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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: thejaredhuang
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 1/14/19)?
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 (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 Jul 15, 2014, 11:01 am
  #76  
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Originally Posted by vforni
I had this issue for some reason. After I ticketed, I checked the mobile app and exit-row and bulkhead seats were able to be selected on there that weren't seen on the other channels.
Originally Posted by riphamilton
ditto. that's how i snagged 7A.
Thanks ^

Have always wanted to fly the island hopper. Found saver Y tix for next Spring, though nothing in F unless you search by segment. Will try to see if I can book it HNL-TKK/TKK-GUM, though I find that doubtful.

Hopefully the explorer card benefit for upgrades works on this ticket. Long way to fly in Y, especially on those 737 park bench seats.
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 11:46 am
  #77  
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Originally Posted by FriendlySkies
Hopefully the explorer card benefit for upgrades works on this ticket.
It is not a CPU-eligible route in most scenarios. And they work VERY hard to not split the segments out once it is booked. I would not expect to get an upgrade this way.
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 3:22 pm
  #78  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
Can anyone with recent experience on the Micronesia Island Hopper advise me how to use this service to travel to/from NZ?
Seasonally, one can fly GUM-CNS-AKL, connecting between UA and NZ at CNS.
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 4:44 pm
  #79  
 
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Hi all - I'm planning to do the island hopper later this year with another traveler, and this and other past threads on this topic have been quite helpful in planning the trip. Based on feedback I've read here, we're doing the westbound trip (daytime), and got seats towards the front (which I read multiple times makes a difference) and on the left side (saw arguments for both, but seemed like more people suggested left).

A couple questions I haven't seen discussed previously (but apologies if I missed it):

* United's website (and timetable) shows the flight operating with a 738, but the seat map appears to show a Micronesia 73G configuration (F rows 1-3, Y rows 7-32) - is the seat map just a glitch?

* If it is, in fact, a Micronesia 73G, SeatGuru shows 10A/F as having no window - does anyone have experience with this? My fellow traveler and I want to both sit in windows, one behind the other, so to be safe for now I have us in 11A and 12A.

* To some of the discussion in this and other threads - what are the chances, based on others' experiences, of a lowly Silver, let alone their traveling companion, clearing an upgrade all the way through (all booked on a single PNR HNL-GUM)? With only 12 F seats, I'm assuming it's pretty unlikely, but figured I'd ask.

On a side note: I was really hoping to get some passport stamps along the way, but it seems the sentiment here is pretty universally that it's impossible. Guess I'll have to settle for some tarmac pics.

Thanks very much in advance for any and all help - and thanks again to everyone for all the useful information already posted in these threads.
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 4:53 pm
  #80  
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Originally Posted by commavia
* United's website (and timetable) shows the flight operating with a 738, but the seat map appears to show a Micronesia 73G configuration (F rows 1-3, Y rows 7-32) - is the seat map just a glitch?
It is a generic seat map for all UAMic flights until the aircraft is assigned. That route is operated with specific planes which have the proper pilot rest seats and will be the 738 when the time comes. They generally assign the specific aircraft 2-3 days out and then the seat map updates.

Originally Posted by commavia
* To some of the discussion in this and other threads - what are the chances, based on others' experiences, of a lowly Silver, let alone their traveling companion, clearing an upgrade all the way through (all booked on a single PNR HNL-GUM)? With only 12 F seats, I'm assuming it's pretty unlikely, but figured I'd ask.
Roughly NIL. The pilot rest takes up 4 F seats so there are only 10 to assign. And last I checked the systems are set to not allow CPUs if booked as a single "direct" flight rather than the individual segments.

Originally Posted by commavia
On a side note: I was really hoping to get some passport stamps along the way, but it seems the sentiment here is pretty universally that it's impossible. Guess I'll have to settle for some tarmac pics.
Well, if you get marooned in Kwajalein you can ask for one there.
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 6:35 pm
  #81  
 
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Originally Posted by commavia
Hi all - I'm planning to do the island hopper later this year with another traveler, ... and got seats towards the front
If you can get row 7 or 8, that would be even better. From row 10 onward, part of your view will be blocked by the wing. And in the rear, the view will be a bit blurry because of the engine's exhaust.

If you're traveling with someone else, both of you might want to consider a window seat. It will be difficult to get a decent view, leaning over from a middle seat. And flying the island hopper without a view, well that's just madness.

If it really is a 737-800, no worries about not having a window. It's the 737-700 and 737-900 that have one row without windows.

The one time I took this flight, my CPU cleared. But that was many years ago. If I were to do it again, I would consider just paying for F (with miles or cash).
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Old Jul 15, 2014, 8:17 pm
  #82  
 
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Originally Posted by sbm12
Roughly NIL. The pilot rest takes up 4 F seats so there are only 10 to assign. And last I checked the systems are set to not allow CPUs if booked as a single "direct" flight rather than the individual segments.
correct. no CPU for me:

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Old Jul 16, 2014, 9:45 am
  #83  
 
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Originally Posted by commavia
A couple questions I haven't seen discussed previously (but apologies if I missed it):

* United's website (and timetable) shows the flight operating with a 738, but the seat map appears to show a Micronesia 73G configuration (F rows 1-3, Y rows 7-32) - is the seat map just a glitch?

* If it is, in fact, a Micronesia 73G, SeatGuru shows 10A/F as having no window - does anyone have experience with this? My fellow traveler and I want to both sit in windows, one behind the other, so to be safe for now I have us in 11A and 12A.
I flew the Island Hopper last October and took a careful look around the cabin. 11A is totally obscured (I mean totally, there's a wall there), but 11F is not. 12A and F and 14A and F are partially obscured.
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Old Jul 16, 2014, 10:20 am
  #84  
 
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Originally Posted by flyingnosh
If you can get row 7 or 8, that would be even better. From row 10 onward, part of your view will be blocked by the wing. And in the rear, the view will be a bit blurry because of the engine's exhaust.
Yeah - even with the additional charge, I was thinking about 7 (bulkhead) simply given how long this flight is and the fact that we're definitely going to want the best possible view.

