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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 21, 2024, 7:48 am
  #1351  
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Originally Posted by phkc070408
If you book HNL-GUM as multiple segments, do you have to deplane at the airport where the segments change to scan your onward boarding pass? Also, would you have to claim your luggage and re-check it? How about passport control?

For example. we're going to do the Island Hopper in both directions as an award ticket. If we did HNL-GUM-KWA-HNL, would we have to deplane in KWA, claim our checked luggage, go through passport control and re-board?
If you are on the same plane through, it is a transfer and not a stopover. Your luggage will be checked through, and you cannot go through passport control as the departures area is usually closed by the time the flight arrives so you would be stuck landside (I suppose you could do this on purpose to HCT your way to an island, but that's another thing entirely..)

When I flew the Hopper on separate segments (all 6), we did not deplane or re-scan in KWA and it was not an issue. We had all the other BPs scanned because we deplaned by choice, but I am guessing it would not have been required (although it's a good question). In at least one stop, we had a gate upgrade clear and collected the upgraded BP at the gate.
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Old Mar 21, 2024, 8:10 am
  #1352  
 
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Originally Posted by diburning
If you don't have authorization to be ticketed to/get off in KWA, you might run into issues. They may deny boarding at HNL or GUM. KWA is a US Army base that's only open to either approved US military personnel, civilian contractors with security clearance, or residents of Ebeye. If this is all on one ticket, then maybe it will be fine, but I wouldn't chance it.

REPEAT! REPEAT! Anyone can buy a ticket to KWA and then get off the plane! RMI immigration will process you in KWA on Kwaj, but if you aren't USDOD-approved, you will HAVE TO take that ferry to/from Ebeye. Anyone with the right docs can visit Ebeye just like Majuro. (There's also Air Marshall Islands with flights from MAJ and KWA to different islands, though I'm not sure if you transfer airlines at KWA you'll have to take two ferry rides or be able to stay in KWA.)

Findark is correct. The Hopper has super early check-in closing time, but stopovers are brief.
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Old Mar 21, 2024, 3:05 pm
  #1353  
 
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Good to know! I was only going by what the United website said and my limited knowledge of how Ebeye works.
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Old Mar 27, 2024, 4:16 pm
  #1354  
 
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Anyone have any recent experiences of getting the through flight split? Any magic words or instructions that I can prompt an agent with?
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 11:02 am
  #1355  
 
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Originally Posted by diburning
If you don't have authorization to be ticketed to/get off in KWA, you might run into issues. They may deny boarding at HNL or GUM. KWA is a US Army base that's only open to either approved US military personnel, civilian contractors with security clearance, or residents of Ebeye. If this is all on one ticket, then maybe it will be fine, but I wouldn't chance it.

You can book and get off at KWA if you have reservations or a resident in/of Ebeye, Marshall Islands. Otherwise you will be asked to stay on board.
The airport is literally something out of those army movies....you literally walk into an office hanger thing that is off the ramp.....
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Old Apr 3, 2024, 11:42 am
  #1356  
 
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Originally Posted by global happy traveller
You can book and get off at KWA if you have reservations or a resident in/of Ebeye, Marshall Islands. Otherwise you will be asked to stay on board.
The airport is literally something out of those army movies....you literally walk into an office hanger thing that is off the ramp.....
And as I mentioned above, you can be flying Air Marshall Islands to/from KWA and not necessarily staying on Ebeye (schedule permitting...nothing much is daily).
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Old Apr 7, 2024, 8:44 pm
  #1357  
 
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Not sure if this is part of a wider change but looked to put my award GUM-HNL UA200 back one day and noted the cost had gone up from 110K to 400K. Same bump in cost for UA154

Last edited by jswong; Apr 8, 2024 at 12:41 am
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 12:09 am
  #1358  
 
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Originally Posted by jswong
Not sure if this is part of a wider change but looked to put my award GUM-HNL UA200 back one day and noted the cost had gone up from 110K to 400K. Same bump in cost for UA154
All of the Island Hopper flights ex-HNL went from 110k to 400k OW per person in J. This is a major blow. We were hoping to fly the Island Hopper next summer, but this puts that in jepordy.
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 1:09 am
  #1359  
 
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I took UA154 two Fridays ago. Great experience while some elements were disappointing.

