Category Archives: Guam

Bucket List: Island Hopper Flight UA154/UA155

If not for encouragement from the Aviation Geek community my Motorsport marshaling hobby would be very limited. But thanks to a recent post by an Uber-AvGeek Seth from NYC I now have a bug in my mind to do something crazy: an Island Hopper tour of the Pacific on United Airlines flight #154 from Hawaii to Guam via the Marshall Islands and a few states in Micronesia (and flight #155 on the way back). Seth recently shared a few posts: click here and here; as well as a bunch of photos from his awesome Boeing 737 adventure from NYC area all the way to Guam:

EWR > LAX > HNL > MAJ > KWA > KSA > PNI > TKK > GUM

And so with practically no consideration or rational reasoning behind whether this trip makes any sense whatsoever for me, I have my mind made up that I will do it! Soon…

I want to go marshal in Asia this year. I also want to go back to New Zealand. Perhaps this trip will work itself nicely into that planning. There will certainly be road blocks along the way. A major one among them is that I don’t have enough United Airlines Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles to secure this otherwise expensive flight. I’ve used up most of my UA miles in 2013 for my two round the world tickets on Singapore and Thai Air to go to the Singapore GP and the Korean GP. But miles can be earned and collected quickly.

I’m also not the biggest fan of United or the Boeing 737 aircraft. The quickest way to cross the Pacific is to fly direct, like the NYC to Hong Kong I flew on my way to Singapore, which takes about 16 hours (and goes via the North Pole instead of west via the Pacific Ocean). Seth’s experience lasted more than 47 hours factoring in the transit and layover time and the inevitable breakdown. According to Seth, a mechanic travels on the plane on this route, just in case things go wrong… but if parts are required they must be flown in with a relief crew. And when using miles I’d rather take the trip on Cathay Pacific like I did last time rather than flying United. But that’s the only option. Similarly, when it comes to single aisle aircraft I much rather prefer the Airbus A320 which feels far more comfortable to me in Economy class than a Boeing 737 does, but again that’s the only option on that route. Still I can overlook both of those personal preferences to experience something this unique that Seth says should be on the “bucket list” of any AvGeek. To me it’s more of a “fuck it, let’s do it!” list than anything else.

So what does the trip actually involve?

Let’s break it down:

island hopper ua154 hop 1

crossing the international date line, arrive a few hours later next day

island hopper ua154 hop 2

island hopper ua154 hop 3

island hopper ua154 hop 4

island hopper ua154 hop 5

island hopper ua154 hop 6

And visualize it:

island hopper ua154
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

What does it cost?

A random date search in November yields $1400+

island hopper ua154 price

Or when booked as award flight using United Mileage Plus frequent flyer miles (randomly selected based on availability in January):

island hopper ua154 award miles

Not cheap either way, considering $1,400+ can easily get you NYC to just about anywhere in Asia, round trip! Similarly, 25,000 miles will get you a Domestic round trip flight from NYC to anywhere in the Continental US and some parts of Canada.

Seth also mentioned that it’s possible to book NYC to Guam award ticket forcing flight UA154 for about 35,000 miles with a stop in LA and Honolulu like he did on his trip, but availability on those flights is extremely rare. And so it’s a challenge… which seems quite exciting from any angle I look at it, and that makes me want to do it even more. A trip like this makes any other “Island Hopper” flight, like those in the Caribbean on little puddle jumper planes look exactly like that… little puddle jumping endeavor.

island hopper from nyc to la to guam
map courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

So stay tuned…

Guam

On the last day of 2014 I would like to do a Year-in-Review type post about the past season and my outlook on the future. I seek advice from this post because I don’t have a mentor in this hobby and everything I learn I discover from experience. And much of it has been trial and error, with multiple errors compounding over time. Good advice is always appreciated!

I was advised to give up the F&C portion of my SCCA club membership recently because I’m obviously not happy with the lack of training from my home region. To me, F&C is the only reason I pay $85 (minus worker credit I receive for participating in club events) year after year. The other advice I received was to dump my local Northern New Jersey SCCA region which charges me $20 (the other $65 goes to SCCA National office in Topeka, Kansas) administrative fee of some sort but offered nothing in return over the past three years of my membership with the region and the greater Northeast Division. I was advised to join Guam instead, because it doesn’t have the extra fee on top of the SCCA National dues, and therefore offers nothing in return. Apparently you don’t need to live in the region to be a part of it. It must be true because I’ve met people with multiple regions on their license, most notably the Central Florida Region which many northerners seem to be a part of.

Guam Road Racers Association

So the big question for 2015 is whether or not I should join the Guam SCCA region and continue paying $65 for their license or quit SCCA altogether. The alternative of course would be to join an international ASN like those in Canada, Australia or New Zealand. But now that I’m back in the USA, I would like to represent the US at various events I volunteer especially those overseas. If I quit the SCCA at this point I would not be able to volunteer for Le Mans 24h or the Hungarian GP in 2015 because I would not have a valid license to do so. SCCA seems to hold a monopoly in the US on issuing marshal/corner worker licenses. SCCA points to the Guam Road Racers web site as it’s regional representative, but I’m not sure if that’s still the case as the site is offline, the facebook group for Guam Road Racers Association makes no mention of SCCA.

My year – 2014 ended on a great note. I managed to volunteer in two new countries: Germany and Portugal. I did a great number of endurance events, with my favorite two being Le Mans 24h and Nurburgring 24h back to back while in Europe. I even worked the first extra-long endurance event, Maxi 32h though I’m not quite sure whether it did or did not set a Guiness World Record for the longest continuous race. Regardless, it was a fantastic experience and my first time working in Portugal, the 13th country on the list of places I volunteered in my short marshaling career.

I bought a car I’ve grown to like while volunteering in the US, a Mazda MX-5 Miata / Roadster. And with it I was planning on doing some local events including Lime Rock and Pocono if the scheduling worked out. But my father’s last trip to the ER gave our family some devastating news, that combined with my current financial situation and lack of stable employment may result in me missing out on most foreseeable opportunities. Which sucks!

What also sucks is how badly 2014 started out for me, with two Florida events that I wish I could forget including Daytona 24h and the Sebring 12h. The biggest lesson I learned from that misery was that I am a volunteer, and if it has become apparent that someone is intent on giving me a hard time, I must stand up for myself in the future. I always thought I could work with anyone, anywhere under any circumstances because I never went to the race track for the people, but rather for the event and the cars on track. But after being treated like shit at a few events, watching the cars and the event unfold has lost it’s appeal. In the future I don’t think I will spend my money to go to an event that I know will be depressing or miserable. I will pick and choose to do what makes me happy.

And so looking at the official seal of Guam is making me happy. Just look at it: clear skies, blue ocean by a sandy beach, with a sail boat (flying proa) and a palm tree… it has a therapeutic effect even without setting foot on the island. I think quitting SCCA in anger can happen at any moment, but the only person hurt from the outcome would be me. Guam is closer to the Philippines than to the US mainland. It is closer to Singapore, Australia and New Zealand where I actually went through proper FIA accredited training. It is more representative of my experience overall, than what I learned by participating in the US. And what I learned from “on the job” training stateside was nothing but people’s bitterness towards others. Lots of talking behind each other’s backs, lots of backstabbing. Lots of “old farts” demanding respect but offering none of it in return, because that’s how they were treated when they were new to the hobby. Utter bullshit!

I have two months to decide whether Guam is the solution. Any helpful advice would be greatly appreciated!

 

PS. Joining the Guam Region would probably result in a quick visit there. I have been planning a return to New Zealand and Malaysia for over a year, and can’t think of a better route there than via Guam.