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."

Working to bring people home – repatriation flights underway

By The Hub team , April 03, 2020

When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.

We have operated more than 68 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 9,200 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.

Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.

Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:

  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Managua, Nicaragua
  • Roatan, Honduras
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Munich
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo-Haneda
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Melbourne, Australia

We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.

United Zoom backgrounds for AvGeeks

By The Hub team , April 02, 2020

Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom, a video conferencing tool that many people are using to stay connected.

So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).

  1. Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
  2. Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
  3. From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.







Domestic and international schedule reductions

By The Hub team , April 02, 2020

While travel demand and government restrictions continue to impact our schedule, we know some people around the globe are displaced and still need to get home. While our international schedule will be reduced by about 90% in April, we will continue flying six daily operations to and from the following destinations — covering Asia, Australia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe — in an effort to get customers where they need to be. This remains a fluid situation, but United continues to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world, especially in these challenging times. Learn more about what we're doing to keep customers and employees safe.

Flights continuing from now through May schedule:

  • New York/Newark – Frankfurt (Flights 960/961)
  • New York/Newark – London (Flights 16/17)
  • New York/Newark – Tel Aviv (Flights 90/91)
  • Houston – Sao Paulo (Flights 62/63)
  • San Francisco – Tokyo-Narita (Flights 837/838)
  • San Francisco – Sydney (Flights 863/870)

In addition to the above, we will continue to operate the following flights to help displaced customers who still need to get home. In destinations where government actions have barred us from flying, we are actively looking for ways to bring customers who have been impacted by travel restrictions back to the United States. This includes working with the U.S. State Department and the local governments to gain permission to operate service.

Atlantic

The following flights will continue through March 28 westbound:

  • New York/Newark – Amsterdam (Flights 70/71)
  • New York/Newark – Munich (Flights 30/31)
  • New York/Newark – Brussels (Flights 999/998)
  • New York/Newark – Cape Town (Flights 1122/1123)
  • Washington-Dulles – London (Flights 918/919)
  • San Francisco – Frankfurt (Flights 58/59)

The final westbound departures on all other Atlantic routes will take place on March 25.

Pacific

  • We will continue to fly San Francisco-Seoul (Flights 893/892) through March 29 and San Francisco-Tahiti (Flights 115/114) through March 28.
  • Our final eastbound departures on all other Pacific routes will take place on March 25.
  • We will maintain some Guam flights as well as a portion of our Island Hopper service.
  • Hawaii's governor issued a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order for all travelers arriving or returning to Hawaii. Travelers must complete a Hawaii Department of Agriculture form that will be distributed on board their flight which will also include the requirements for the 14-day quarantine, as well as the penalties. You must show a government issued ID upon arrival along with your form. You can find more information on the governor's website.

Latin America/South America

  • We will continue to fly Newark/New York – Sao Paulo (Flights 149/148) through March 27 outbound.
  • The last southbound departures on most other routes will take place March 24.

Mexico

  • We will reduce our Mexico operation over the next five days. After March 24, we will maintain a small number of daytime flights to certain destinations in Mexico — more to come in the next few days.

Canada

  • We will suspend all flying to Canada effective April 1.

In destinations where government actions have barred us from flying, we are actively looking for ways to bring customers who have been impacted by travel restrictions back to the United States. This includes working with the U.S. State Department and the local governments to gain permission to operate service.

The revised international schedule will be viewable on united.com on Sunday, March 22. We will continue to update our customers with information as it's available.

If you're scheduled to travel through May 31, 2020, and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. Please visit united.com for more information, or reference our step-by-step guide on how to change your flight, cancel and rebook later.

Domestic schedule

Effective April 8, we are further reducing our domestic service between some of our airport hub locations and 31 airports across the United States. We will continue offering service to all of these airports through other United hubs. Additionally, effective April 8, we will suspend service between the mainland and Hilo, Maui, Kona and Lihue - and we will maintain our daily service between our San Francisco hub and Honolulu, which has been reduced to one flight daily. We will continue to operate daily service between Honolulu and Guam.

We are closely monitoring demand as well as changes in state and local curfews and government restrictions across the U.S. and will adjust our schedule accordingly throughout the month.

These the changes result in a 67% overall domestic reduction from a previous 52%, and our overall capacity will now be down 78% overall.

