Review: United Airlines “Island Hopper” – Flight #3, Kwajalein – Pohnpei


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.

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Review: United Airlines “Island Hopper” B737-8 – Flight #3, Kwajalein Bucholz Army Airfield – Pohnpei International Airport

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.

The United Island Hopper Routes from United Hemispheres In Flight Magazine

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.

Today’s Flight Route: United Airlines Island Hopper

Departing Kwajalein:

After the second flight United Airlines Island Hopper Majuro – Kwajalein, we spent about an hour on the ground at Bucholz Army Airfield base while the plane was turned around.

Shortly before it was time to get underway, we had a few thirty something military types board the plane. Based on the way that they were dressed, it seemed like they were about to start their leave.

United Airlines
UA 154 – Economy Class (XN)
KWA – PNI (Kwajalein – Pohnpei)
January 31, 2020
1:24 PM – 2:09 PM
Booked: Boeing 737-800
Flown: Boeing 737-800

We got underway and left confidential Kwajalein. I didn’t have any seat mates next to me for this leg of the journey and had the whole bank of 8D – 8E – 8F all to myself.

I was able to snap a few photos of the Kwajalein Atoll on the way out, although I was on the wrong side of the aircraft for the best and greenest looking atoll around the island. We took a hard left turn as we headed westward on our journey, meaning that I had a look at the outer reefs for this particular departure.

Leaving Kwajalein Bucholz Army Airfield

We rolled past the palm trees on Kwajalein Atoll and bid farewell to the manicured green grass.

A Last Look at Kwajalein’s Palm Trees from the Departure Runway
A Last Look at Kwajalein’s Palm Trees from a Departure Runway
Views from the Wing: Kwajalein’s Beaches
Views from the Wing: Kwajalein’s Atolls
Colors of the Pacific: Kwajalein’s Atolls
Leaving Kwajalein’s Atolls Under the Clouds

Unlike flights around the atolls of the Maldives, flying in this part of the world is sometimes mostly an exercise in cloud study. There aren’t many islands or atolls to look at. Occasionally, you can see a series of atolls in the distance, but they are view and far between. Most of the atolls worth seeing are within 60 seconds of take off and landing. When they are, they are sure spectacular.

Spotting Atolls Around Kwajalein
Spotting Atolls Around Kwajalein
Spotting Atolls Around Kwajalein
Spotting Atolls Around Kwajalein

Food and Beverage:

With this segment between Kwajalein and Pohnpei being a 1 hour and 45 minute flight, there was an offer of alcoholic drinks available for purchase. Given that they started at about $9 USD, I ended up sticking with a free Minute Maid Cranberry and Apple Cocktail along with another serving of self-catered planters peanuts.

The drink sure went quickly, along with the package of nuts that was served with it.

Arriving into Pohnpei International Airport:

With our descent into Pohnpei, we landed into a place that was much larger than our last two stops. The weather here was a little cloudy on our visit, so it didn’t have that spectacular exotic hideaway island look to it. Instead of an airport perched on top of a skinny atoll surrounded by water, we passed over lush mountains in a tropically cloudy environment. There were also medium sized mountains with rock faces as we approached.

Views from the Wing: Atolls Around Phonpei
Views from the Wing: Atolls Around Phonpei

We had our first look into Pohnpei, of the Federated States of Micronesia. I saw a lush green island covered in trees with actual mountains. It was a stark contrast from the mostly flat topography we had seen so far from the Marshall Islands.

Our First Look at Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia
Our First Look at Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia

On our final approach, we had a good view of Paipalap, or Sokehs Rock. Sokehs Rock is over 100 vertical meters (328 ft) of exposed basalt form the upper portion of a gigantic volcanic plug that juts from the north end of Sokehs Mountain. It looms over Pohnpei’s harbor. It’s a unique feature to be spotting on it’s way into an airport.

Spotting Sokehs Rock on Short Final to Pohnpei.
Spotting Sokehs Rock on Short Final to Pohnpei.

Arriving to Pohnpei International Airport:

As we taxied to position, transit passengers were invited to remain on board or deplane. I took my belongings with me and disembarked into the largest airport that we had seen on this trip since Honolulu.

I was still looking for opportunities to get a passport stamp but none were really presenting itself at PNI either. I suspect that there weren’t any arriving passengers on today’s flight as we were all marshalled into a transit area. It would make sense that most passengers to this part of the world come eastward from Guam since we were more than past the halfway mark of the trip.

Pohnpei International Airport
Disembarking at Pohnpei International Airport
“Welcome to Pohnpei”

The holding area at Phonpei International Airport was quite spartan without a customs’ booth either in or out to be seen. I found the international phone that recommended that you wait 20 seconds for an operator in order to be connected to be quite amusing, although I didn’t see anyone use it.

Waiting at Pohnpei International Airport
Holding Rooms at Pohnpei International Airport
The International Phone at Pohnpei International Airport

Wondering through the two room Pohnpei airport, I eventually located the main restaurant concession. A bit of a hole in the hall, it was walled off from the main seating area by a wall and glass partition and not an elegant one if you know what I am talking about.


The Pohnpei Airport Concession:

At the concession, there was a full bar (not that you’d be expecting that), room temperature resting on the counter bento boxes containing what appeared to be nori and rice among other things, and a small souvenir stand.

The Phonpei Airport Concession: Bud Lights, Bento Boxes and Souvenirs
The Phonpei Airport Concession: T Shirts, Spices and Rash Wear
The Phonpei Airport Concession: Kosrae Chili Salt Spices
The Phonpei Airport Concession: Cheap Imported Beers!

I latched onto the souvenir stand and ended up purchasing a small “I Love PNI” wooden magnet for $10 USD and a small container of Kosrae chili salt; presumably organic for $7.50 USD. The Kosrae chili salt must have been popular as the military types that had boarded at Kwajalein came looking for some and I had bought one of the only two remaining bottles. I can certainly affirm having had it back home that it is mighty tasty. I also picked up an ice cold Signature lemon lime soda for $2. Asahi Beer was also available for $3, but I stuck with the non-alcoholic liquids for now. The Pohnpei stop was easily the best “in – airport” souvenir stand on this particular trip.

I was able to locate some weak WIFI within the terminal. Unfortunately, it took forever to sign in and by the time I had passed through that whole process, the first 5 groups of boarding had already been announced and it was time to get back on board. I only had about 15 minutes inside this particular airport. I was fortunate to get a quick email download of all the stuff happening today, which was the initial announcements of British Airways and Air Canada cancelling their flights into China as a result of the coronavirus; among the first flights in the world to be cancelled into the region at the time.

After our layover here, we would depart on flight number #4 United Airlines Island Hopper Phonpei – Chukk.

My Thoughts on the United Island Hopper between Kwajalein – Pohnpei:

The highlight of this segment between Kwajalein and Pohnpei was the Kwajalein Atoll and the views of arriving into Pohnpei International Airport. The basalt column of Paipalap, or Sokehs Rock were also pretty neat to see on final approach. The Pohnpei International Airport would also be the best souvenir store on the whole United Airlines Island Hopper journey.

If you’ve flown the United Island Hopper, what souvenirs did you end up collecting along the way ?

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