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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 Jan 14, 2019, 7:56 am
  #781  
 
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jlisi984, fantastic write up! I fly this route at least 4X per year for work and wanted to share a few things with you.
KWA, while a military installation, is not full of military. In fact, there are only about a dozen uniformed military personnel permanently stationed there. The rest are government civilians/families, contractors (Space X used to have a large presence there), and facilities maintenance folks (run the PWD, cafeteria, etc. mostly locals). The ratio of mil to non-mil is about 1:100.
In MAJ, the Rob Reimers is my preferred lodging. While their internet ismore expensive ($15) you get 24 hrs of unlimited data instead of the 500Mb cap you have for the $10 cards at MIR. Additionally, the MIR didn't service the room daily and did not provide additional towels when they were requested. I also thought the Rob Reimers has a better restaurant. The MIR restaurant charged around $15 for their breakfast buffet which was just pancakes, eggs, bacon, and rice. I seated myself and was never approached by a server despite there being a few wandering the restaurant, I ended up just going to the buffet out of hunger and didn't realize how expensive it was. I don't think there was anything on the Rob Reimers menu that was over $15.

As for flights, I'm able to get my itinerary split up because I book through the gov't travel system and I select different seats for each leg. If I select the same seat, it combines the trip and I only make 1.5 segments for the entire hop GUM to MAJ (instead of 7.5 segments) and also reduces my chances of a CPU because there must be PN/PZ availability for all the legs on the point to point instead of just getting offered them when they're available leg by leg.
This does lead to problems, however, and it seems like not a lot of the check in agents in Guam have seen this, but if you have a checked bag there are too many connections on the bag tag and their systems will error out (happened ex Guam) or print a bag tag that only extends up to your third stop (ex Palau). There are two solutions, and I've encountered both within the past few months 1) a manual bag tag (handwritten) 2) combining the reservation into a single point to point, printing the bag tag, then separating it out again.

If I were buying for myself, I would just purchase a multi city instead. IIRC, GUM to MAJ was $845 as a multi and $840 as a one way.

As always, try booking your Island Hopper flight at the United's Guam regional site for better fares. If it's not taking your payment method because the billing address isn't Guam, try using a travel certificate or the balance of a changeable ticket as your payment method.
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Last edited by therossinator; Jan 14, 2019 at 8:22 am
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Old Jan 14, 2019, 8:13 am
  #782  
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Originally Posted by therossinator
If I were buying for myself, I would just purchase a multi city instead. IIRC, GUM to MAJ was $845 as a multi and $840 as a one way.
For people who are starting their journey in GUM, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do; the fares are set up to allow routing on the hopper; there are a high number of permitted transfers, and the route table allows the hopper cities. Everyone else is likely to see the price skyrocket when they try this, as most discount fares are not routable through MAJ, KWA, etc.

That said, for people who are intending to take the eastbound hopper, one approach might be to find award space to GUM and then start your paid ticket there.
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Old Jan 14, 2019, 9:28 am
  #783  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
An agent might do it because it's the only way to get an advanced seat assignment that varies from one leg to the next (e.g., for the best views). Or, an agent might do it because it's the only way to get CPUs. It really depends upon the agent's mood and how persuasive you can be when you ask.

But, you're right. The simple approach would involve adding a transfer at each intermediate point, which is almost certain to violate the fare rules on any inexpensive fare, and would be the same price you got if you were able to book it that way from the start. The agent would have to store the fare and then force it to apply to an itinerary that's not technically valid. It's doable, but it's a hassle, and many agents don't want to bother.
All of this. I used the reasoning of selecting different seats on each segment; I "wanted different sides of the plane for each island's views -- I hear you need to make it be separate segments to do this". All of the agents were willing to try, but the first several were unable to manage it after long conversations with tech support and/or supervisors. The last agent I got was a longtime sCO agent who knew about the Hopper and was finally able to hold the fare and force-reissue the ticket with the additional segments. It needed more tickets because of all the extra segments, and definitely was not legal by my fare rules, and took about 85 minutes on that call alone. I asked to be dialed through to her supervisor after the call and left profuse but vaguely worded praise for her efforts

Also worth noting that split segments sometimes mean upgrades that clear at the gate on the stops. I got a big helping of from an agent in MAJ, who knew exactly what I was up to and did not approve. YMMV, of course.
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Old Jan 14, 2019, 10:45 am
  #784  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
An
But, you're right. The simple approach would involve adding a transfer at each intermediate point, which is almost certain to violate the fare rules on any inexpensive fare, and would be the same price you got if you were able to book it that way from the start. The agent would have to store the fare and then force it to apply to an itinerary that's not technically valid. It's doable, but it's a hassle, and many agents don't want to bother.
Thanks, I guess you figured out my poorly worded question. I wanted to figure out "what part of my request is asking to 'break a rule'" and what "excuses" would cause an agent to break the rule and/or bother to try.

Originally Posted by findark
... and left profuse but vaguely worded praise for her efforts ...
I've sometimes wanted to recognize an agent, FA, etc for bending over backwards and breaking a rule for me but didn't because was concerned it might get him/her in trouble.

Originally Posted by findark
Also worth noting that split segments sometimes mean upgrades that clear at the gate on the stops. I got a big helping of from an agent in MAJ, who knew exactly what I was up to and did not approve. YMMV, of course.
Interesting, Why would the GA care? because she has to clear upgrades?



