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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 Mar 14, 2023, 4:08 am
  #1231  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 9
I'm partway through my hopper experience and both on my HNL-MAJ flight on Mar 7 and MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI flight on Mar 11, they announced that continuing passengers had to stay on board. Both flights had departed HNL late, so they were trying to make up lost time. No reference to COVID...
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Old Mar 17, 2023, 11:01 am
  #1232  
 
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I flew KSA - HNL on 17th of March. It was on time in KSA, but then it was getting delayed. At MAJ it was delayed by 1.5h due to cargo and aircraft balancing.

I think, it was my last trip on Island Hopper for the time being. Security checks at different stops and delays are too much hassle.

As previously, I recommend staying at Nautilus in KSA. There's also a new hotel called Island Hopper, run by Mark who previously run Tree Lodge. They are building restaurant now, so it should be ready in some time.

I was told at the airport, that they are expecting security scanners soon, so checks should be easier and faster.
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Old Mar 19, 2023, 9:28 am
  #1233  
 
Join Date: Jan 2016
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Thinking about doing the trip this November with one or two stopovers (if XN space opens up).

According to the posts here, KSA looks like the preferred stop. Any other recommendations? Is the experience on PNI and TKK different enough to give them a try? Otherwise I'd probably choose MAJ, to tick another country of the list.

(I looked through some posts with the in-topic search, but apparently not too many people opt for a stopover)
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Old Mar 19, 2023, 10:51 am
  #1234  
 
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Originally Posted by delpiero223
Thinking about doing the trip this November with one or two stopovers (if XN space opens up).

According to the posts here, KSA looks like the preferred stop. Any other recommendations? Is the experience on PNI and TKK different enough to give them a try? Otherwise I'd probably choose MAJ, to tick another country of the list.

(I looked through some posts with the in-topic search, but apparently not too many people opt for a stopover)
PNI and MAJ are capitals with embassies and politicians and resident foreigners. Interesting drives too. Other islands are a bit less modern, much of TKK is to be seen as you dive or take a boat ride to other islands in the lagoon. And to some the slums of Ebeye and no choices of hotels plus two mandatory ferry rides to/from KWA can be interesting.
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Old Mar 21, 2023, 1:30 am
  #1235  
 
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I heard from other hotel guest, that tourism at PNI is a bit dead yet and he couldn't do any trips except diving. But it may change until November.
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Old Mar 21, 2023, 6:52 am
  #1236  
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Many of my colleagues from Micronesian Legal Services Corporation will be visiting SPN next month. Anything I should ask them?

Don't ask me, because I've never flown the Island Hopper.
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Old Apr 18, 2023, 3:54 am
  #1237  
 
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I flew UA154 on 14 Apr - amazing experience all around. We were late leaving HNL but we’re on time by the time we reached GUM. Couldn’t get off in TKK because of some lingering COVID restrictions but could deplane in MAJ KSA PNI.

I only received 5 PQF - shouldn’t it be 6?
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Old Apr 25, 2023, 3:13 pm
  #1238  
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Have finally flown the Island hopper! Was on UA155 two days ago (4/24) going all the way from GUM to HNL. Could get off at PNI/KSA/MAJ. Got some fruit and muffin on GUM-TKK and hot sandwich on MAJ-HNL. Flight was mostly full throughout all segments.
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Old Apr 25, 2023, 6:52 pm
  #1239  
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
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I'm due to depart for Guam tomorrow morning for my island hopper return on Friday (UA155). Looking forward - seatmap looks full.
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Old Apr 27, 2023, 3:42 am
  #1240  
 
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Originally Posted by bakster21
I'm due to depart for Guam tomorrow morning for my island hopper return on Friday (UA155). Looking forward - seatmap looks full.
Rack up those passport stamps if you can!
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Old Apr 28, 2023, 7:21 am
  #1241  
 
Join Date: Oct 2016
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I'm very pleased that this is my year! UA155 traveling on a Monday in August, GUM TKK PNI KSA KWA MAJ HNL LAX IAH - 8 + 2 o/b segments towards my PQF and P class (PFX23SOP) RT. GUM is my fare break and MAJ was used on the return as my connecting point. I've booked seat on the #2 (starboard/co-pilot) side for the journey. I have no idea what I'll do at 2:55am in HNL! with a 5-hour layover!

I've read several posts here. This is currently the only one still active! For all of you that have posted, you made this plan a reality - TY!

I will use the Polaris Lounge in IAH on my outbound to NRT even though - technically - I am traveling domestically point to point on the fare.
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Old Apr 28, 2023, 9:03 am
  #1242  
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Did you guys not actually upload a map of the route some years ago showing the airports and the course of the route with a red line? I can't find it anywhere.
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Old Apr 28, 2023, 9:05 am
  #1243  
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
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Originally Posted by Concerto
Did you guys not actually upload a map of the route some years ago showing the airports and the course of the route with a red line? I can't find it anywhere.
You can map any airport you want using gcmap.com. Here's an example: A map from the Great Circle Mapper - Great Circle Mapper
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Old Apr 28, 2023, 12:32 pm
  #1244  
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That's wonderful, thanks very much. I really plan on doing this trip sometime. The only downside I see with using miles is that it's more difficult to make stopovers.
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Old Apr 29, 2023, 5:21 pm
  #1245  
 
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Returned yesterday to SFO from Friday's UA155 eastbound Island Hopper - no issues along the way and overall great views. I had 8F for the whole trip, no upgrades cleared. Tried my best for stamps but was not successful - during the PNI stop I asked for a stamp and was told "no not possible". So many great pictures!
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