Across the Pacific on the Island Hopper

This flight had been on my list for a long time. I had seen photos of the beautiful takeoffs and landings. I had read that this flight operates with an FAA waiver, two sets of pilots, and an onboard mechanic. But, once I did some more research and heard about the world class scuba diving in Chuuk, I knew it was time to book a ticket.

I researched my options and I found that I could book a trip in economy with miles, or book a multi stop itinerary in first and business class for $2098 from Norfolk to Chuuk and then to Guam after a week of diving. By booking the cash ticket, I could position myself for a cheap award ticket from Guam back to Italy (a sweet spot in United’s award program) and push myself over the threshold to qualify for Premier Gold status for the year. Also, eight flights in economy just sounded brutal.

Norfolk to Washington Dulles

United flight 2177
ORF [Norfolk] to IAD [Washington Dulles]
December 27, 2018
Depart: 6:30 AM
Arrive: 7:30 AM
Duration: 1hr0min
Aircraft: A319
Seat: 2F

We were onboard on time, but our takeoff was quickly delayed, as we needed to deice. After about 20 minutes, we were able to proceed, giving us a slightly delayed arrival in Dulles.

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Deicing in Norfolk

 

Washington Dulles to Honolulu

United flight 345
IAD [Washington Dulles] to HNL [Honolulu] 
December 27, 2018
Depart: 8:40 AM
Arrive: 2:21 PM
Duration: 10hr41min
Aircraft: 767-300
Seat: 4L

With my slightly delayed arrival, I proceeded at a brisk pace and got to the gate just as boarding began.

This aircraft had recently been given a refurbishment and had the new Polaris seating. Since the seat map was switched out only a couple days before the fully booked flight, I wasn’t able to swap my seat and was assigned a slightly less desirable odd-numbered seat.

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United 767-300 Polaris Cabin
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Seat 4L
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Large Touchscreen IFE

Nonetheless, for a day flight, I really had no complaints. We departed on time and the crew started serving breakfast soon after we leveled off.

My first choice was the crepe entree, but they were out of it by the time they got to my seat. Honestly though, I think this quiche was better.

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Breakfast on the way to Hawaii

Of course, I had to pair my meal with a Mai Tai, which is exclusive to this route.

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Mai Tai with fresh pineapple

After a movie and a good nap, it was time for the arrival meal. I forget what the other option was, but I went with the calzone. As someone who has been living in Italy, I think this entree would have offended everyone who lives in that country. But as an American, I thought it tasted pretty decent. I also had another Mai Tai.

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Pre-arrival calzone

Finally, I could see the the islands approaching as we made our descent into Honolulu!

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Descent into Honolulu

The way the flight schedule worked out, you basically had no option other than spending a night in Honolulu before continuing on to the Island Hopper. No matter, as we would need our rest for the long journey the next day.

 

Honolulu to Majuro

It was time to begin our journey on the Island Hopper. A flight with five stops between Honolulu and Guam on a 737 that runs three times per week, skipping Kosrae on Wednesdays.

United flight 154
HNL [Honolulu] to [MAJ] Majuro
December 28, 2018
Depart: 7:25 AM
Arrive: 10:35 AM
Duration: 5hr10min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 1F

We were up at the crack of dawn after a night at the Best Western The Plaza Hotel, a few blocks from the airport.

Boarding was scheduled to start very early, but we still had time to grab breakfast at the United Club.

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Honolulu United Club

I also snapped a shot at my pile of boarding passes for the day’s flights

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All of my boarding passes for the day’s flights

Once our documents were checked, we headed onboard. As luck would have it though, two passengers didn’t board the flight, so I watched out the window while the luggage handlers unloaded a bunch of bags and coolers until they could find and remove the missing passengers’ luggage. All in all, it put us about 30 minutes behind schedule.

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Loading and unloading all the bags and coolers

Once in the air, it was time for breakfast.

It was another quiche for me, just with a slightly different presentation this time.

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Breakfast quiche on the way out of HNL

This was the longest leg of the flight and the only real meal before getting to Chuuk.

I planned to watch some movies on my iPad on this 5 hour flight, but I instead had a great conversation with my seat mate, who was on his way to Kwajalein. This would be the theme throughout the day, as I met the most interesting people on this journey.

 

Majuro to Kwajalein

United flight 154
[MAJ] Majuro to KWA [Kwajalein]
December 29, 2018
Depart: 11:20 AM
Arrive: 12:18 PM
Duration: 0hr58min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 1F

Next, was a stop in Majuro. At each of these tiny airports, we had just about an hour on the ground, and we were free to go inside the terminal to buy snacks and get our passports stamped.