Originally Posted by therossinator
... I fly this route at least 4X per year for work and wanted to share a few things with you..
I actually work in an "adjacent" job and contemplated switching departments just to work in a position that would allow me to fly the island hopper. But I figure I only want to fly this route once or twice in my life, not 4X/year. And ofcourse its always more fun when its not for work.
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Old Jan 14, 2019, 1:08 pm
  #785  
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Originally Posted by eng3
Interesting, Why would the GA care? because she has to clear upgrades?
Some combination of that and I'm guessing a perception that I'm stealing an upgrade from "her" (MAJ based) pax. In this case my companion's waitlisted upgrade had not been cleared despite the fact it clearly should have been; when asking about it I got some long and confusing explanation that involved being shown the MAJ ops center.. I'm still not sure what I was supposedly being told other than "the computer did something different". In the end we had so many favors on that PNR outside of it that I just let it slide rather than complaining to UA.
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Old Jan 14, 2019, 1:34 pm
  #786  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
...UA154 (the full Hopper) departs HNL Mon/Fri and flies HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM. The shorter UA154 flies from HNL on Wed and does HNL-MAJ-KWA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KSA). UA132 departs Sun and flies HNL-MAJ-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM (skips KWA).

UA193 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.
I reworded slightly and updated the WIKI with your post's information.

Last edited by eng3; Jan 14, 2019 at 1:50 pm
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Old Jan 15, 2019, 10:56 am
  #787  
 
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Wow, I wish I had found this when I lived in Guam. I did the island hopper once, westbound. The tips here would've helped me enjoy the experience much more.
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Old Jan 20, 2019, 6:26 am
  #788  
 
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Anyone else doing the eastbound UA155 hopper tomorrow (Jan 21 departure)? My gf and I are in GUM now...can’t wait for the flight in the morning!
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Old Jan 30, 2019, 12:44 am
  #789  
 
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Is there T-Mobile roaming service on the islands?
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Old Jan 30, 2019, 1:01 am
  #790  
 
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Short answer: Some.

When you're in the Marshall Islands (Majuro, Kwajalein), you may be able roam onto NTA as T-Mobile claims to have a roaming agreement with them.

When you're at any of the other stops, FSM Telecom is the only mobile carrier and internet service provider in all of the Federated States of Micronesia, and they don't have very many roaming agreements). Also, as of 2017, cell service and WiFI are only available in Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap. You'll have to buy a prepaid service card which works as a top-up for both cell service and WiFi. Cell service requires a FSM SIM card (which may not be available airside at the airports), which costs $10 and does not come with any minutes or data. Cellular data cost $0.10/MB (so, $100/GB) unless you pay for an "unlimited" day pass for $2 (It's reported that they'll throttle you after a few MB, and the service slow, 3G speeds at best). WiFi costs $0.08/MB, (so $80/GB) and there are no packages available, just metered usage.

You may roam in Guam, but be aware that Guam is an exception where it is not considered US as far as T-Mobile plans are concerned, and you will be charged a higher (international) rate in Guam (and American Samoa, and CNMI for that matter) if you call a Guam number.

Last edited by diburning; Jan 30, 2019 at 1:23 am
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Old Jan 30, 2019, 5:49 am
  #791  
 
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Originally Posted by thejaredhuang
Is there T-Mobile roaming service on the islands?
No. In Guam you get free 2G data and free texting (calls are around $.25 per minute). All other island hopper stops including Palau do not get any sort of t-mobile service. FSM has no data offering, $.50 texts, and $2+ per minute calling.

https://www.t-mobile.com/coverage/roaming

Last edited by therossinator; Jan 30, 2019 at 5:55 am
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Old Jan 30, 2019, 6:10 am
  #792  
 
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Thank you for quick replies, I think i read some airports have free wifi? I will add all of this info to the wiki. Thanks
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Old Jan 30, 2019, 8:35 am
  #793  
 
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Originally Posted by thejaredhuang
I think i read some airports have free wifi?
I just did the trip on Jan 21, and was able to find free (slow) WiFi at PNI, KSA, and MAJ.
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Old Jan 31, 2019, 1:49 am
  #794  
 
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Originally Posted by mpiotrow
I just did the trip on Jan 21, and was able to find free (slow) WiFi at PNI, KSA, and MAJ.
Thanks, I had the same experience just now. PNI was actually pretty quick for me.

Got off the Wednesday 154 just now, only got a stamp in PNI, everywhere else was a hassle. It was quite an experience but also quite a long journey in a 737. Had some great views of various atolls and the islands. Thanks CO/UA for flying this route.

Few notes, no T-Mobile Roaming anywhere as previously mentioned. No free wifi at Chuuk, nothing at KWA either. You need to go into the terminal to get wifi, I could see the network form the plane but it wouldn't connect.

I also tried to sit as far up as I could in E+ but I'd rather stay in the same seat instead of playing musical chairs at every stop. Anything row 11 or earlier should be good, there wasn't a misaligned window on our plane in row 11, N79279.
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Old Jan 31, 2019, 10:24 am
  #795  
 
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Originally Posted by thejaredhuang
[...]only got a stamp in PNI, everywhere else was a hassle. [...]
That's too bad. We were able to get stamps in TKK, PNI, and KSA. Clearly not possible in KWA, and when we got to MAJ, the security people there wanted nothing to do with us. TKK was the easiest place for us...just walked up to the backside of the metal detectors at security and asked the lady sitting near there. She was very helpful and knew exactly what we were looking for! PNI was a bit more difficult, as we had to go to the immigration side as if we were going to stay, talked to a guard there, and he was able to stamp our passports. KSA was the most difficult, as we had to hand our passports over to a guard and wait for him to go stamp them and return them to us.
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