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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 Feb 27, 2024, 8:04 pm
  #1321  
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Originally Posted by DEN (Post # 1320)
I think there was also a Saipan connection and a few Narita connections that were tight over the years.
Domestic Connections on Guam

Unlike any other GUM arrival, flights from SPN (and HNL) are arriving from the United States. Therefore, there are no U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration screenings, Guam Customs and Quarantine Agency (Guam CQA) customs inspections, or Transportation Security Administration (TSA) searches for passengers arriving non-stop from Saipan and Honolulu who are connecting to another flight.

Such passengers are admitted to the sterile airside portion of the terminal, and connecting baggage is transferred directly to the next flight.
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Old Mar 3, 2024, 1:27 am
  #1322  
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The subject of pricing has come up a bunch of times, but not a lot of detailed answers.

I'm thinking about trying to do the island hopper sometime this year. Sadly, despite searching every single Monday and Friday out to end of schedule, I didn't find a single date with availability in J on Aeroplan for UA154. Plenty of dates with at least 1 seat in Y, but not a single one in J. Should I hold out any hope for a seat being released at some point, or just look at other options?

I'm not opposed to paying cash, but the prices are super high. If I look for HNL-GUM round trip, it's close to US$4K (one way is >US$8K, blech). At that point, I figured I'd check on making it a YYC-GUM round trip because positioning to HNL isn't free. That takes it up to US$5.5K, which is more money but better value. For a couple hundred bucks more, I can make it a YYC-TYO round trip, which is better value still.

One thing I did notice is one-way HNL-TYO prices out around US$2.2K. I'm split at the moment on whether that's better value than the US$6K for a YYC-TYO. It's probably going to cost close US$1K to get to HNL. So I'm around US$3K. It's hard to do TPAC on Aeroplan these days, and while I see some interesting one-way J fares on OZ and Zipair, they're around US$2K, so pushing close to the same cost as a YYC-TYO ticket from UA.

Iln absolute terms, that's still a ton of money. Yes, UA holds a monopoly, but am I missing anything in terms of finding better pricing on this thing?

(I did find plenty of availability on UA MP at 110K points one-way, but as a Canadian, there aren't really any good options for me to earn UA points)
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Old Mar 3, 2024, 1:42 am
  #1323  
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Originally Posted by Adam Smith
Should I hold out any hope for a seat being released at some point, or just look at other options?
There's always hope; the problem is, inventory is extremely limited as they take four seats out of inventory for the spare crew rest seats, so you're left with a total of 12, and a purchase along any one hop can take that seat out of inventory for the entire trip.

Originally Posted by Adam Smith
Iln absolute terms, that's still a ton of money. Yes, UA holds a monopoly, but am I missing anything in terms of finding better pricing on this thing?
Watch for a sale on flights from the US or Canadian west coast to TYO that can be routed on the Hopper. You may get lucky. In general, you'll get better pricing on the through fare than you will if you're trying to terminate at GUM -- and the pricing will get worse still if you want a stopover on any of the islands.
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Old Mar 3, 2024, 3:20 am
  #1324  
 
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Originally Posted by JAXPax
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.

I encountered almost exactly the same set of circumstances when I booked my biz seat for the hopper last OCT. Every single biz seat was full on every leg, but not always with the same passengers.
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Old Mar 3, 2024, 2:19 pm
  #1325  
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SEL (ICN) is usually the cheapest ticketed point in Asia, and as a starter I see YYC-ICN round-trips in the low $3,000 range. I am struggling to understand why it won't price for me via GUM, but if $3,xxx is an acceptable price point I would definitely start there.

Don't use HNL or GUM as ticketed points if you can avoid it; both are effectively UA fortress hubs for this purpose.
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Old Mar 5, 2024, 3:27 am
  #1326  
 
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In case you’re looking to have your passport stamped at MAJ


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Old Mar 9, 2024, 6:32 am
  #1327  
 
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Finally get my Island Hopper trip together for the end of this year, at long last! I have a quick question - is flying westbound or eastbound better? It appears that the eastbound leg lands in the middle of the night at HNL, so I am unsure how much of the flight is in darkness (or is it just really the last leg, MAJ-HNL)?
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Old Mar 9, 2024, 8:23 am
  #1328  
 
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
Finally get my Island Hopper trip together for the end of this year, at long last! I have a quick question - is flying westbound or eastbound better? It appears that the eastbound leg lands in the middle of the night at HNL, so I am unsure how much of the flight is in darkness (or is it just really the last leg, MAJ-HNL)?
It will be dark at MAJ, and probably nearing dark at KWA

Remember - being close to the equator and not having DST, the sunrise and sunset vary much less between summer and winter than they do farther north (or south for that matter).

