It was one year ago this morning that I boarded a United Airlines 737 at Honolulu headed west. The infamous Island Hopper was to be my ride, carrying me and a dozen friends west to tiny specks of sand in the Pacific Ocean. Majuro, Kwajalein, Kosrae, Phonpei and Chuuk were the (air)ports of call scheduled for that day, eventually making it to Guam and then on to Hong Kong late that night. The goal was a trip from NYC to Hong Kong entirely on a 737. Sure, it is silly, but so are a lot of the things I do.
Final approach into Majuro. Spectacular views from the left side of the plane. So worth making the trip. ^SM pic.twitter.com/r0PuGfh4xH
— The Airchive (@TheAirchive) March 7, 2014
I wrote the whole trip up as a feature for AirwaysNews.com, including copious details about the sequestration in Kwajalein after the 737 broke and we had to wait for a spare plane to fly in with replacement parts and crew to finish the journey. That was just a small part of the fun. A year later I figure maybe I should share some of the other, more challenging bits of the story, like how we eventually got home.
While stuck in Kwajalein there was a bit of time where we had wifi connectivity. Fozz was smart enough to use that connection and his T-Mobile calling plan to get us protected on alternate flights home from Guam, assuming we ever got there. The segments were added to our reservations but not issued as that had to happen in Guam.
Read More: Kwajalein
And eventually we did make it to Guam, where things got even worse. The agents seemed unable to handle even simple requests and eventually wandered off with our passports into a back office, breaking our rebuilt itineraries for the third or fourth time. At one point they pulled out the old red carbon forms to hand-write tickets for us. And that was cool except that the carbons indicated an expiration date of 31 December 2013 and it was now March 2014. The agent’s suggestion that “no one cares about that anyway” did not leave me particularly comfortable.
Having the trip processed as a Trip in Vain was harder than expected. It seems that such requests are very rare in Guam and no one in the station understood the process. But I’m a problem solver so we got back on the phone with reservations on the Mainland and had the record notated with the exact steps required for the agent to follow. I know this worked because I eventually saw it written in the PNR notes and at one point was behind the counter with one of the agents and saw it on the screen as well. It still took more than 4 hours to reissue the tickets. And in doing so the agents managed to overbook the GUM-NRT flight in the forward cabin. I took that bump without hesitation for an extra $300.
At one point in the rebooking ordeal (after we recovered our passports from the back room) we asked for gate passes to go in to the lounge. Despite having United Club members in the group we were denied. I then asked to buy a ticket for one of the later flights that evening so we could get through security and go to a lounge and take a shower – it was now ~30 hours since we left Honolulu and that was most necessary. The agents would not sell us tickets. One of the group eventually booked an award flight via the app to get through security. It was that bad.
Then again, I got to fly 11,000+ miles across the Pacific Ocean in a 737, stopping at a couple tiny island outposts along the way. I made friends with some great crew members along the way and, despite the challenges we all got home safely. I had my fare refunded and received a significant travel voucher for the inconvenience, plus another one for the downgrade. Sure, our plans were thrown into chaos and the podcast episode recording was a total mess (though fun to go back and listen to now).
But, in the end, I still say it was worth it.
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