Island Hopper Serves As 'Lifeline' to Remote Communities - United Hub

Short runways, quick turns & wide smiles: Island Hopper serves as ‘lifeline’

By Pete Rapalus, May 23, 2017

There are two ways to get from Honolulu to Guam or vice versa on United — the direct and efficient way or the fun, super-scenic way. A seven-plus-hour nonstop on a Boeing 777 or a four- or five-stop marathon on a Boeing 737 that takes essentially a full day in either direction. For many people living in the Micronesia region of the Western Pacific, the Island Hopper is a lifeline and/or the only reasonable way to get from island to island, and has been a community fixture for nearly half a century.

For aviation aficionados, it's a "bucket list" trip because of its uniqueness and often spectacular scenery — even when many of those tourists complete the trip without ever leaving any of the modest airports along the route. For United flight crews and technicians, the route can be a coveted one in part because of the deep relationships that have built up between our employees and the frequent Hoppers.

Three times a week, Flight 155 departs Guam in the morning, then makes a series of roughly one-hour flights to: Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae (twice a week only), Kwajalein and Majuro, getting to that scenic atoll just after sunset. From there, the plane continues as a five-hour red-eye to Honolulu, then departs the next morning as Flight 154 to do the route in reverse, getting back to Guam just as the sun sets.

The crew aboard Flight 155The crew aboard Flight 155

Except for the Majaro-Honolulu segment, we have a specially trained mechanic, or Field Technical Representative, and a supply of spare parts, on each segment in case something needs to be fixed on any of the islands. Otherwise, customers and crew must wait for a rescue aircraft to be dispatched from Guam — and on some of the islands — as there really isn't much in the way of overnight accommodations.

"It's not unheard of for some of our employees to offer stranded passengers a bed for the night," said Art Day, regional director for the Island Hopper stations and a member of our Micronesia-based staff for 40 years. Fortunately, such instances are rare, thanks to the dedication of the Field Technical Representatives, but also to the special care given to the Island Hopper aircraft by our major maintenance operations in both Guam and Honolulu. Reliability is critical when flying into airports only a few times a week especially without the options we generally associate with most United destinations. "In this part of the world, the Island Hopper is anything but an ordinary flight," Art said. "We are the lifeline to the communities we serve, a large part of their economies are dependent on our service.

Service is essential to these islands

Our employees on the islands know how important our service is to their friends and neighbors. "The Island Hopper means almost everything to us here in the islands," said Chuuk General Manager Anthony Mori. "From taking us to Guam or Honolulu for medical emergencies, to visiting family and friends, to bringing the rest of the world closer to our islands. For Chuuk, especially, the flights are absolutely necessary for our tourism industry. Chuuk Lagoon is one of the world's best scuba diving destinations, but without the Island Hopper, tourism in Chuuk would not succeed."

A United employee greets a customer arriving in Chuuk on Flight 154A United employee greets a customer arriving in Chuuk on Flight 154

"I think I know all the local customers, those who get on or get off at Majuro," said Majuro Customer Service Agent Beatras Bani. "I think at some point, everyone who lives here has taken the Island Hopper at least a few times." Kwajalein General Manager Terrance Dominique noted that the service "has a huge impact both with the local Marshallese and those who are stationed at the U.S. Army installation on Kwajalein island."

Like other Island Hopper station leaders, Terrance notes that ground positions with United are highly coveted, so United tends to attract the best applicants and retention is high. "Employees here are very proud to work United flights," Terrance said. "People tell me all the time, the employees we have along the Island Hopper are the friendliest, warmest in our entire system," Art said. "I have to agree as being friendly is a core part of their island culture." The flip side is that our employees are well-known in these small communities, "So in some ways they're never really off-duty," Art said.

The United employees you'll meet along the Island Hopper are among the hardest working yet warmest, friendliest you'll ever encounterThe United employees you'll meet along the Island Hopper are among the hardest working yet warmest, friendliest you'll ever encounter

Route breeds loyalty among crews

Some pilots and flight attendants routinely bid into the Island Hopper flights as often as possible, and as a result have developed close relationships with many customers, and with our ground staff and residents of the islands and atolls. International Service Manager Glenn Shibao said he has a special bond with the crews and customers after decades of service on the route. "Ever since the beginning, these flights have been special to this region, and they still are, even after I've worked thousands of them. They can be tiring to take all the way through, but most customers are only on for one or two segments in either direction. Except for people who want to experience the Island Hopper, we don't get that many customers who take it all the way through on purpose. When we do, by the end of the line, we usually know them pretty well."

"I've chosen to work the Island Hopper almost exclusively," said First Officer Fitz Fitzgerald. "It's a lot of fun, and as a pilot, it's also challenging. This is what flying is all about."

Capt. Pierre Frenay said when he first relocated to Guam to take on the position of Chief Pilot, "They sent me here from Honolulu via the Island Hopper. I don't know if that was intentional but in terms of me loving this flight, that first experience did it for me and I fly it every now and then just for the sheer fun of it, and because it's a great break from the administrative work I have to do in Guam. "It's not for everyone," Pierre acknowledged. "The Island Hopper being so remote presents a number of challenges with air traffic control, performance, medical transport, and communications throughout the trip — it's a different environment, that's for sure."

