Review: United Airlines “Island Hopper” – Flight #2, Majuro – Kwajalein
The United Island Hopper flight is one of the worlds most legendary flights for aviation enthusiasts. It consists of a single flight that links some of the Pacific Ocean’s most remote islands carrying passengers, freight and supplies of the islands on a lifeline basis.
This post is one chapter on our trip on the United Island Hopper and to Oahu & Kauai, Hawaii, United States. This trip was redeemed through Alaska Mileage Plan, United Airlines Mileage Plus and Marriott Bonvoy. It was further enhanced through Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.
Read more from this trip:
- Introduction: The United Island Hopper via Honolulu & Kauai, on United Airlines and Alaska Airlines First Class
- Alaska Airlines First Class: Vancouver – Seattle
- Alaska Airlines First Class: Seattle – Honolulu
- The Sheraton Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
- The United Island Hopper – Flight #1: Honolulu – Majuro
- The United Island Hopper – Flight #2: Majuro – Kwajalein
- The United Island Hopper – Flight #3: Kwajalein – Pohnpei
- The United Island Hopper – Flight #4: Pohnpei – Chuuk
- The United Island Hopper – Flight #5: Chuuk – Guam
- The United Island Hopper – Top 5 Tips and Tricks
- The Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort, Guam
- The Sagan Bisita VIP Lounge, Guam
- United Airlines: Guam – Honolulu
- Bill’s Sydney, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
- Hawaiian Airlines The Plumeria Lounge, Honolulu, USA
- Hawaiian Airlines First Class: Honolulu – Lihue
- The Sheraton Kauai Resort, Poi’pu, Hawaii, USA
- Visiting Kauai Coffee Estate, Kauai, USA
- The Views at the Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, USA
- Sailing the Napali Coast, Kauai, USA
- Alaska Airlines First Class: Lihue – Seattle
- Alaska Airlines First Class: Seattle – Vancouver
Review: United Airlines “Island Hopper” B737-8 – Flight #2, Marshall Islands Majuro Amata Kabua International Airport – Kwajalein Bucholz Army Airfield
The United Airlines Island Hopper is one of the worlds’ most unique airline routes. The United Airlines Island Hopper is a route between Honolulu and Guam that stops at several small islands in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. The flight is flown between two and three times per week and is the only scheduled service for many of the islands on the route. I had already spent many hours over the course of several years glancing through the United Hemispheres in flight magazine in order to one day take this flight. As a result of it’s remoteness and isolation, the airline route is one of the world’ most unique air corridors and airline travel experiences.
These next posts set out my experience in flying the United Airlines “Island Hopper” flight that crosses the Pacific through some of the world’s most remote islands. For details on how I planned the United Island Hopper trip, please see our earlier post.
The flight sequence is so unique, there isn’t any way to really cover it in detail with just one sole post. As a result, I’ve split the flight up into one flight segment per post to allow for travellers that really want to get into the journey to read up to see what they can expect.
United Airlines Island Hopper Flights:
After the first flight United Airlines Island Hopper Honolulu – Majuro, the stopover at Majuro was really quick. We had moved forward a day with the date line change.
We repeated the usual United Boarding process when Boarding Group 2 actually equals group 7; which is still funny to me. The sun was shining on us as we left and the photographs came out all that much more brilliant. I passed by the famous YOKWE sign, pausing for a few photographs.
In true small town charm, a family of kids was shrieking good bye at their family member as they boarded the ramp jet bridge. I guess some things, even all this way deserted in the middle of the ocean, are the same as back home.
UA 154 – Economy Class (XN)
MAJ – KWA (Majuro – Kwajalein)
January 31, 2020
11:40 AM – 12:35 PM
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800
On Board the United Airlines Island Hopper:
Returning to my seat, I was still on the right hand side of the aircraft in Seat 8F which was an economy plus seat that I had paid for in advance.
We were joined by the United maintenance engineer who typically rides the flight in the event of any mechanical problems. He was seated in 7C in uniform, ball cap and N95 face mask. I think that last part was a personal choice on his part as, at the time, mask wearing wasn’t quite widespread. He wasn’t overly chatty with those around him for the duration of this and the other flights. I had a new seat mate in 8D in my row, but with good luck, the middle seat next to me in 8E remained empty for flight number two.
Taking off from Majuro:
They played the Star Wars featured United Airlines safety video one more time as we taxied down the runway. There was a dilapidated hanger that seemed to house an ATR72 that was backed into it, among other random aircraft lying around.
