the islands and jungle etc. Was I disappointed being on the left - not at all. I think either side provides just as nice vistas. The left got to see more atolls etc.


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...
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Old Nov 16, 2018, 10:29 am
  #753  
 
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which stops?

I've been thinking about this trip for years and am finally ready to pull the trigger. I was initially thinking about a 1-day stop in PNI and then three days of diving in TKK en route (leave HNL on Sunday, arrive PNI Monday, roughly 24 h there, leave PNI Tuesday and arrive TKK the same day, diving in TKK Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then fly TKK-GUM-HKG on Sat afternoon). I'm now thinking about starting two days earlier so that I can incorporate an extra stop into this itinerary.

Any thoughts on MAJ vs KSA vs PNI? MAJ has some attraction to me as a "new" country on my list. KSA - some people here said it's the prettiest of all the stops on this route. PNI - Nan Madol has been on my "to visit" list for a long time.

Any thoughts much appreciated!
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Old Nov 16, 2018, 7:47 pm
  #754  
 
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I've been watching this route for years and I think I will finally pull the trigger next year.
I'm thinking:
Day 1: PHL-SFO-HNL (RPU)
Day 2: HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-ROR-MNL (GPU)
Day X: MNL-HKG
Day Y: HKG-ORD-PHL (GPU)

Is there a specific time of year that is better than others?

I'd like to fly in F and ideally would like to use a GPU. How often does R/PZ availability actually show up for all the segments? I'm very flexible on dates but if availability is always zero, that's a problem. I've heard that one needs to find a nice agent that is willing to split all segments in order to have different seating assignments for different flights. Hopefully if I find an agent that can do this, it wont mess up the GPUs assuming I can even find them.
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Old Nov 19, 2018, 6:10 am
  #755  
 
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Alright,

Just got back from a week long flying in the pacific. Was on UA155 last week on Wednesday, so there was no stop in KSA which probably was for the best. We left GUM completely packed, they were forcing people to gate check. I was in group 1 and sitting in E+ so no one bothered me with it and I only had a small back pack. The flight left on time, and while I didn't catch the reg it was one of the older 738's with DirectTV and the looping movies everyone said. They had some pretty recent movies, if you really wanted to catch one. Would've loved for Chan 9 to be available. We sat in 8F on all sectors and I managed to get all of my boarding passes printed in NRT and my bag checked all the way to HNL from there.

8F was pretty good and I honestly think either side is scenic.

The first stop at TKK we lost half of the plane who stayed there and only took on a family of about 8 who were locals on their way to HNL flying stand by. Buiness only had one couple the entire way until we reached KWA. No idea why I wasn't bumped but honestly too tired to even ask at any point and we got to the gate at the last moment cause our car return in GUM took forever.

As a seasoned traveller and as an ex airline pilot who would sometimes do 5 leg days, this was a tiring flight. The TKK and PNI we're all jazzy and happy full of energy but the not being able to get off the plane at KWA and having to stay on until MAJ kinda of killed us. We delayed at MAJ for about an hour due to a pet flying in the the hold and it was way too hot (I was ok with this, I travel with my dog in the hold sometimes). MAJ had the "biggest" of the terminals, with a bar inside. There was WiFi for like $5 (everything was $5 for some reason) but it was packed.

Food wise:

Unless in J, BRING YOUR OWN FOOD. I cannot stress how disappointed I was with UA with the "meals" or lack of on these flights, specially with those hopping all the way to HNL. On the TKK leg they served some sort of sandwich, and we we're promised "lunch" on MAJ-HNL which ended up being some sort of sorry ham and cheese sandwich with water only. You can buy snacks along the way but if you can carry from GUM or eat a full meal at GUM before you go, please do so. They have SPAM snacks and stuff along the way, chicken and rice in the stalls but my stomach was already in recovery mode after visiting China and I didn't want to risk it considering I still had a way to LAX.

Crew:

Relatively meh, they only chatted with the locals and seemed to give better service to them. I was sprayed by a local in water who was sitting on 7A when she opened one of those camel back water bottles and it prbably had too much pressure inside and water flew everywhere, the FA saw and didn't even offer a napkin except please clean the seat.

My biggest upset was with an F/A sitting in 7E. She joined in MAJ together with a mom travelling with her maybe 5 month old. The FA sat first and then the momma sat. I was paying attention to the pay who was pretty cute and you could NOTICEABLY tell the FA was upset there was a baby there. At one point the baby was staring at her and she actually told the mom if she could please move him to the other side. The senior purser came by later on and audibly said "I'm sorry you have to sit there" which I found pretty unprofessional. The baby was fine most of the way except getting a bit pissy towards the end which was understandable.

Stamps:

Got one at TKK easily, the UA agent got it for me. PNI they said I had to go through immigration and back in and while the UA agent said she would escort me through the entire ordeal and wouldn't let them leave without me, it seemed like a hassle for a stamp. MAJ I practically had to beg for it. The immigration manager was mad at the incoming crew (they changed crew here) and was in no mood. The island chill officer on the other side was amazed at a Costa Rican passport and gave some leafs and nut things to his manager in exchange for me getting a stamp which was nice.

All in, unless I was stopping somewhere, either at MAJ or TKK, I probably wouldn't do it again. I've always wanted to do this flight and while it was a good experience, it's not as a fun as it seems halfway through the trip.
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Old Nov 20, 2018, 4:06 pm
  #756  
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Originally Posted by eng3
I've been watching this route for years and I think I will finally pull the trigger next year.
I'm thinking:
Day 1: PHL-SFO-HNL (RPU)
Day 2: HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-ROR-MNL (GPU)
Day X: MNL-HKG
Day Y: HKG-ORD-PHL (GPU)

Is there a specific time of year that is better than others?

