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

Old Jun 30, 2016, 1:45 pm
FlyerTalk Forums Expert How-Tos and Guides
Last edit by: sonyeoshin
Best seat advice
See update in post 500
See update in post 690


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Should I experience the Hopper?

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

Which direction (west or east) is better?

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

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

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


What's with the plane configuration?

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

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

Where should I sit?

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

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

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

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

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

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


What can I do at the stops?

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

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

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

Should I check my bags?

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


What is the food situation?

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

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


And how about IFE?

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


Can I get an upgrade on the Hopper?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Old Jan 9, 2015, 8:06 pm
  #106  
 
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Originally Posted by ryanbryan
I'm doing the Island Hopper departing HNL on 1/26, and have an overnight layover in GUM before my flight the next morning to MNL. Does anyone know if I'll be able to have my luggage checked to only GUM?

The UA website says that they will only check you to the overnight stop, but just want to confirm this actually works in practice? Never been on UA before....
Just had this happen for the first time PDX-TPE-HKG this week. UA would only check my bag to TPE for a 14-hour over night connection to fellow *A carrier, EVA, for the TPE-HKG last leg. According to UA PDX agent, this was because it was longer than 13 hour stopover in TPE, even though I wasn't clearing immigration. EVA handled it promptly as soon as I landed in TPE, no problem.

Recommend you contact UA upon landing in GUM and let them solve the problem for you.

I took The Island Hopper eastbound last March and loved it. Have fun!
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Old Jan 24, 2015, 2:08 pm
  #107  
 
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I have a routing from HNL to KSA then KSA to GUM all in paid C as two segments.

How is the PQM calculated for the 2 segments that are <500mi, eg. MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM, ie. will I receive the 500mi minimum on each segment as a 1K and then a 150% C fare bonus on each segment?

Or does UA, calculate the mileage as the distance from the start to the end of that segment (as a continuous trip)--eg. HNL-KSA (2481mi) instead of HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA (3280mi = 2280mi + 500mi + 500mi). I assume the C fare nets another 50% more on top of these totals.

The answer factors into my year end totals for PQM qualification.

Thanks
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Old Jan 25, 2015, 10:25 pm
  #108  
 
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Originally Posted by sfonorth
I have a routing from HNL to KSA then KSA to GUM all in paid C as two segments.

How is the PQM calculated for the 2 segments that are <500mi, eg. MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM, ie. will I receive the 500mi minimum on each segment as a 1K and then a 150% C fare bonus on each segment?

Or does UA, calculate the mileage as the distance from the start to the end of that segment (as a continuous trip)--eg. HNL-KSA (2481mi) instead of HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA (3280mi = 2280mi + 500mi + 500mi). I assume the C fare nets another 50% more on top of these totals.

The answer factors into my year end totals for PQM qualification.

Thanks
It depends how your PNR is booked. If it is booked as HNL-KSA and KSA-GUM, then you probably would only get direct distance credit.

There are sayings UA has changed this practice, but I haven't heard any reports for island hopper though.
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Old Jan 25, 2015, 11:39 pm
  #109  
 
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I recently did an "island hopper" from Manila > Palau > Yap > Saipan (via Guam) > Guam > Honolulu.

I know it's not the 'official' island hopper discussed in this thread but it was still great. I'm still working on my trip reports from Saipan, Guam, and Honolulu, but the links to my Palau and Yap posts are below - I figure they might benefit those reading this thread in their own planning!

http://baldpacker.com/palau-koror-ro...jellyfish-tour
http://baldpacker.com/micronesia-yap...y-scuba-diving
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Old Jan 27, 2015, 9:39 am
  #110  
 
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I've been banging my head against the wall a bit on figuring out how to get from MNL to ROR for the least miles. I would like to use this island hopper, but United is $600+ or 45k miles. Is there a better airline in Star Alliance to redeem with?
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Old Jan 27, 2015, 12:46 pm
  #111  
 
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Originally Posted by largeeyes
I've been banging my head against the wall a bit on figuring out how to get from MNL to ROR for the least miles. I would like to use this island hopper, but United is $600+ or 45k miles. Is there a better airline in Star Alliance to redeem with?
What about ANA? It is distance based and the round trip ROR-MNL (1041*2 miles) fits in the lower spectrum of 2001-4000 miles category, which requires 22K/43K miles for Y/C award without fuel surcharge on UA.
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Old Jan 27, 2015, 1:08 pm
  #112  
 
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Recently did the island hopper HNL to GUM, then onwards to HKG on 1/16/15. Asked about breaking the itinerary into separate segments for upgrade potential on the Premier hotline, HNL ticketing counter, and departure gate. All said no, unless I wanted to pay more (and it was a LOT more).