At Chuuk and other stops with short runways that require hard braking on landing, we often need to cool off the brakes to ensure safe operation At Chuuk and other stops with short runways that require hard braking on landing, we often need to cool off the brakes to ensure safe operation

Two pairs of pilots work each Island Hopper flight. Two work the Guam-Majuro segments while the others rest, and they change places for the Majuro-Honolulu nonstop. Five flight attendants also work each flight, with two days off in Honolulu before returning. Even with a crew duty time exemption from the FAA, the crews have little margin of error and even minor delays en route can add up to a point where they would be timed out, and we'd have to bring in a fresh crew from Honolulu or Guam. "Luckily, that rarely happens, in part because our teams on the ground all along the route do such a great job of turning the flights quickly," Pierre said.

The precision and speed of the United ground crews and vendors during the stops — all an hour or less of ground time — is something to behold, as they are dealing with a complicated algorithm of people and cargo getting on or coming off at each stop. Cargo, especially, needs to be loaded in a precise manner to maintain proper aircraft weight balance and to minimize the time it takes to work the physical puzzle at the next stop and the stops after that.

Mail is one of many things the islanders count on the United Island Hopper to deliver Mail is one of many things the islanders count on the United Island Hopper to deliver

"It's really an art, how our teams, who are pretty much all part-time, rearrange the contents of the aircraft over the course of the flights," Art noted. "And while they have that great attitude and are having a good time, they're working as hard and as efficiently as any ramp crew you'll see at the big mainland airports."

Looking back at a landmark year with Special Olympics

By Ryan Wilks, October 19, 2020

Earlier this summer, we shone a light on our flagship partnership with Special Olympics and our commitment to the Inclusion Revolution. In that same story, we introduced you to our four Special Olympics Service Ambassadors, Daniel, Kyle, Lauren and Zinyra (Z), who, this month, celebrate one year working at Chicago O'Hare International Airport as part of the United family.

This groundbreaking, inclusive employment program took off as a part of our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics, a community relationship that employees across the company hold close to heart. The original 'UA4' (as they call themselves) have become an integral part of the United team serving customers at O'Hare Airport. Even from behind their masks, their wide smiles and effervescent spirit exude and bring life to the service culture of excellence we strive towards every day.

"The UA4 are more than just customer service ambassadors. They are shining examples of how inclusion, accessibility and equity can have monumental impacts on the culture and service of a business and community," said Customer Service Managing Director Jonna McGrath. "They have forever changed who we are as a company. While they often talk about how United and this opportunity has changed their lives, they have changed ours in more ways than we can count."

In the two years of partnership with Special Olympics, United employees have volunteered over 10,500 hours of service at events around the world and donated over $1.2 million worth of travel to the organization.

"This inclusive employment program is what community partnerships, like ours with Special Olympics, are all about: collaborating to identify areas where the needs of the community intersect with the cultural and business opportunity, then creating the infrastructure and programming to bring the two together," said Global Community Engagement Managing Director Suzi Cabo. "Through this program, our goal is to show other companies that when you put a committed effort and focus towards inclusion and breaking down barriers, you transform lives. I challenge other business around the world to follow our lead in joining the Inclusion Revolution."

Check out the video below to hear from our Special Olympics Service Ambassadors firsthand.

Spotlighting our own during Hispanic Heritage Month

By The Hub team, October 13, 2020

We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 th through October 15th and take the time to recognize the important contributions of our colleagues of Hispanic descent in the United family.

This year, we hosted virtual events organized by our multicultural business resource group UNITE to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, covering topics ranging from immigration reform to Hispanic leadership. We're also taking a moment to highlight Latinx employees nominated by their peers for their contributions both at and outside of work.

These nominees have demonstrated leadership in their position and through their character. Take a moment to read their own words about how their background and heritage plays a role in the way they interact with customers, in how they support their colleagues and why it brings valuable perspective to their work.

Vania Wit – VP & Deputy Counsel

Photo of Vania Wit, VP & Deputy Counsel for United Airlines

"I am the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in the legal department. I am an attorney and have worked in the legal department for over 21 years and am currently responsible for a number of different legal areas – such as litigation, international, commercial and government contracts, labor, employment and benefits, antitrust. I have the privilege of working with a tremendous team of attorneys who are directly leading and managing these areas. One of the things I like most about my job is simply getting to know the backgrounds and personal stories that everyone has about their paths to United or their passion for the industry. Being the daughter of immigrants from South America and growing up in a family who relies heavily on air travel to connect us to our close family and friends is an integral part of my story and what drew me to this industry and this company."

Kayra Martinez – International Flight Attendant, FRA

Photo of Kayra Martinez on board an aircraft

"I love that my work as a flight attendant brings me all over the world and allows me to connect with diverse people across the globe. Because of my Spanish heritage, I've been able to use my language as a way to connect with passengers, crew members and people from every nationality. In addition, my heritage gives me a very close connection to family, creating community and using inclusion as a way to bring people together. After transferring to Europe, I was able to study German, more Spanish, Italian and Arabic. Outside of work, I'm the director and founder of a nonprofit organization that empowers refugees through art. Hundreds of children and adults fleeing war-torn countries have found healing through my art workshops. These refugees are currently displaced in Greece. Their stunning paintings are then sold in art galleries and communities around the world, raising awareness and putting income directly into the hands of refugee artists."