I was able to spot the Air Marshall Islands Dornier 228-212 aircraft parked on the apron. Air Marshall Islands is the flag carrier of the Marshall Islands and is government owned.
We had a departure on the sole runway at Majuro; heading out on the runway itself with a U turn at the end. The views across the Majuro Atoll were pretty spectacular. It had a pretty special and unique shape to it that I hadn’t seen in many other corners of the world, despite having been fortune enough to have been to French Polynesia, the Maldives and similar places.
Viewing the Majuro Atoll:
The Majuro Atoll consists of a ring of 64 islands around the Majuro Airport. The size of the atoll is about 295 square kilometres and consists of narrow land masses around the Atoll. It’s a pretty amazing natural feature. Assuming you had access to a boat, there are countless islands and beaches that could be explored.
Spotting the islands and areas over the Majuro Atoll was pretty spectacular on it’s own. I could hardly imagine what it would be like if you had access to a boat.
Food and Beverage: Just a drink
Departing from Majuro, it was a short 45 minute flight over to confidential Kwajalein. As a result, only an offer of water or orange juice was served.
At this point in my day, it was now 2 PM Hawaiian Time. I thought it was proper to start to dig into the ABC Stores Mega Sandwich that I had purchased the night before. The flight attendant was so excited when he saw it, he actually said “I am going to have to take that away”. I had a mini heart attack before I realized that he was just kidding. It must be a familiar gag on this particular route.
The Kwajalein Atoll is part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It’s the most southern most island of this particular atoll and hosts about one thousand people at the local air force base. It has been used for missile testing of all sorts over the past fifty years as part of the Ronald Regan Ballistic Missile Defence Site.
Arriving into Kwajalein:
We had a very quick descent into Kwajalein Bucholz Army Airfield, likely because there was no other surrounding air traffic.
In my earlier research, I had previously read that photography wasn’t allowed on this island. Having had no announcement about it, I kept snapping away until the plane rolled to a stop. We passed by the golf course on the south side of the Island and runway; a strange thing to see greens among manicured palm trees.
As we stopped, an announcement was made that “… due to US regulations…” that no photography was permitted. The crew on and off didn’t appear to enforce this, although I didn’t see many seated around me willing to test this rule.
Killing Time Chatting with My Seat Mates:
As we taxied to a stop, my Seat mate in 8D indicated that he had spent 10 years here, without specifying exactly what he was doing. I didn’t ask him nor put him in an uncomfortable cover story position. Surprisingly, he also didn’t ask me about my picture taking. . .
I asked him how life was here and he indicated that there were no cars on the island and that most got around by bicycle. He was an older man in his late fifties and seemed to be very comfortable with the pace of life here; dressed in polo golf shirts and silver and grey peppered hair… He commented almost stoically that he didn’t know if raising his teenager kids here during that time period had helped or hindered them out in the real world. I bid him farewell and he gathered up his things and headed off to return home on the base.
We had about an hour and ten minutes on board layover parked on the ground. I stood up and stretched while they serviced and fuelled the plane. Crawling over to an empty seat on the left hand side of the plane, I happened to spot an entry sign “US Army Garrison Kwajalein Atoll – A Community of Excellence”.
Eventually making it back to the right hand side at 8F, I was able to see most of the cargo being off loaded. There was a surprising collection of bicycles, golf clubs and other square card board boxes. As a point of amusement, almost every checked bag coming off the Island Hopper had a bright orange United Priority Tag on it signifying the number of the frequent travellers of this odd ball airline route.
The ground crew serviced the plane; closing the bathrooms. There were one or two confused standby passengers; I am supposed to get off to get my new boarding card, but I’m not allowed to get off? Of a route to fly stand by on, what are the chances of survival if you get stuck somewhere without a planned hotel? They eventually announced that boarding cards would be brought on board and to self-identify yourself to the agents. The lead ground agent came and did an onboard inventory of checked bags. He only seemed interested in the overhead bin ones. My laptop bag and bag of cafeteria snacks were of no interest to him.
After our layover here, we would depart on flight number #3 United Airlines Island Hopper Kwajalein – Phonpei.
United Airlines Island Hopper Flights:
My Thoughts on the United Island Hopper between Majuro and Kwajalein:
The highlight of this segment was the Majuro Atoll and the surrounding islands around the Majuro Atoll which made for some spectacular scenery. Spending some time at confidential Kwajalein was also interesting. It’s not every day you fly into a secret United States Military base located thousands of miles from the mainland United States of America. The stores of my seat mates were also interesting and personable considering where we were.