We sat on right side of plane which was pretty good. I think the only flight that I wished we were on left was landing on Majuro (although with the atoll being so narrow, maybe it didn't make any difference).

Flight landing at GUM was about an hour late, and we ran through the airport to catch our flight to HKG. Had to clear US customs to enter GUM before continuing onto flight to HKG which added time. Got to plane with a few minutes to spare, only to hear flight attendant mention talk about needing to wait for someone from the island hopper before they could depart.

Carry on luggage only as we didn't want luggage being a few days behind us if we got separated. NOTE: it is a huge pain as every time you deplane at a stop, you must take all of your carry on with you. We didn't once, and the security sweep removed our luggage. Fortunately it was plane side and we saw it upon reboarding.

A long grueling day, but the flight creds (and beautiful sights from the air) were definitely worth it.
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Old Jan 27, 2015, 10:58 pm
  #113  
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Originally Posted by noe94131
Recently did the island hopper HNL to GUM, then onwards to HKG on 1/16/15. Asked about breaking the itinerary into separate segments for upgrade potential on the Premier hotline, HNL ticketing counter, and departure gate. All said no, unless I wanted to pay more (and it was a LOT more).

We sat on right side of plane which was pretty good. I think the only flight that I wished we were on left was landing on Majuro (although with the atoll being so narrow, maybe it didn't make any difference).

Flight landing at GUM was about an hour late, and we ran through the airport to catch our flight to HKG. Had to clear US customs to enter GUM before continuing onto flight to HKG which added time. Got to plane with a few minutes to spare, only to hear flight attendant mention talk about needing to wait for someone from the island hopper before they could depart.

Carry on luggage only as we didn't want luggage being a few days behind us if we got separated. NOTE: it is a huge pain as every time you deplane at a stop, you must take all of your carry on with you. We didn't once, and the security sweep removed our luggage. Fortunately it was plane side and we saw it upon reboarding.

A long grueling day, but the flight creds (and beautiful sights from the air) were definitely worth it.
Still a decent hot breakfast from HNL-MAJ?
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Old Jan 28, 2015, 4:09 am
  #114  
 
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My wife and I did the island hopper last Friday. Yes, decent breakfast HNL-MAJ. We were in 8A and 8C. It was only on the TKK-GUM segment that someone sat between us.

We thought it strange that it was only one boarding pass the whole way, but used the app to request the boarding passes be emailed, where we got one for each flight. Why does that matter? My wife loves to scrapbook stuff, so she was happy.

Thanks to all here for the info on the flights? I agree with the left side being a great view.
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Old Jan 28, 2015, 12:02 pm
  #115  
 
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Originally Posted by MatthewLAX
Still a decent hot breakfast from HNL-MAJ?
Yes, they did serve a decent hot breakfast. We also got a small ham/cheese sandwich on two legs (KWA to KSA and TKK to GUM I believe). Nothing fancy and totally unexpected.

HNL-GUM was purchased as one segment. Account credited with 3,801 total miles (L-class) plus 1k bonus.

Post 3/1/15, this would only be 2,310 redeemable miles vs. 7,602 today
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Old Jan 28, 2015, 1:31 pm
  #116  
 
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Originally Posted by cloudybw
What about ANA? It is distance based and the round trip ROR-MNL (1041*2 miles) fits in the lower spectrum of 2001-4000 miles category, which requires 22K/43K miles for Y/C award without fuel surcharge on UA.
ANA also allows stopovers, which would be awesome - but I have not heard any reports of anyone using them on this route.
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Old Jan 31, 2015, 9:03 pm
  #117  
 
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Did the Island Hopper this past Monday, you can check out the TR here!
http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...l#post24270018
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Old Feb 1, 2015, 5:13 am
  #118  
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Originally Posted by noe94131
Had to clear US customs to enter GUM before continuing onto flight to HKG which added time.
You did leave the U.S. So this is unavoidable.

Originally Posted by noe94131
Carry on luggage only as we didn't want luggage being a few days behind us if we got separated. NOTE: it is a huge pain as every time you deplane at a stop, you must take all of your carry on with you. We didn't once, and the security sweep removed our luggage. Fortunately it was plane side and we saw it upon reboarding.
Simply check your bag. GUM-HKG will hold for your bags.
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Old Feb 13, 2015, 11:13 pm
  #119  
 
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Review of Micronesia Island Hopper - Feb 11, 2015

I flew the Island Hopper (UA 154) o/w on Feb 11. Spoiler alert: This review is not as positive as the ones posted elsewhere in this thread.

Overnight in HNL
Facing this dilemma, I stayed overnight at the Royal Grove on Waikiki Beach for $80. A relatively good deal. a/c worked well, & hotel was easy to find steps from #19 bus from HNL. The 1st bus departed at 04:00 am, plenty of time to get back to the int'l terminal - 3rd stop (@ 5:34 am) and visit the UC lounge (which conveniently opens at 05:00 am).
HNL-MAJ
On check-in, I discovered that UA 154 was not stopping in KSA! Since when? I (for one) did not get a schedule change notice!

