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rkkwan's CO flight report IAH-HNL-GUM-HKG


Sep 12th, 2011, 08:28 PM
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rkkwan's CO flight report IAH-HNL-GUM-HKG


Claiming an one-way IAH-HKG reward using CO miles. Lots of choices - CO via EWR, UA via SFO/ORD, LH via FRA, but also CO via GUM around this time of the year. I don't easily give up a chance to fly a new airline, a new route, or visit a new airport. Never flown LH, never been to FRA, but long flights and Y on LH's 744 put me off, though 8 hours at FRA sounds interesting for a side trip to towns nearby.

But I had really wanted to do the GUM flights for a while, so I picked this routing. New airport and last chance to fly CO on HNL-GUM before that flight turns over to UA at the end of Oct 11.

Distance and Flight Time

Guam is really a long detour for many East and NE Asia destinations, as it is pretty far south. From Houston westbound to Hong Kong in summer, the shortest combined flight time is just under 18 hours - IAH-YVR 4:45 plus NRT-HKG 13:05. In contrast, IAH-HNL is 8:20, HNL-GUM is 7:45 and GUM-HKG 4:45, for a total of almost 21 hours.

But this will answer one question often asked on this page. That is, whether it is better to break up long flights into shorter ones, even if overall time is longer.

In terms of distance, IAH-YVR-HKG is basically the great-circle route of about 8,400mi, while IAH-HNL-GUM-HKG is over 9,800mi:

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Sep 12th, 2011, 08:46 PM
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CO 767-400ER "Micronesia"

CO and DL are the only airlines operating the 767-400ER. CO has 16, with 12 of them configured 35/200 and 4 of them 20/236 (known as 76H). [Initially there were 5, but was reconfigured a few years ago.] These 4 aircraft has the same previous generation BusinessFirst seats and are not planned to get the new flat-beds.

Currently, they only fly on EWR-HNL, IAH-HNL, HNL-GUM and GUM-NRT; but with the merger of UA and CO, HNL-GUM and GUM-NRT will see UA's 777, while the 76H will start flying HNL-SFO and HNL-DEN. So, the days of the 764 at GUM are numbered.

While the "standard" 35/200 764 have no "good" economy seats at all, these 20/236 ones have the mini-cabin in front of door 2, with 5 rows of coach. The left (AB) side has a closet and only 4 rows spread out a little more. As a result, those seats have extra legroom and that's where I sat (12B) for both IAH-HNL and HNL-GUM flights. The first row on the outside (10ABKL) are even better, with lots of legroom and huge cutout.

There is no AVOD on these aircraft. Only older generation 7" individual screen with 9 video channels and 20 audio ones running on a 2.5-hr loop. First half of economy has Empower, but I don't have an adapter.

My flights (CO1) on 9/11 were operated by N69063 for both legs, with a 80-minute scheduled layover at HNL. The return flights (CO2) from GUM usually have an equipment change at HNL.

737-800 "Micronesia"

CO also assigned a set of 737-800 for its GUM-based operation. Some of those had returned to the mainland in exchange for 737-700s, but my GUM-HKG flight is on the -800. While the mainland ones had been converted to 16/144, with the removal of a closet up front and rearrangement of the lavatories and galleys in the back, these 738s based in GUM are still 14/141. Also, no DirecTV, which wouldn't work out there anyways. Instead, they still have the overhead LCDs every few rows.

My flight CO179 on 9/12/11 was operated by N26232.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 02:46 AM
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Leg 1 CO1 IAH-HNL 9/11/11

CO used to run two 764 flights a day IAH-HNL, but had cut back to one, after increasing service from LAX. As a result, this flight is usually very full. Not so for this day, Sept 11, as there were plenty of seats to choose from. Having said that, we still ended up flying out full as there are 50+ CO employees and other non-revs who stood by.

Complimentary food on IAH/EWR-HNL ended late last year, and this became one of the longest routes without free food. CO and UA had "united" their menu, and from my prior experience, they are not bad.

For this flight, I already had bagel and muffin from the President's Club at IAH, so I passed on the fresh menu. Instead, I had the $7.29 "Savory" snack pack. I found the prices on all these pretty reasonable. Worried that they might run out when I really want to consume it around mid-flight, I purchased a pack when it was first offered. But later, I saw that they had enough to offer them for sale again about 4 hours into the flight.

Each seat gets a blanket, nicely folded in a plastic bag, but there are no pillows for this 8:20 flight. Headphones are $3. The Hawaiian pre-board music and video are still there. (No Rhapsody in Blue). Cabin crew were Houston-based.

Flight was uneventful. Everything's right on-time. We took the typical route over El Paso, then hit the Pacific Ocean around Oceanside, just north of San Diego. Flew directly over Oahu (after decent views of Molokai and Lanai) before making a U-turn to land to the east at HNL, again as usual.

Noticable merger impact

Just under a year after the CO/UA merger, they're making decent progress. Here are some things that's visible to the travelers:

IAH-HNL has retained the CO1 flight number, and in fact its UA codeshare number is UA1, which will be its flight number in the future. This has upset some UA-loyalists and Chicagoans, as ORD-HNL is now UA201 instead.

