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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 14, 2015, 9:12 am
  #121  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
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!
It has been years that the Wed/Thu flight skips Kosrae.

Originally Posted by Antonio8069
For the most part, to MNL for medical treatment. Why MNL? According to my source, the medical care is better there than in HNL!
The variety of treatment options and equipment is somewhat correlated to the size of the population. And then there is cost.

Originally Posted by Antonio8069
According to my Christian seat mate, PNI gets 300 cm of rain a year, and has the highest elevation in the Marshall Islands.
You're not in the Marshalls any more. Kosrae and Pohnpei are in the FSM which together with Palau comprise of the Caroline Islands. The Marshall Islands are all flat (low islands). Many of the Caroline Islands (and all major ones) are at least somewhat mountainous (high islands).

Originally Posted by Antonio8069
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?)
They use US money. They use USPS. They use 110-V US plugs. Their phone numbers are 7-digit despite small population. They can move to the US (work or study) any time without green cards or any visa. They can even join the US military without green cards. They even skip school and work on Superbowl Monday much like Americans on Guam and in the Northern Marianas.

Originally Posted by Antonio8069
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?
It's a Continental plane. More exactly a Continental Micronesia plane. They might eventually get to them.

Originally Posted by Antonio8069
(GUM is both expensive and disappointing according to other threads, notwithstanding the current article in Hemispheres trumpeting its emerging tourism sector).
It emerged 40 years ago. For the same quality of hotel rooms and other options, it's not that much more expensive than any island or even Hawaii.
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Old Feb 14, 2015, 1:04 pm
  #122  
 
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Originally Posted by Antonio8069
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).
If one is going to fly all the way to Micronesia, there are so many places that are better to go than GUM. Fly to GUM, then catch the UA flight to Palau that stops through Yap. In Yap (part of the Federated States of Micronesia), you can see the stone money that is still in circulation and do some amazing diving with a great dive outfitter (Yap Divers). Then head to beautiful Palau, where you can snorkel or kayak in the rock islands, dive the Blue Hole, drink endless coconuts in Kayangel, and visit a major WW2 site on Peliliu (where there are lots of landing vehicles and planes that you can see, just lying about). Keep an eye out for the beautiful beads that the women wear--they are currency in Palau.
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Old Feb 14, 2015, 2:39 pm
  #123  
 
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Interesting insights Antonio I found it interesting that your biggest gripe was the punctuality of the flights. From what I can tell you were doing the MIH as a novelty like a few others do and not out of necessity. If I were taking a 14 hour journey that has 4-5 stops on small islands in the Pacific I would be thinking of it as an adventure and go along for the ride and see what happens.
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Old Feb 14, 2015, 4:45 pm
  #124  
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Love the passports stamps. I did not even try!
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Old Mar 11, 2015, 12:43 pm
  #125  
 
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Not sure if anyone has noticed this month's pre-safety video, but it highlights the island hopper route. One of the few pre-safety videos I've actually liked! I would post a link to it but I dont think its been uploaded to youtube yet.
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Old Mar 18, 2015, 8:35 pm
  #126  
 
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Originally Posted by eng3
Not sure if anyone has noticed this month's pre-safety video, but it highlights the island hopper route. One of the few pre-safety videos I've actually liked! I would post a link to it but I dont think its been uploaded to youtube yet.
Last month Hemisphere's cover Guam.
This months safety video the Island Hopper - it was heart melting, and great reminder of last month's trip. Yes very enjoyable to see.
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Old Mar 18, 2015, 8:44 pm
  #127  
 
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Originally Posted by westerndh
Last month Hemisphere's cover Guam.
This months safety video the Island Hopper - it was heart melting, and great reminder of last month's trip. Yes very enjoyable to see.
I did tear through the issue, I rarely read the IFM. I am flying out next week ex-MEL so hopefully there is still the safety video.

Really looking forward to doing this early next year when I am going to/from a long stint in Thailand.
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Old Mar 19, 2015, 7:41 pm
  #128  
 
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Originally Posted by westerndh
Last month Hemisphere's cover Guam.
This months safety video the Island Hopper - it was heart melting, and great reminder of last month's trip. Yes very enjoyable to see.
all i've seen is the march of dimes video. am i missing something? i'm only flying domestic narrowbodies this month, if that matters.
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Old Mar 19, 2015, 11:59 pm
  #129  
 
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Island Hopper Tips

Re-posting Island Hopper tips from last months trip. After this months Island Hopper feature on the pre flight safety video, there may be many more people wanting to experience this wonderful bucket list trip:

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/unite...l#post24396972

What to bring:

Shorts & T shirt / Hawaiian shirt

Large water bottle, you need to stay hydrated. Flight attendants come by every 30 minutes to top up

Extra food – Initial breakfast from Honolulu is great, after that it’s very basic rolls. Plan on a couple of extra meals. Jerky was a life saver for me.