The day before travel finally got a Premier desk agent who was willing to comprehend that while HNL-GUM showed full seat map in Business, individual legs were not full. She went to UA.com and did a mock booking to see for herself. (me and my father, who was on a full fare $8k ticket were unable to sit together even though the only time there were more than 4 people booked in J was TKK-GUM). She knew what needed to be done, got a Supervisor who got the relevant help desk, and in about 45 minutes had my father's itinerary separated by segment and seats put together except for TKK-GUM. I didn't want to wait for the airport as there were a ton of people on the upgrade list. At check-in at HNL, the agent fixed the last leg (made a comment "2E hasn't checked in yet, so...." and reissued my father 2E). I did witness twice on board people asking to change seats to have older local passengers refuse because that wasn't the seat on their ticket.

The only stop we were able to deplane was Majuro. We ran late after Kwajalein due to an Asia Pacific cargo B757 that was chasing us from KWA all the way to GUM and due to non-radar ATC environment, only one airplane can be in the airspace at a time. So at KWA fueling took a little longer and once we were ready to go, we had to sit a half hour because Asia Pacific was starting its approach. This continued the whole rest of the way until we arrived about 90 minutes late into GUM, and over 30 people connecting to MNL missed their connection. Speaking to both Captains during one of the stops, they said that if it was the other airline that runs local cargo (ATI) they could ask them if they'd do another loop and let UA get out on time, but Asia Pacific won't do it. Then again, Asia Pacific was shut down by the FAA for three months last year over a variety of issues and given a $2.9 million fine by the FAA for flying without qualified pilots. (I also have dealt with them while managing ground handling...)

After KWA, weather was kinda cruddy and poured rain during most stops. We had a new Purser (very very nice young woman) who was training with a more senior flight attendant who I recognized from various YouTube videos, but she was also convinced thru passengers couldn't exit the plane. Too bad as I wanted some souvenirs... but made the most of it by chatting with the pilots. Funny, the GUM asst chief pilot for UA used to be one of my flight instructors in college, and the F/O on the HNL-MAJ used to work at the same airline where I worked for a decade. During our delay each leg, the crew let people come up and visit the flight deck, walked around the cabin chatting with folks, etc.

We did get amenity kits on the first leg (pretty basic pouches, but better than I got in LH Business Class a week later). It was service-wise a solid United experience and I think the crews definitely contributed to it certainly not feeling like a 16+ hour day.

But aviation bucket list item checked off... I'm writing a trip report as this whole lengthy trip also included the inaugural Hawaiian Airlines B787 passenger flight, the shortest commercial flight in the US, and a fun trip through Kazakhstan on probably the best Business Class I've flown and getting chaufered around in a Maybach. And I ate horse.
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 3:26 am
  #1360  
 
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Originally Posted by global happy traveller
You can book and get off at KWA if you have reservations or a resident in/of Ebeye, Marshall Islands. Otherwise you will be asked to stay on board.
The airport is literally something out of those army movies....you literally walk into an office hanger thing that is off the ramp.....
Originally Posted by HkCaGu
And as I mentioned above, you can be flying Air Marshall Islands to/from KWA and not necessarily staying on Ebeye (schedule permitting...nothing much is daily).
Originally Posted by HkCaGu
REPEAT! REPEAT! Anyone can buy a ticket to KWA and then get off the plane! RMI immigration will process you in KWA on Kwaj, but if you aren't USDOD-approved, you will HAVE TO take that ferry to/from Ebeye. Anyone with the right docs can visit Ebeye just like Majuro. (There's also Air Marshall Islands with flights from MAJ and KWA to different islands, though I'm not sure if you transfer airlines at KWA you'll have to take two ferry rides or be able to stay in KWA.)