I'd like to fly in F and ideally would like to use a GPU. How often does R/PZ availability actually show up for all the segments? I'm very flexible on dates but if availability is always zero, that's a problem. I've heard that one needs to find a nice agent that is willing to split all segments in order to have different seating assignments for different flights. Hopefully if I find an agent that can do this, it wont mess up the GPUs assuming I can even find them.
R (now PZ) is extremely rare for the through flight HNL-GUM. You need to either natively book separate segments (use multi-city tool, but might be expensive) or get an agent to split them (very, very difficult) to be eligible to clear on a per-segment basis. If you can succeed at this, KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK are trivial and usually fly with empty seats, and MAJ-KWA, TKK-GUM, and HNL-MAJ can be tricky (in increasing order of difficulty). Even with separate segments, the interior segments rarely clear far in advance because there are heavy inventory blocks on those segments to hold space for through pax. Note if HNL is less than 24h00 and you're smooth with an agent, one GPU will cover PHL to MNL.

Depending on your price tolerance and ability and building fares, I would also look at the regular Z fare between the US and GUM ($3,300 to $4,300 depending on US origin). If you have time, it also allows unlimited stopovers so you can visit as many of those islands as you like.

Originally Posted by Redwood839
No idea why I wasn't bumped but honestly too tired to even ask at any point and we got to the gate at the last moment cause our car return in GUM took forever.
As noted above, if you have the direct flight GUM-HNL booked, you are not upgrade eligible for individual segments.
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Old Dec 15, 2018, 5:19 pm
  #757  
 
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Hi all - Just got off the hopper yesterday. First - this thread is absolutely incredible. Thanks to everyone for the info and advice - I couldn't have done this trip without it. Also, I would've been very, very hungry. The only bummer was that because we were a little late leaving Majuro due to a weight balance issue, we had to stay on the plane in Kosrae and Pohnpei. I was relieved to step outside for a bit in Chuuk.

One thing I wanted to share since I haven't seen it in the thread -- I wanted to book using miles from NYC. It seemed to be that using United miles I'd have to get 2 separate tix to fly the Hopper (EWR-HNL and HNL-GUM). I booked, instead, using ANA miles which let me book EWR-HNL (overnight in HNL) - Hopper - GUM (stopover) - NRT - EWR. I flew coach (E+) to EWR- GUM and business GUM-NRT-EWR and it priced out at 77,500 ANA miles, which is a steal compared to United (which charges 70k for GUM-EWR in business for a one-way). I hadn't seen anyone mention that ANA is a better use of miles for the trip, so I wanted to share.

Thanks again for everyone's help. Although my butt was ready to get off that plane by the TKK-GUM leg, it was a great experience.
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Old Dec 15, 2018, 8:53 pm
  #758  
 
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Originally Posted by jblankoh
The only bummer was that because we were a little late leaving Majuro due to a weight balance issue, we had to stay on the plane in Kosrae and Pohnpei.
Just my opinion - this is one of those cases where begging for forgiveness is preferable to asking for permission
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Old Dec 15, 2018, 9:47 pm
  #759  
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Originally Posted by belfordrocks
Just my opinion - this is one of those cases where begging for forgiveness is preferable to asking for permission
IME, we were cut slack because the crew knew we were doing the whole Hopper and were there for the ground experience too; they just don't want all hundred-odd pax reboarding. Definitely recommend this.
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Old Dec 15, 2018, 10:38 pm
  #760  
 
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The crew was so nice and accommodating the whole trip I felt guilty asking to get off the plane I'm a rule follower (according to my wife...she doesn't mean it in a good way).
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Old Dec 19, 2018, 1:39 pm
  #761  
 
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May be a long shot since most people seem to do this trip in one go, but I thought I'd ask anyway:

Any recommendations for diving operators in Marshall Islands and Chuuk?
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Old Dec 19, 2018, 6:21 pm
  #762  
 
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Originally Posted by mec72
May be a long shot since most people seem to do this trip in one go, but I thought I'd ask anyway:

Any recommendations for diving operators in Marshall Islands and Chuuk?
Have you tried searching (and if nothing found, posting) over in the Oceania forum? Might have better luck there! ^
https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/ocea...h-pacific-461/
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Old Dec 20, 2018, 11:11 am
  #763  
 
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For those of you that have done the trip before, how misaligned is the window in 10A? My GF and I are doing the eastbound UA155 GUM-HNL trip next month, and I'm wondering if seats 8A and 10A are the 2 best seats left for us in E+ (unfortunately 7A, 7F, and 8F are already taken).

Also, regarding baggage, I've definitely read it's best to check it, but I'm wondering where we'll collect it again. We fly GUM-HNL, have just short of an 11hr connection in HNL, then fly HNL-KOA and have an ~6.5 hour connection in KOA before we depart from there again. I'd really like to get our bags in HNL and not have to check them the rest of the trip. If we check them in GUM, will we have an option to collect them in HNL?
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Old Dec 20, 2018, 11:15 am
  #764  
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
If we check them in GUM, will we have an option to collect them in HNL?
You'd need go through customs at HNL, so you should be able to access your bags.
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Old Dec 21, 2018, 8:53 am
  #765  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
You'd need go through customs at HNL, so you should be able to access your bags.
Thanks [MENTION=8598]jsloan[/MENTION]. I hadn't thought about the need to go through customs, because I was thinking of this being a GUM-HNL flight, and I believe you pre-clear customs on the direct flight, if I remember correctly.

I'm still curious if anyone has any info related to seat 10A or 10F as far as the misaligned window is concerned.

One other question...can anyone confirm that E+ seats have power outlets on them? I'd like to be able to bring a laptop so that I'm not watching the same IFE (when I'm not incessantly staring out the window!) for each of the short segments and may need to charge it somewhere along the way.
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