Hub city Route suspensions Remaining service
Denver Arcata/Eureka, CA
Appleton, WI
Hartford, CT
Charleston, SC
Grand Rapids, MI
Honolulu, HI
Hobbs, NM
Jacksonville, FL
Kona, HI
Lihue, HI
Kahului, HI
Shreveport, LA
Santa Rosa, CA
Syracuse, NY
SFO
ORD
IAD, ORD
EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
ORD
SFO
IAH
EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
Market Suspension
Market Suspension
Market Suspension
IAH
SFO
IAD, ORD
New York/Newark Austin, TX
Burlington, VT
Buffalo, NY
Akron/Canton, OH
Grand Rapids, MI
Hilton Head, SC
Honolulu, HI
Las Vegas, NV
Kansas City, MO
Milwaukee, WI
Madison, WI
Minneapolis, MN
New Orleans, LA
Omaha, NE
Norfolk, VA
Portland, OR
Phoenix, AZ
Providence, RI
San Diego, CA
San Antonio, TX
Seattle, WA
Salt Lake City, UT
Sacramento, CA
Orange County, CA
Syracuse, NY
Knoxville, TN
Fayetteville, AR
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
IAD, ORD
IAD, ORD
ORD
ORD
IAD
SFO
DEN, IAD, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAD, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAD, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
IAD, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
IAD, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
Washington-Dulles Austin, TX
Grand Rapids, MI
Honolulu, HI
Portland, OR
Sacramento, CA
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
ORD
SFO
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAH, LAX, ORD, SFO
Houston Hartford, CT
Boise, ID
Akron/Canton, OH
Grand Rapids, MI
Honolulu, HI
Lexington, KY
Ontario, CA
Norfolk, VA
Palm Springs, CA
Richmond, VA
Reno, NV
San Jose, CA
IAD, ORD
DEN, LAX, ORD, SFO
ORD
ORD
SFO
IAD, ORD
DEN, SFO
DEN, IAD, ORD
DEN, SFO
DEN, EWR, IAD, ORD
DEN, SFO
DEN
Los Angeles Arcata/Eureka, CA
Austin, TX
Boston, MA
Baltimore, DC
Bozeman, MT
Cleveland, OH
Eugene, OR
Honolulu, HI
Hilo, HI
Kona, HI
Lihue, HI
Orlando, FL
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Madison, WI
Kahului, HI
Palm Springs, CA
Redding, CA
Bend/Redmond, CA
Reno, NV
San Antonio, TX
Stockton, CA
Seattle, WA
St George, UT
SFO
DEN, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, SFO
SFO
Market Suspension
Market Suspension
Market Suspension
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD, SFO
Market Suspension
DEN, ORD
Market Suspension
DEN, SFO
SFO
DEN, SFO
DEN, SFO
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
Market Suspension
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD, SFO
DEN
Chicago Albuquerque, NM
Asheville, NC
Bismarck/Mandan, ND
Bozeman, MT
Kearney, NE
Panama City, FL
Eugene, OR
Fresno, CA
Spokane, WA
Hilton Head, SC
Honolulu, HI
Wilmington, NC
Jackson, MS
Kahului, HI
Palm Springs, CA
Reno, NV
San Jose, CA
Valparaiso, FL
DEN, IAH
IAD
DEN
DEN
DEN
IAH
DEN, SFO
DEN, LAX, SFO
DEN
IAD
SFO
IAD
IAH
Market Suspension
DEN, SFO
DEN, SFO
DEN
IAH
San Francisco Albuquerque, NM
Atlanta, GA
Nashville, TN
Baltimore, DC
Bozeman, MT
Cleveland, OH
Columbus, OH
Dallas/Fort Worth, TX
Detroit, MI
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Spokane, WA
Indianapolis, IN
Kona, HI
Lihue, HI
Kansas City, MO
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Madison, WI
Minneapolis, MN
New Orleans, LA
Kahului, HI
Oklahoma City, OK
Omaha, NE
Philadelphia, PA
Pittsburgh, PA
Raleigh/Durham, NC
San Antonio, TX
St Louis, MO
Tampa, FL
Fayetteville, AR
DEN, IAH
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
Market Suspension
Market Suspension
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
Market Suspension
DEN, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
Market Suspension
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, EWR, IAD, IAH, ORD
DEN, IAH, ORD
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