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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 25, 2024, 6:39 am
  #1291  
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See Giff Johnson, "Freak waves cause damage at Army base, shut airports in remote islands", Marianas Variety, Mon., 22 Jan 2024, available at https://www.mvariety.com/news/region...643c4792a.html .
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Old Jan 25, 2024, 9:48 am
  #1292  
 
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Had just gone through on hopper that week few days before. Lucky on my timing. Scary.
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 5:24 am
  #1293  
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Hi everyone.

I booked the island hopper as an award ticket and I am wondering if possible to OLCI for non-US citizens for UA154? I am asking as I will fly from RAR to HNL, landing there at 05:50AM and the UA154 leaves at 07:10AM and I don't think I will have time to visit the check-in desk landside if required - *I will be without a checked bag.

I know my plan is risky, but I will cancel the ticket if anything goes wrong with my HNL inbound flight.

thank you.
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 6:04 am
  #1294  
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Originally Posted by GBobon
I booked the island hopper as an award ticket and I am wondering if possible to OLCI for non-US citizens for UA154? I am asking as I will fly from RAR to HNL, landing there at 05:50AM and the UA154 leaves at 07:10AM and I don't think I will have time to visit the check-in desk landside if required - *I will be without a checked bag.
If the app will load the passport information, and any necessary visa information, then you should be able to do OLCI as a non-US citizen. There are, however, mixed reports of how well this works.

That said, your plan is outrageously ambitious to the point of not being practical. Because you will be entering the United States, you will have to go through US Immigration and Customs at HNL. You’ll then be landside, and you’ll need to go through security (not sure if they do the agricultural inspection for UA154, but I’m guessing not) and then haul tail across the airport to the UA gates. Even without a checked bag, I don’t see how you make it, particularly if UA were to decide to enforce the contract of carriage provisions for international flights, which would mean check-in closes 60 minutes prior to departure and you have to be present in the boarding area 30 minutes prior to departure.

The official minimum connection time for your itinerary is 2 hours, so you’re coming in 40 minutes under that.

My advice would be to spend a couple of days enjoying Hawaii rather than racing from a nasty red-eye flight to maybe board an AVGeek type of flight. You won’t want to go to all of this trouble just to sleep through the Hopper — even assuming you get on.
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 7:26 am
  #1295  
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Originally Posted by jsloan
Even without a checked bag, I don’t see how you make it, particularly if UA were to decide to enforce the contract of carriage provisions for international flights, which would mean check-in closes 60 minutes prior to departure and you have to be present in the boarding area 30 minutes prior to departure.
Check-in for international departures from HNL closes 75 minutes before departure, and if I recall they are somewhat strict about this for the Hopper. There is enough bag loading Tetris and other mess for the flight that they really want the manifest squared away as soon as possible.
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 8:13 am
  #1296  
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Thank you both for the info you shared.

I have been to Hawaii many times but never got the chance to take the Island Hopper so I did book it now as Hawaiian's OTP for its flight from RAR is great (often landing 20-30min before scheduled arrival time) and with a seat in front of the aircraft I will be able to deboard early.

But I missed the fact that I will land there from an international flight so I have to go landside and back thru TSA.

Regarding OLCI, I did it with UAL a couple of times without issue, but it was always for a domestic flight.

will see how this adventure plays out. thank you once again!

BTW: Miles&More is a very good way to book the Island Hopper (20k miles + 16usd in taxes for HNL-GUM).
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Last edited by GBobon; Jan 26, 2024 at 8:21 am
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 8:52 am
  #1297  
 
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Yes it is 75 minutes checkin cut off at the kiosk in HNL if on a thru Hopper flight. Two weeks ago, I missed the 75 min checkin mark and got this reject message at the HNL kiosk doing something similar. But I had been at the airport waiting for service in the Premier line for 15+ mins and then gave up and went to kiosk. So then I had to go back to Premier line and got a talking to. Even worse it is actually from the what the UA TA dragon who let me on UA 154 late it is actually “90 minutes for all passengers” now. I saw some conflicting info between the 75 (what the kiosk says) and the website. I wasn’t going to rock the boat with the UA TA because they let me board. And you must be carry on. Luggage - even dropping - after OLCI is 90 mins for sure.

If you did the pre-arrival CBP app maybe it would shave some time down on customs clearance. It’s also pretty chill at 6 am at United terminal 2 except for Hopper people and their mountains of luggage. Security etc is calm otherwise.