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Majuro Airport

At all five stops between Honolulu and Guam, there were no jet bridges, so you boarded the plane via ramp, which was great for the one or two elderly passengers at each stop who embarked/disembarked via wheelchair.

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Our 737-800 parked in Majuro

For the next flight, I got a new seat mate. I didn’t like this one as much.

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Seriously, don’t be this guy

After less than an hour of staring at this guy’s bare feet, we were in Kwajalein.

 

Kwajalein to Kosrae

United flight 154
KWA [Kwajalein] to KSA [Kosrae]
December 29, 2018
Depart: 12:43 PM
Arrive: 12:56 PM
Duration: 1hr13min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 3A

So this was an odd flight. As Kwajalein is a military base, I had read that passengers had to close their window blinds between landing and takeoff. While this wasn’t the case anymore, we unfortunately were not allowed to take any photos on the ground.

Once in the air though, the restriction was lifted. Also, since the views on the Island Hopper changed from flight to flight, I did some research and booked a seat on the opposite side of the plane for the next two hops.

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Kwajalein from the air

Another fun fact: for some reason, United puts planes with a DirecTV system on this route. Since the system can’t get a satellite signal in the middle of the Pacific, it plays prerecorded movies on a loop. A loop that restarts after every landing, so you can’t watch a full movie with the exception of the flight between Honolulu and Majuro.

The map works though!

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In-flight map

After another hour, we were in Kosrae.

 

Kosrae to Pohnpei

United flight 154
KSA [Kosrae] to PNI [Pohnpei]
December 29, 2018
Depart: 1:32 PM
Arrive: 2:35 PM
Duration: 1hr3min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 4A

In Kosrae, we once again checked out the terminal again, just to stretch our legs, then hopped back aboard our trusty 737-800

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737-800 parked in Kosrae

Once in the air, I ordered a beer and some snacks to quell my hunger.

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Beer and almonds
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Onboard snacks

 

Pohnpei to Chuuk

United flight 154
PNI [Pohnpei] to TKK [Chuuk]
December 29, 2018
Depart: 3:31 PM
Arrive: 3:43 PM
Duration: 1hr12min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 1F

At this point in the journey, there were no snacks left except for prepackaged almonds, but that was ok as we only had one more flight until we were in Chuuk.

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Almonds and diet coke

After almost an hour, we were greeted by the sight of the beautiful Truk lagoon on descent.

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The beautiful Truk lagoon

We were finally in Chuuk! All that was left was to fetch our bags and grab a $2 taxi to our hotel.

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Welcome to Chuuk
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Baggage claim in Chuuk

 

We did so much in Chuuk that it really warrants another post, but here are two pictures from our adventures on the island.

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Dock at the Truk Stop hotel
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Swimming through the engine room of a sunken ship

 

Chuuk to Guam

United flight 154
TKK [Chuuk] to GUM [Guam]
January 3, 2018
Depart: 4:17 PM
Arrive: 5:52 PM
Duration: 1hr35min
Aircraft: 737-800
Seat: 1F

After a wonderful dive adventure in Chuuk, it was time to make my way to Guam for the next part of my journey.

Since the owner of the Truk Stop Hotel was on our flight, he got us special access to a VIP lounge at the Chuuk airport.

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Chuuk airport VIP lounge

There were no announcements and no wifi to check on the status of our flight, but since our flight was the only one departing that afternoon, as soon as we heard the jet engines outside, we knew our plane had arrived.

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Walking to our plane from the lounge

As we departed, we enjoyed a beautiful view of the island on the climb out.

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View of Chuuk on departure

Once we reached cruising altitude, it was time for our final meal on the Island Hopper.

It was far from gourmet, but as we were about 13 hours from when the plane was catered in Honolulu, I wasn’t complaining much.

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Final meal on the Island Hopper

So was the Island Hopper all it’s cracked up to be with beautiful vistas on all six takeoffs and landings? Most definitely, yes!

Was it as easy as a 14-hour business class flight across the Pacific? Definitely not! Even up front, this journey is no walk in the park. I couldn’t imagine how rough the journey in economy would be.

Nonetheless, if you’re a diehard avgeek, this is for sure one trip you must take once in your life!

Next up was my flight from Guam through Asia and back to Italy

2 thoughts on “Across the Pacific on the Island Hopper

  1. Excellent!!! Love your humor and great details. Hard to believe that was over a year ago! Time to go again lol

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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