Sun tan cream, it’s really hot! We did not notice any bugs on the islands.

Blankets provided, note the back of the plane is warmer than front.


Where to sit:

Assuming normal wind direction, left side usually provides a nice Island overview from a distance but from about 5,000 feet, the views are generally much better on the right side. The flight does a left turn or 180 turn at most stations.

Use Mobile App to access row 7, fantastic E+ seating. I selected 7F.

Rows 8-10 would be ok as well, otherwise get behind row 27 to avoid wings and still have ok view.

The exception is Majuro, where I suggest you scope out a temporary left side window seat about an hour before landing. I moved to 30A just for the landing and “wow”, that was a good place to be. The view of the runway, taking the whole width of the Atoll was amazing.

Right side also allows observation of the cargo loading - the freight, mail and suitcases along with the station trucks are as fascinating to watch as the constant influx of new passengers. At anytime, on all segments, I'd say there was only 20-30 open seats.

Majuro
Approach – this is a long 60 mile approach, you want to be on the left side for this, it’s spectacular, particularly after 4 hours of ocean.
Depart – Right side, flight makes a super 180 left turn over the Atoll, lots to see. Left side would also be good.

Kwajalein
Approach – Left or Right Side. Right side has golf course.
Take off – Left or Right Side
Right side on take off gives a magnificent perspective / view of horse shoe

Kosrae
This is the shortest runway at 5,700 feet. Expect a rather quick stop!
Approach – Right side for close up views
Take off – Right side for close up views

Pohnpei
Approach – Right side for close up views
Take off – Right side for close up views and view of shipwreck on reef

Chuuk
Approach – Right side
Take off – Right side

Guam
5am in the morning, we landed at 4.30am so couldn't see a thing!

Communication
Following was based on my AT&T phone:
Majuro - can activate via Paypal or visa. $5 per 50mb. Phone will show full signal, but needs to be activated with RMI. On Island, everyone buys time cards $5 for 50 minutes.

Kwajalein - free wifi signal for everyone on the plane

Kosrae / Pohnpei / Chuuk - AT&T phone worked sometimes, texts were fine. Otherwise have to purchase prepaid FSM Telecom cards.

Guam - normal operation


Other tips
When you deplane, there's a cart close to the air stairs where you can leave your carry on bag, leaving you hands free to explore the terminal.

Sitting in row 7 definitely allows you to talk to the Mechanic who was very friendly. There's so much legroom that even a middle seat in row 7 would allow decent views if traveling with a friend.

Shut your windows when deplaning, you never know when the air conditioning's going to fail!

Buy local crafts and also the local newspaper where possible (definitely at Chuuk and Pohnpei).
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Old Apr 1, 2015, 10:43 pm
  #130  
 
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Originally Posted by westerndh
Last month Hemisphere's cover Guam.
This months safety video the Island Hopper - it was heart melting, and great reminder of last month's trip. Yes very enjoyable to see.
I found the video!! Here it is!
https://www.dropbox.com/s/l5jemtd3gs...NESIA.mp4?dl=0

Last edited by schnitzer; Apr 1, 2015 at 11:22 pm
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Old Apr 1, 2015, 11:29 pm
  #131  
 
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Originally Posted by schnitzer
thanks for posting!
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Old Apr 5, 2015, 11:16 am
  #132  
 
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Originally Posted by schnitzer
Thank you so much, do you happen to have a direct youtube link?
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Old Apr 5, 2015, 2:40 pm
  #133  
 
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I'm posting here just to add a subscription. The Island Hopper has been on my bucket list for a while now. I'm just going to have to save up to treat myself sometime in the future!
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Old Apr 5, 2015, 3:07 pm
  #134  
 
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Originally Posted by schnitzer
Sure sign the route will be dropped.
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Old Apr 5, 2015, 6:33 pm
  #135  
 
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Originally Posted by manneca
Sure sign the route will be dropped.
Uhhh
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