Time and Date - Majuro

According to Timeanddate.com, Sunset in Majuro is at:

01-Nov-24 6:14 PM
01-Dec-24 6:15 PM
01-Jan-25 6:29 PM

Civil Twilight ends about 20 minutes later.
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Old Mar 9, 2024, 12:39 pm
  #1329  
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
Finally get my Island Hopper trip together for the end of this year, at long last! I have a quick question - is flying westbound or eastbound better? It appears that the eastbound leg lands in the middle of the night at HNL, so I am unsure how much of the flight is in darkness (or is it just really the last leg, MAJ-HNL)?
I prefer eastbound, which is against the common practice. If on time, MAJ will be just after dark and the rest of the interesting part is in the day. You can then sleep for MAJ-HNL.

Flying west, you have to deal with the long HNL-MAJ segment before you even get to do anything interesting.
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 1:43 am
  #1330  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
I prefer eastbound, which is against the common practice. If on time, MAJ will be just after dark and the rest of the interesting part is in the day. You can then sleep for MAJ-HNL.

Flying west, you have to deal with the long HNL-MAJ segment before you even get to do anything interesting.
Or start from GUM and do it twice! I started on UA155 from GUM in the morning, spent the night at MAJ, then turned around on UA154 back to GUM. Approaching MAJ during sunset/twilight was magical.
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 6:26 pm
  #1331  
 
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Appreciate the advice. What I am planning right now is a 72-hour whirlwind...EWR-TYO-GUM-TKK-PNI-KSA-KWJ-MAJ-HNL-EWR. A few questions from those who have done the experience:

-Are there any shower options in NRT airside?
-The main reason I ask is that it does not seem like there are shower options in GUM (which would be a 3ish-hour layover) or in HNL. If there are not, I am more inclined to transit via HND, which gives me a long layover (so I can go visit Tokyo) as well as try two new routes (EWR-HND, HND-GUM) that I have not flown yet. Gotta get those new destinations on the route map!
-Can one sleep in the terminal in HNL / is it advised? The arrival in HNL is at 3am, and I can stay in Honolulu until the direct flight in the afternoon, or I can hop on the first UA flight (8am) to SFO and make it back to EWR about 6 hours earlier.
-Do the GUM 738s have outlets for charging?
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 8:07 pm
  #1332  
 
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The 738 that I flew GUM-NRT had two power outlets per row, and I was sitting in seat 10A.



Also, the website for the Sagan Bisita lounge in GUM does say it has showers available. Its a $45 charge to use the lounge, though.

I wrote a trip review on another aviation site that gives an overall review of GUM: https://www.airliners.net/forum/view...7861f2689148fb
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Mar 10, 2024 at 8:40 pm Reason: merged consecutive posts by same member
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 8:23 pm
  #1333  
 
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Originally Posted by Get2DaChopper
Also, the website for the Sagan Bisita lounge in GUM does say it has showers available. Its a $45 charge to use the lounge, though.

I wrote a trip review on another aviation site that gives an overall review of GUM: https://www.airliners.net/forum/view...7861f2689148fb
Thanks for that. We're overnighting in GUM at the Hilton (all those dozens upon dozens of nights at Hamptons and HGIs in places like Joplin, Salina, North Platte, and Flint are finally worth something)... then flying out next evening on Korean in PrestigeClass to ICN (A330). Sagan Bisita is the designated lounge for their business class, it appears.
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 9:04 pm
  #1334  
 
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
-Do the GUM 738s have outlets for charging?
Originally Posted by Get2DaChopper
The 738 that I flew GUM-NRT had two power outlets per row, and I was sitting in seat 10A.
Only rows 1 to 21 have power outlets on these aircraft. https://www.united.com/en/us/fly/com...html#version-3
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Old Mar 10, 2024, 10:32 pm
  #1335  
 
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Originally Posted by PsiFighter37
-Can one sleep in the terminal in HNL / is it advised? The arrival in HNL is at 3am, and I can stay in Honolulu until the direct flight in the afternoon, or I can hop on the first UA flight (8am) to SFO and make it back to EWR about 6 hours earlier.
off-topic maybe, but after all that travel, you should definitely stay in honolulu a few extra hours to relax...
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