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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Should I experience the Hopper?

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

Which direction (west or east) is better?

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

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

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


What's with the plane configuration?

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

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

Where should I sit?

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

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

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

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

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

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


What can I do at the stops?

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

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

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

Should I check my bags?

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


What is the food situation?

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

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


And how about IFE?

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


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Old Jan 8, 2020, 6:06 pm
  #901  
 
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Originally Posted by kevflyer
Does that still work?
Yes, but I had to do it carefully. I had flights every few days for 2 weeks, so as soon as I adjusted the date to 12/30 (in order to add 1/01 flights), the pre-12/28 flights disappeared. I had to go backward a few days at a time to add and retain all flights.

And at several stops, they asked every pass-rider to disembark and obtain a new BP for the next leg.

At MAJ, the Wed (skip-KSA) flight had the same GUM-TKK and MAJ-HNL timings, so there was no rush. Yet, for our 20:05 departure, the door was closed at 19:21, but the brakes weren't released until 19:51.
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Old Jan 10, 2020, 1:44 am
  #902  
 
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Was hoping to ask for a little help as I've been through a good chunk of this thread and am a little lost about seat selection given what's available to me. I will be flying UA154 westbound from HNL to GUM in February and the available seats to me are in the attached image:


On an aeroplan reward redemption, I don't think I have the ability to select seats for individual legs so I think the seat I select will be the one I have for the duration. From what I've read on here, the left side (a) seems to be my best bet on westbound flights? If so with 7 and 8a gone, and most of 27+ out, would my best bet be 10a (even with a potential misaligned window?) Is 34a a good alternative? I feel like the 22-26 rows will be tough for unobstructed photos?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!
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Old Jan 10, 2020, 3:09 am
  #903  
 
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Originally Posted by emustyle
On an aeroplan reward redemption, I don't think I have the ability to select seats for individual legs so I think the seat I select will be the one I have for the duration. From what I've read on here, the left side (a) seems to be my best bet on westbound flights? If so with 7 and 8a gone, and most of 27+ out, would my best bet be 10a (even with a potential misaligned window?) Is 34a a good alternative? I feel like the 22-26 rows will be tough for unobstructed photos?
Yes avoid the wings. I can't comment on 10A but 34A should be ok - For the flight that lands at PNI you want to be on the right side. Are you able to call AC or UA and have them assign seats for each flight individually?
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Old Jan 10, 2020, 7:34 am
  #904  
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34A should be fine for views and note that it is not in fact the last row of the plane. YMMV on whether E- or the view from 10; I forget exactly the window situation on the 738.
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Old Jan 10, 2020, 8:18 am
  #905  
 
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Does anyone have experience on what is required by UA to book/board/unload at KWA?

I have some friends who recently took a posting there and who will be inviting me (putting me on orders technically) to visit hopefully sometime this year. I'm sure that they will be familiar or at least able to find out what I need to to from the USArmy side of things but as they traveled out on air force aircraft from pearl they have no experience with what documentation UA will require.
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Old Jan 10, 2020, 9:46 am
  #906  
 
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Originally Posted by AceReport
Does anyone have experience on what is required by UA to book/board/unload at KWA?

I have some friends who recently took a posting there and who will be inviting me (putting me on orders technically) to visit hopefully sometime this year. I'm sure that they will be familiar or at least able to find out what I need to to from the USArmy side of things but as they traveled out on air force aircraft from pearl they have no experience with what documentation UA will require.
Just the orders. But if I'm not mistaken, unless you are going there on official business, i.e. military / civilian DOD contractor, their family / dependents, you won't be able to get the authorization letter.

Last edited by kevflyer; Jan 10, 2020 at 9:57 am
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Old Jan 11, 2020, 12:04 am
  #907  
 
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Has anyone who has taken the hopper recently (after 12/20) know if the proof of measles vaccination is required if I'm transiting without entering? (i.e. when they have half the plane get off) I've gotten my measles immunization as MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) shots as a child, and received an MMR booster about a decade ago, but I'm not sure if that's considered "up to date" by RMI.
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Old Jan 11, 2020, 12:10 am
  #908  
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Originally Posted by diburning
Has anyone who has taken the hopper recently (after 12/20) know if the proof of measles vaccination is required if I'm transiting without entering? (i.e. when they have half the plane get off) I've gotten my measles immunization as MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) shots as a child, and received an MMR booster about a decade ago, but I'm not sure if that's considered "up to date" by RMI.
Here is the relevant passage from TIMATIC:
Code:
TWOV (Transit Without Visa):
- There are no transit facilities, passengers must comply with
all entry regulations for the Marshall Isl.
Marshall Isl. (MH)

Vaccination against measles is required. Passengers must have
an official measles vaccination certificate, official letter,
document or laboratory report confirming measles titer
antibody. This does not apply to:
1. children younger than 6 months and passengers born before
1958;
2. holders of a certificate of contraindication on medical
grounds.
The Marshallese know about the Island Hopper. They could certainly write an exception for “continuing without deplaning.” I suspect that they don’t want any potential measles carriers even being in a Marshallese airport, due to the possibility of transmission to other passengers on the flight.