Last edited by BallardFlyer; Jan 26, 2024 at 9:31 am
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Old Jan 26, 2024, 9:16 am
  #1298  
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Originally Posted by GBobon
I have been to Hawaii many times but never got the chance to take the Island Hopper so I did book it now as Hawaiian's OTP for its flight from RAR is great (often landing 20-30min before scheduled arrival time) and with a seat in front of the aircraft I will be able to deboard early.
There are no scheduled international arrivals between 2:10 AM and 5:50 AM. It wouldn't surprise me if CBP closed, and getting there 20-30 minutes early just means sitting on the ground for 20-30 minutes before they open the door. I'd ask someone who's taken that flight for their feedback.
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Old Feb 4, 2024, 8:23 am
  #1299  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
There are no scheduled international arrivals between 2:10 AM and 5:50 AM. It wouldn't surprise me if CBP closed, and getting there 20-30 minutes early just means sitting on the ground for 20-30 minutes before they open the door. I'd ask someone who's taken that flight for their feedback.
CBP work in shifts, so if your flight arrive 05:50, i assume their first shift start to report in for 06:00.
Had once where our flight to SFO arrived 04:30 and we ended up sitting on the plane for approx. 90 mins before being let off.
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Old Feb 4, 2024, 4:23 pm
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Originally Posted by global happy traveller
Had once where our flight to SFO arrived 04:30 and we ended up sitting on the plane for approx. 90 mins before being let off.
Had that at LAX too
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Old Feb 17, 2024, 9:31 pm
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Hello all -
I have the Island Hopper booked in Business Class as part of a round the world trip with my father in April. I booked it originally, then he decided to come as well. I have a window seat, he has an aisle in the row behind. That was the only seat available for him to select. I can ascertain from the seat maps that the cabin is only full on the final leg from Chuuk to Guam (the seat next to me is only occupied on that leg as well). In fact, except for one person boarding at Kwaj going to Guam, me and my father are the only two people booked in Business from HNL as far as TKK. I can verify this isn't just a seat map anomaly as I have companion travel benefits on United from a friend and I can look at see the actual load for the flight by cabin, and it's only booked to 2 of 12, then 3 of 12).

United reservation is saying it is impossible to somehow put my father and me together for the first 4 legs. Two agents now keep repeating (and put me on hold to check with the ticketing desk) that the flight is full in Business despite what I may see online (which I know for a fact it is not). Is there something I'm missing to get them to split so we can at least be assigned seats together 80% of the way? I'd rather take care of it now as I'm sure the cabin will fill up in the next 7 weeks with upgrades or further ticket sales.
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Old Feb 18, 2024, 12:57 am
  #1302  
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Originally Posted by JAXPax
United reservation is saying it is impossible to somehow put my father and me together for the first 4 legs. Two agents now keep repeating (and put me on hold to check with the ticketing desk) that the flight is full in Business despite what I may see online (which I know for a fact it is not). Is there something I'm missing to get them to split so we can at least be assigned seats together 80% of the way? I'd rather take care of it now as I'm sure the cabin will fill up in the next 7 weeks with upgrades or further ticket sales.
It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of effort unless your fare happens both to allow unlimited transfers and allows transfers at each Hopper airport. UA does have a few fares that meet those criteria, but most do not. Assuming yours (and, more the point, your father’s) does not, they need to split the reservation by booking each leg separately but they have to override revlidation — the ticket wouldn’t validate in that state. Experienced agents will likely be able to do it, but the new trainees may never have seen the tools they’d need.
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Old Feb 18, 2024, 8:15 am
  #1303  
 
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Originally Posted by jsloan
It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of effort unless your fare happens both to allow unlimited transfers and allows transfers at each Hopper airport. UA does have a few fares that meet those criteria, but most do not. Assuming yours (and, more the point, your father’s) does not, they need to split the reservation by booking each leg separately but they have to override revlidation — the ticket wouldn’t validate in that state. Experienced agents will likely be able to do it, but the new trainees may never have seen the tools they’d need.
Thank you... funny, meanwhile Spirit can do this on any reservation with a simple two character command (assign seat by segment).

His fare is a C1WC. Says:

Stopovers

GENERAL RULES TEXT
UNLIMITED STOPOVERS PERMITTED ON THE PRICING UNIT.

Transfers

GENERAL RULES TEXT
UNLIMITED TRANSFERS PERMITTED ON THE PRICING UNIT
FARE BREAK AND EMBEDDED SURFACE SECTORS PERMITTED ON THE
FARE COMPONENT.
So I'm assuming it could be broken at TKK?
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Old Feb 18, 2024, 8:23 am
  #1304  
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Originally Posted by JAXPax
So I'm assuming it could be broken at TKK?
You need to check the routing table as well. The fare rules allowing unlimited transfers is only half the battle.

BTW, if the fare does allow a transfer at TKK, you might be able to handle this yourself if you’re willing to cancel and rebook. Try using multi-city search, putting TKK as a destination, and see if it will allow you to select seats separately during the purchase flow. If so, there’s a good chance they’d stick if you completed the purchase (not 100% guaranteed, though).
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Old Feb 18, 2024, 9:36 am
  #1305  
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RTW fares are MPM fares, so it is valid to book the Hopper segments separately (unless the extra distance is too far). However, to do this "above board" you would have to process as a voluntary change, which will revalidate inventory on the entire ticket so it can still be complicated.

For what it's worth, years ago when I split the segments on a non-eligible fare it took about 6 hours across four calls (and got chewed out by the MAJ station manager, but that's another story )
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