I was not prepared (from reading the reviews) for the 1st leg, which is 5 hours in duration. Moreover, the pushback of UA 154 was delayed by + 1 hour by baggage irregularities (more on this later). During the delay, all 6 MAJ-bound infants on board wailed non-stop. Quite the experience! On a more positive note, the FAs served a full cooked breakfast en route, plus 2 drink services (more on the FAs as well later). Great pics from the left side of the 738. In MAJ, we were allowed to disembark with our carry-on, which I strongly recommend to anyone flying this route. T-shirts, crafts & beer for sale in Majuro Airport transit area. Don't even think about getting a passport stamped - its not happening. In the transit lounge, I saw a table full of UA bps. I approached the agent, and learned these were for residents traveling on a pass. Where we they going? For the most part, to MNL for medical treatment. Why MNL? According to my source, the medical care is better there than in HNL!

MAJ-KWA
The next leg to Kwajilein was a brisk 46 minutes. KWA is a "restricted US military garrison" i.e. you are not allowed to disembark, unless (of course) KWA is your final destination. Lots of US Army types disembarked - 32 in total (all, strangely in plain clothes). Taxiing for take-off, I spied a nice looking golf course in the restricted area alongside the runway. A nice perk for Army personnel? The only person to board in KWA was my seatmate - a Christian teacher who lives in GUM and spent his entire career teaching in Christian schools in KWA, PNI, & TKK (NB his favorite was PNI!)

However, pushback was again delayed by more than one hour. This time, the captain said he was waiting cargo checks and for performance numbers from Chicago! (Question - Is UA so centralized that a pilot crossing the int'l date line has to wait for orders from HQ?) I checked on united.com, and sure enough, UA 154/155 has a spotty on time record. e.g.
UA 154 Feb 12 Arrived GUM 59 minutes late
UA 155 Feb 13 Arrived HNL 47 minutes late.
Was the KWA stop eliminated to improve the O/T performance? If so, note to Jeff - the solution is not working!

KWA-PNI
The 738 on this leg is half-empty. The 1 h 27 minute flight plan is spent mostly in my seat with the seat belt sign on as we fly through storm clouds. According to my Christian seat mate, PNI gets 300 cm of rain a year, and has the highest elevation in the Marshall Islands.
At this point, certain aspects of the Island Hopper start to bug me:
- the IFE is lame, and I am now seeing the 3rd repeat of Anthony Bourdain's stories of the Civil War (why are we showing this to the Marshall Islanders, by the way?);
- there is no flight map on the 738, which I would find useful to identify other atolls on the route. Nor is there Channel 9 to listen to;
- there is no E+ seating on UA 154. Why?
- there are a record 5 FA's on board, and I swear at least two of them are incompetent to fly a mainline route. One (Mr. Casanova) spends the entire flight making eyes with his girlfriend on board. I am certain he cannot speak English. Another (Patti) only works the MIH-HNL based?

PNI-TKK
The FA's are now serving the 2nd installment of chicken sandwiches. Seriously, how many were loaded by catering? TKK is eagerly anticipated by the scuba divers on board, one of whom I met in bound on my SF0-HNL flight on Feb 10 (He ended up spending the night in HNL Airport, which - he said - was not that bad!). This is also the 1st leg where buy-on-board alcohol is for sale!


TKK-GUM
The last leg is predictably 1 hour late. I found it hard to re-set my watch on the MIH, as there were so many time changes. My cnx. to KOR was on time, so I had to scramble to clear GUM customs and get to Gate 10 for the full flight to KOR. I wondered what happens to others who miss their cnx? (Hanging out in the UC lounge is not an option as it closes at 19:30).

My Synopsis

While I enjoyed the MIH, I would have been a bit disappointed if my journey ended in GUM. KOR was a great place to overnight (albeit expensive) and the other option which looked worthwhile was TKK. (GUM is both expensive and disappointing according to other threads, notwithstanding the current article in Hemispheres trumpeting its emerging tourism sector).

I was unpleasantly surprised by the KSA flyover (once per week), the poor O/T performance, and the focus on cargo as a priority over passengers). I was also very disappointed by the in-flight experience i.e. set your standards lower, and you will not be disappointed!

Feel free to PM me if you have any questions.
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Old Feb 14, 2015, 12:19 am
  #120  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
T-shirts, crafts & beer for sale in Majuro Airport transit area. Don't even think about getting a passport stamped - its not happening.


i'll admit, one of the two immigration officials did seem a lot less friendly than the other. also scored in pohnpei and chuuk.
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