In February 2020 I planned to take a trip to Shanghai with Jeremy, with an outbound on a simple PHX-SFO-PVG routing, and the return journey on the United Island Hopper flight, which has been a bucket list item for years.
A couple weeks before our trip, I received a call from United informing me that due to COVID-19, the Marshall Islands would not allow us to even transit, as we will have just been in China. Their proposed solution was to rebook us on a direct flight from Guam to Honolulu instead of the 4-stop island hopper flight, UA155, we had specifically booked for this trip. No thanks!
Instead, we explained, we wanted to retain the island hopper but change our destination city to something outside of China. Much to our surprise, United was willing to work with us and change the destination to Osaka (PHX-SFO-KIX) with no difference in fare collected, even though we have no status with them and were traveling on a very cheap economy ticket. Kudos to United for making such an awesome resolution possible!
I was able to score a last-minute upgrade on my SFO-KIX flight using PlusPoints. Business class on United’s 787-9 was definitely more comfortable than economy, but it’s nothing special compared to the new Polaris seats.
Our time in Japan was fast-paced, but awesome. We stayed one night at Park Hyatt Kyoto, which had just opened a few months prior, and two more at Hyatt Regency Osaka, one in a Regency King suite (I had stayed in this exact room on my previous trip to Osaka) and one in a Tatami Suite.
Park Hyatt Kyoto is one of the nicest hotels I have stayed at. I was blown away by the incredible architecture, the modern, spacious rooms, and the impeccable service. Allow the photos to speak for themselves:
Just as soon as we checked out of the Park Hyatt, we hurriedly explored Kyoto before taking the train down to Osaka. I’d been to dozens of temples and shrines there already, but I had not yet seen Arashiyama/Sagano Bamboo Forest, so I made sure to check it out on this trip.
Once we arrived in Osaka, we headed straight for the Hyatt Regency Osaka’s Regency Club, which was fully stocked with delicious drinks and refreshments, and went to bed early to attempt to fight off jetlag. The next day we explored a couple new areas of the city I hadn’t yet been to, and paid a visit to one of my favorite burger places in the world, Craft Burger Co., which is owned by a lovely couple from New Zealand.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave Japan and head to Guam.
On the beach that evening we saw numerous takeoffs and landings of military aircraft, as well as several United 787s being flown to and from SFO, which we later discovered were special maintenance flights. I definitely want to return to Guam for a proper visit in the future.
The next morning we scarfed down an unremarkable hotel breakfast and rushed to the airport at 7am; it was now time to embark on the 5-segment Island Hopper from Guam to Honolulu. Unfortunately, COVID-19 precautions were already in place preventing transit passengers from disembarking at each island, so we had to settle for views from above.
Once we landed in Kwajalein, things started to go awry. Maintenance engineers were called in to fix a potential problem with the spoilers on our aircraft. After a couple hours of work, they determined it was just a sensor issue and the plane was actually airworthy. They still needed to fix the sensor issue, however as Kwajalein is a military base and the general public is not permitted to enter, United flew us on the short hop to Majuro, without fixing the sensor problem. It was unclear at this point if we would be spending the night in Majuro or if we could still continue to Honolulu, but once flight attendants passed out customs, health, and arrival forms for the Marshall Islands “just in case”… it became clear we would be put up in Majuro for the night, and United would fly in a rescue aircraft the next morning to complete the flight to HNL.
The reaccommodation procedure was very disorganized; passengers lined up for hours waiting for information; finally, arbitrary groups of 3-4 were sent to hostel-like facilities by taxi. I heard there were not enough beds for everyone, so some people had to sleep on couches in the lobby of one of the buildings. The next morning everyone had to line up again to get our onward flights rebooked. As part of my rebooking, I unfortunately had to remove my stopover in Lihue due to the lost time, so I will have to save that Hawaiian island for a future trip.
Flight attendants on the rescue flight informed passengers that United was offering compensation for this incident, but their automated system didn’t recognize our flight as being eligible for compensation so I had to write in to customer service. They only offered a $200 travel credit. I didn’t bother pushing for more, but I do wonder what compensation MileagePlus elites received.
All in all, it was an exhilarating experience. I have a renewed appreciation for United and their special Island Hopper flights that have served this region for so many years. United in Micronesia/RMI is a whole different animal compared to your typical domestic United Airlines experience…