Adriana Carmona – Program Manager, AO Regulatory Compliance

Photo of Adriana standing in front of a plane engine

"I've been incredibly lucky to have amazing leaders during my time at United who have challenged me from day one to think outside the box, step out of my comfort zone and trusted me to own and deliver on the tasks assigned. I think this sense of ownership is largely shaped by my Latino background, which values responsibility, respect and accountability and taking full charge of what's in your control to be able to deliver accordingly."

Harry Cabrera – Assistant Manager, AO Customer Service, IAH

Photo of Harry Cabrera

"My desire to help people is what drove me to start my career in Customer Service over two decades ago. Currently I provide support to our coworkers and customers at IAH , the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. As a Colombian native celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, I'm proud to see the strength that my fellow Latinos forge every day at United Airlines. Family values are a cornerstone of the Latin community; I consider my coworkers to be part of my extended family. Mentor support throughout the years gave me the opportunity to grow professionally. The desire to do better and help others succeed is part of that heritage. I collaborate with our Latin American operations and create ways to improve performance. No matter what language you speak, the passion for what you do and being approachable makes the difference in any interaction."

Juciaria Meadows – Assistant Regional Manager, Cargo Sales

Photo of Juciaria Meadows in a Cargo hold

"During my 28-year career, I've worked across the system in various frontline and leadership roles in Reservations, Customer Service and Passenger Sales in Brazil. I moved to the U.S. in 2012 to work as an Account Executive for Cargo. It did not take too long for me to learn that boxes and containers have as much a voice as a passenger sitting in our aircraft. My job is to foster relationships with shippers, freight forwarders, cosignees, etc. and build strong partnerships in fair, trustworthy and caring ways where United Cargo will be their carrier of choice. That's where my background growing up in a Latino family plays an important role in my day-to-day interactions. I've done many wonderful sales trainings provided by United and my academic background , but none of them taught me more than watching my parents running their wholesale food warehouse. Developing exceptional relationships with their customers, they always treated them with trust and respect. They were successful business people with a big heart, creative, always adding a personal touch to their business relationships and I find myself doing the same. It's a lesson that is deep in my heart."

Shanell Arevalo – Customer Service Representative, DEN

Photo of Shanell Arevalo at work

"I am Belizean and Salvadoran. At a young age my family moved to California from Belize. Although I grew up in the United States , one thing my parents taught me was to never forget the culture, values and principles I was raised on. This includes showing love, compassion, and respect to all people. We learned to put our best foot forward for any situation and always put our heart and mind into everything we do. In my position as a customer service agent, it's the difference of showing the love, compassion and respect to our passengers to show that this is not just a job but rather a passion of genuinely caring for our people. Being Latina, we are raised to always take care of our family, and the way I take care of passengers is the way I would take care of my family. If there's one way I know I can make a difference with our Spanish speaking passengers, it's being able to speak the language. The glow that comes over a passenger's face when they realize there's someone who can speak Spanish is absolutely an indescribable feeling. With that glow comes comfort and joy. The small comfort they get from knowing someone can connect with them makes all the difference in their experience."

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United Cargo responds to COVID-19 challenges, prepares for what's next

By The Hub team, September 30, 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Cargo has supported a variety of customers within the healthcare industry for over 10 years. Three key solutions – TempControl, LifeGuard and QuickPak – protect the integrity of vital shipments such as precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, biologics, medical equipment and vaccines. By utilizing processes like temperature monitoring, thermodynamic management, and priority boarding and handling, United Cargo gives customers the peace of mind that their shipments will be protected throughout their journey.

With the global demand for tailored pharmaceutical solutions at an all-time high, we've made investments to help ensure we provide the most reliable air cargo options for cold chain shipping. In April this year, we became the first U.S. carrier to lease temperature-controlled shipping containers manufactured by DoKaSch Temperature Solutions. We continue to partner with state-of-the-art container providers to ensure we have options that meet our customers' ever-changing needs.

"Providing safe air cargo transport for essential shipments has been a top priority since the pandemic began. While the entire air cargo industry has had its challenges, I'm proud of how United Cargo has adapted and thrived despite a significant reduction in network capacity and supply," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "We remain committed to helping our customers make it through the pandemic, as well as to doing everything we can to be prepared for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution when the time comes."

Our entire team continues to prioritize moving critical shipments as part of our commitment to supporting the global supply chain. We've assembled a COVID readiness task team to ensure we have the right people in place and are preparing our airports as we get ready for the industry-wide effort that comes next.

In cooperation with our partners all over the world, United Cargo has helped transport nearly 145 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19, using a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flig­hts. To date, United Cargo has operated more than 6,300 cargo-only flights and has transported more than 213 million pounds of cargo worldwide.

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