Originally Posted by flyingnosh
If you're traveling with someone else, both of you might want to consider a window seat. It will be difficult to get a decent view, leaning over from a middle seat. And flying the island hopper without a view, well that's just madness.
^ For sure ... we are definitely doing one window behind the other, because we both want that view - as you said, definitely no other reason to be doing the hopper!

Originally Posted by someotherguy
I flew the Island Hopper last October and took a careful look around the cabin. 11A is totally obscured (I mean totally, there's a wall there), but 11F is not. 12A and F and 14A and F are partially obscured.
Apologies in advance - just to be clear: 11A is "totally obscured," and 12A/F and 14A are "partially obscured," meaning the downward view is obscured by the presence of the wing, or the window is misaligned/blocked?

Thanks again.
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Old Jul 16, 2014, 12:46 pm
  #85  
 
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Originally Posted by sbm12
It is a generic seat map for all UAMic flights until the aircraft is assigned. That route is operated with specific planes which have the proper pilot rest seats and will be the 738 when the time comes. They generally assign the specific aircraft 2-3 days out and then the seat map updates.

Roughly NIL. The pilot rest takes up 4 F seats so there are only 10 to assign. And last I checked the systems are set to not allow CPUs if booked as a single "direct" flight rather than the individual segments.

Well, if you get marooned in Kwajalein you can ask for one there.
I've gone to Kwajalein twice per year for ten years and never had my passport stamped...
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Old Jul 17, 2014, 11:24 am
  #86  
 
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Originally Posted by commavia

Apologies in advance - just to be clear: 11A is "totally obscured," and 12A/F and 14A are "partially obscured," meaning the downward view is obscured by the presence of the wing, or the window is misaligned/blocked?

Thanks again.
There's a missing window at seat 11 on the left and between rows 12 and 14 on both left and right. Also, anything behind row 11 has the engine, then the wing, in the way. All 738's are the same: it's just a question of how the seat rows align. On these planes you want to be in first class or rows 7, 8, or 10 (there is no row 9), or in 11F.

If there are two of you, I'd suggest a window seat on each side, then one of you is sure of the best view at each island.

Last edited by someotherguy; Jul 17, 2014 at 11:30 am Reason: Added 11F
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Old Jul 17, 2014, 8:21 pm
  #87  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
I'm getting close to ticketing the Island Hopper, & have a couple more questions:
- Where to stay in Chuuk? Trip Advisor lists the Blue Lagoon Resort. Can anyone make a recommendation?
Chuuk is one of the more dangerous islands in the Pacific. Diving friends in Yap and Palau told many stories about how the locals like to randomly beat people up. Make sure wherever you stay is gated and don't stray from your hotel.

That being said, LP recommends Blue Lagoon Resort as having one of the few safe bars. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/federate...rmation/health
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Old Jul 17, 2014, 8:24 pm
  #88  
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Originally Posted by spearsba
I've gone to Kwajalein twice per year for ten years and never had my passport stamped...
One of the guys in our group asked and they went and found the stamp.
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Old Jul 17, 2014, 10:06 pm
  #89  
 
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I fly this route about 10-15 times a year. You will only get upgraded if there is space to clear you the entire way. For instance, if you are going from HNL to PNI, if there is upgrade space the entire way you will clear. If one single segment is full, then you won't clear. It stinks to see empty F seats and I have seen people argue with flight attendants about it. But, they feed you in the back, and most times of the year going westbound the plane is half empty anyways so you can move and get a whole row to yourself and take a lie down nap. They also feed you on this flight.

Left side is the best IMO. No you cannot get out and get a stamp at each island. You can't even get off the plane at Kwaj.

This flight is often delayed substantial amounts of time as well, because if something breaks along the way they have to fly in a rescue plane or part from Guam. Just take that into account if you have to be somewhere at a specific time post island hopping.

Finally, if you call United direct you are allowed a free stop over at every island along the way. It is not advertised. But it is the rule. This is because the governments of the islands are "insuring" the flight -meaning if its not full enough to make a profit for United, they will cover the costs to make the airline some $$. So, to trade this and boost tourism, you are allowed a free stop over anywhere (or everywhere) along the way
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Old Jul 23, 2014, 3:38 pm
  #90  
 
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Originally Posted by be001
I fly this route about 10-15 times a year. You will only get upgraded if there is space to clear you the entire way. For instance, if you are going from HNL to PNI, if there is upgrade space the entire way you will clear. If one single segment is full, then you won't clear. It stinks to see empty F seats and I have seen people argue with flight attendants about it. But, they feed you in the back, and most times of the year going westbound the plane is half empty anyways so you can move and get a whole row to yourself and take a lie down nap. They also feed you on this flight.

Left side is the best IMO. No you cannot get out and get a stamp at each island. You can't even get off the plane at Kwaj.

This flight is often delayed substantial amounts of time as well, because if something breaks along the way they have to fly in a rescue plane or part from Guam. Just take that into account if you have to be somewhere at a specific time post island hopping.

Finally, if you call United direct you are allowed a free stop over at every island along the way. It is not advertised. But it is the rule. This is because the governments of the islands are "insuring" the flight -meaning if its not full enough to make a profit for United, they will cover the costs to make the airline some $$. So, to trade this and boost tourism, you are allowed a free stop over anywhere (or everywhere) along the way
Hey be001, would you mind answering some questions for me via message? Im looking at booking this for next summer (June 2015) and would love some input from a vet!
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