If someone has a recent experience from the last couple of weeks, I hope they’ll share it — but this is what a United employee would see.
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Last edited by jsloan; Jan 11, 2020 at 11:35 pm Reason: Formatting
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Old Jan 11, 2020, 11:10 am
  #909  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
The Marshallese know about the Island Hopper. They could certainly write an exception for “continuing without deplaning.” I suspect that they don’t want any potential measles carriers even being in a Marshallese airport, due to the possibility of transmission to other passengers on the flight.
Also because in the case of overnight IRROPS, there are indeed "no transit facilities". Unless you want to sleep on the tarmac, and even then I don't think they want that
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Old Jan 11, 2020, 11:30 pm
  #910  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
The Marshallese know about the Island Hopper. They could certainly write an exception for “continuing without deplaning.” I suspect that they don’t want any potential measles carriers even being in a Marshallese airport, due to the possibility of transmission to other passengers on the flight.
I don’t have real data points since I was “armed” and did enter. But I don’t think the RMI government is so sophisticated to remember to modify the TWOV paragraph which is in the visa/docs section and not the health/vax section. I doubt anyone flying westbound on the Hopper needs a visa to enter the RMI, or any eastbound flyer originating in the FSM flying to HNL. However, if anyone flying between PNI/KSA and HNL also need the cert, I bet UA will have already posted a notice of extra long check in hours, and it hasn’t happened.
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Old Jan 11, 2020, 11:39 pm
  #911  
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Originally Posted by HkCaGu
I don’t have real data points since I was “armed” and did enter. But I don’t think the RMI government is so sophisticated to remember to modify the TWOV paragraph which is in the visa/docs section and not the health/vax section.
I mean, they did modify the TWOV paragraph; they added the section on measles vaccination. And I don’t know how “sophisticated” one has to be to understand data entry. If they wanted to exempt Island Hopper passengers, they certainly could have done so.

And, as findark points out — there are no airside transit facilities. What happens if there’s MX at a Marshallese airport? Even if you were intending to leave on the same plane, it might not be possible.

Long story short: I suspect that UA is verifying the entry requirements for every passenger, which is exactly what I’d expect them to do. And I suspect that means following the letter of the law for the vaccination requirement.
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Old Jan 12, 2020, 4:24 pm
  #912  
 
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Well I think the more salient issue is the fact that the Island Hopper is a direct flight without change of gauge (same plane, mostly same pax). Even if an infected person stays on the plane during the connection, they could still infect MAJ passengers during the inbound segment. So whether one deplanes is a red herring.

So I also endorse the literal meaning of the new requirements and I think it is likely the drafters considered this very scenario.
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Old Jan 12, 2020, 9:46 pm
  #913  
fomerly known as LandingGear (not Landing Gear)
 
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Originally Posted by kevflyer
For the flight that lands at PNI you want to be on the right side.
Argh. I had been planning this for over a year and thought 3A would be the best option all the way, Looks like I missed the mark. Should I change for that segment?
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Old Jan 12, 2020, 10:12 pm
  #914  
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Originally Posted by planes&trains
Argh. I had been planning this for over a year and thought 3A would be the best option all the way, Looks like I missed the mark. Should I change for that segment?
I wouldn’t bother. I followed advice in this thread and sat on the right side the whole way, and it turned out I should’ve been on the left the whole way because of winds that day.

On the flipside, my seatmate in 4D was Ms. Heine, the president of the Marshall Islands, so I dare say this was also just as, if not more, interesting

So don’t stress over it too much! Who knows how your winds will be.
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Old Jan 13, 2020, 12:02 am
  #915  
fomerly known as LandingGear (not Landing Gear)
 
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Originally Posted by Pseudo Nim
I wouldn’t bother. I followed advice in this thread and sat on the right side the whole way, and it turned out I should’ve been on the left the whole way because of winds that day.

On the flipside, my seatmate in 4D was Ms. Heine, the president of the Marshall Islands, so I dare say this was also just as, if not more, interesting

So don’t stress over it too much! Who knows how your winds will be.
Ah, feel better. I agree, no way to game it. Been a few months since I booked this and can't wait for the summer.
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