Findark is correct. The Hopper has super early check-in closing time, but stopovers are brief.
So, just to clarify, It's perfectly safe to book the hopper in segments on one ticket, or even multiple tickets. This can be done at any airport on the route, including KWA. We would just stay on the plane and our checked bags would come through with us. Is this correct?
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 3:33 am
  #1361  
 
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Originally Posted by phkc070408
So, just to clarify, It's perfectly safe to book the hopper in segments on one ticket, or even multiple tickets. This can be done at any airport on the route, including KWA. We would just stay on the plane and our checked bags would come through with us. Is this correct?
Yes, that is correct. You stay on the plane and your checked bags go all the way through. At check-in (either HNL or GUM) they'll check through to the final destination. They may have to do a manual tag (which is scanned into the system). Just note that likely even if priority tagged, your bag will come out near last at the end (because bags going all the way are buried deepest in the cargo bin). There's no scanning of boarding passes along the way. The agents use a paper manifest if anything, and assume anybody who is boarded inbound who is going back outbound is on the plane. They do a bit of paging on the airplane if need be. Funny at MAJ must have been a new agent because they were running around trying to find a passenger for 1A... which was the Captain of the HNL-MAJ segment. They kept paging and paging for him.

Edited to add: I feel like if you are exiting at Kwajalein and going onto another flight or bound for Ebeye you have to clear Marshall Islands immigration at Majuro. There is a separate line for Kwaj-bound passengers.
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Last edited by JAXPax; Apr 29, 2024 at 3:35 am Reason: Ebeye info
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 4:11 am
  #1362  
 
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Originally Posted by JAXPax
Yes, that is correct. You stay on the plane and your checked bags go all the way through. At check-in (either HNL or GUM) they'll check through to the final destination. They may have to do a manual tag (which is scanned into the system). Just note that likely even if priority tagged, your bag will come out near last at the end (because bags going all the way are buried deepest in the cargo bin). There's no scanning of boarding passes along the way. The agents use a paper manifest if anything, and assume anybody who is boarded inbound who is going back outbound is on the plane. They do a bit of paging on the airplane if need be. Funny at MAJ must have been a new agent because they were running around trying to find a passenger for 1A... which was the Captain of the HNL-MAJ segment. They kept paging and paging for him.

Edited to add: I feel like if you are exiting at Kwajalein and going onto another flight or bound for Ebeye you have to clear Marshall Islands immigration at Majuro. There is a separate line for Kwaj-bound passengers.
Thanks for the good info. We're not exiting at KWA. We're going to split the trip between Miles and Money, and I might make KWA the splitting point so we can switch seats there (EF seats GUM-KWA, AB Seats KWA-HNL)
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Old Apr 29, 2024, 7:29 am
  #1363  
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Originally Posted by phkc070408
So, just to clarify, It's perfectly safe to book the hopper in segments on one ticket, or even multiple tickets. This can be done at any airport on the route, including KWA. We would just stay on the plane and our checked bags would come through with us. Is this correct?
A fare break (required if you split the ticket, common if you split segments) will probably increase the price significantly but otherwise is not a problem.

If you have multiple tickets with a break at an island and you check a bag, be extremely careful that your bag is checked through to your intended final destination. This is possible, but if they screw it up you are in for a very bad time.
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Old Apr 30, 2024, 1:06 am
  #1364  
 
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Originally Posted by findark
A fare break (required if you split the ticket, common if you split segments) will probably increase the price significantly but otherwise is not a problem.

If you have multiple tickets with a break at an island and you check a bag, be extremely careful that your bag is checked through to your intended final destination. This is possible, but if they screw it up you are in for a very bad time.
Well, the fare brake is going to split the cost between miles and cash.

We're flying PHL-PNI-KSA-GUM-PHL. All flights west of HNL will be on UA154 and UA155.
We were originally going to use cash for the PHL-HNL Round trip, and then miles for HNL-PNI-KSA-GUM-HNL. I'm trying to develop a new strategy since the HNL segments of 155 and 154 jumped from 110k each way per person to 400k each way per person.
I'm considering now booking PHL-PNI/KSA-PHL using cash, and then PNI-KSA-GUM-KWA using miles. For 2 adults, this will cost me 280,000 miles and save almost $8,000 in cash when compared to using cash for the whole ticket.
The goal is to not break the bank too bad. Being able to switch seats at KWA is a bonus.

And I note your comment on making sure our checked bag is checked through to our destination.
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Old Apr 30, 2024, 5:51 am
  #1365  
 
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As usual, a wealth of information on these forums. Much appreciated.

I need to be in southeast Asia in mid-November and I have a lot of time to get there. I was considering the Island Hopper from the US east coast and then short stops in Guam, maybe Saipan, and then on to NRT.

Any tips, tricks, or other general advice, I should consider prior to booking?

Thanks!
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