Jeff Smisek, the CEO of the combined airline, seem to be making a new video intro (shown before safety video) very frequently. The message I saw was different than just 2 weeks ago.

The inflight magazine, even though is now called Hemisphere, is still separate from UA's Hemisphere in its technical contents in the back.

About 75% of the mainline CO aircraft had been repainted to say "UNITED", including ours.

All the catering stuff says United now, including the snack pack, cups, napkins, etc.

The deejays on all audio channels thank the listeners for flying United.

The uniform Duty-free catalog has less offering than CO used to have before. And definitely no more blue CO teddy bears and CO-labelled pens that I had purchased before.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 03:20 AM
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super info thanks for posting...
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Sep 13th, 2011, 05:45 AM
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I always enjoy reading your thorough reviews, rk.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 09:05 AM
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Me, too, but I'm curious, how do you KNOW all this?
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Sep 13th, 2011, 09:17 AM
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sf7307 - Thanks. There's a lot of room in one's brain for useless info. As long as one's interested in the topic.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 07:03 PM
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Our flight from IAH parked at Gate 15 in the central pier of HNL's main terminal. With just about 45 minutes before boarding again for GUM, I decided to not trek over to the RCC above Gate 9 & 10 on the east pier. Instead, I just walked out to the non-A/C area for some fresh air.

Because Guam has separate customs than the US (though they have US immigration), it is actually possible to buy duty-free at HNL for this flight. And because of this, the seating area around Gate 15 was bordered, and passengers to Guam will have their BP scanned (and technically boarded) into the seating area about 45 minutes prior to flight time. Once inside, one can pick up their duty-free items purchased at HNL.

[For passenger flying from Asia through GUM to HNL, one goes through US immigration in GUM, but US customs in HNL. Very strange.]

Leg 2 CO1 HNL-GUM 9/11/11

This flight is totally full, and I heard this is usually the case. Which is one reason why it is moving to a larger UA 777 at the end of October. Passengers include Pacific Islanders and those in military or associated with military.

Even though HNL-GUM is shorter than IAH-HNL (and GUM a U.S. Territory), this is a real international longhaul. Besides the same packaged blanket, there was also a pillow. However, for reasons I cannot understand, they were still selling headphones for $3.

Until not long ago, Guam-based flights were flown under the Continental Micronesia certificate, but they have been fully integrated into Continental (and soon United). Still, the boarding video is specific for CO Micronesia, with very beautiful scenery from its destinations around the Pacific. Crew on this flight, as expected, is Guam-based.

Service on this flight is similar to Trans-Atlantic on CO. No menu, no hot towel in coach; unlike CO's non-stop trans-Pacific service to Japan, China and HK. But one nice thing that's superior is that besides the complimentary lunch (chicken & rice, or meatball pasta) after take off and sandwich before arrival, there's also a ice-cream sundae mid-flight. That is not available for Europe->US flights, even though flight time is very similar.

One thing that I don't like is that CO only runs 4 sets of looped videos for its taped entertainment - to US, from US, to Japan and from Japan. Both legs of CO 1 are considered "from US", so we got the exact same 2.5hr looped programming for 16 hours of flight. Featured films remain "Midnight in Paris" and "Kung Fu Panda 2", same episodes of "House" and so on.

Our flight left HNL about 15 minutes late due to a medical "emergency" while boarding. We took off to the east, made a quick U-turn and then a straight shot to Guam. At Guam, it was a straight shot from the NE to SW, over the whole NE portion of the lush green island (a bit like Kauai) and landed on 24L.

We made up some time during flight and arrived Gate 8 just 6 minutes late. Actual flight time 7:14.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 07:49 PM
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As I mentioned, Guam has US Immigration, but its own customs. For us arriving from Hawaii, there's no need to go through immigration, but those who are going into Guam have to fill in a long customs form and once off the flight at Gate 8, they turn right to go to baggage claim and customs. For me connecting, it's just like a domestic connecting flight. No checkpoint, no security. This means that one can buy duty-free liquor from HNL and then hand-carry them to final destination like Hong Kong.

The connection time at GUM was a short 40 minutes and one may worry whether that's too short. Answer: NO, it's more than enough for several reasons:

1. No checkpoint, no security
2. Single terminal is pretty small with only 21 gates
3. CO will hold wait for connecting customers

Here's my timing. CO1 was scheduled to arrive 6:00p, and CO179 to depart 6:40.

6:00p CO1 touched down
6:06p Arrived at Gate 8 and door opened a minute later
6:15p I arrived at Gate 12 after using boy's room and snapping a few pictures along the way. Those NOT from CO1 were all boarded and settled on the plane.
6:29p CO179 door closed with all my fellow connecting passengers settled. 11 minutes early.

So, even though our flight from HNL was 15 minutes late closing, there was still plenty of time for flight to HKG to depart early, even with the "short" connection.

Anyways, the GUM terminal is a non-descript rectangular building with the older central area (where Gate 8 is) and a newer, slightly taller extension (where 12 is). But inside it's one high-end store next to another, with likes of Burberry, Hermes, Gucci, Bulgari, etc.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 08:15 PM
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Leg 3 CO179 GUM-HKG 9/12/11

CO Micronesia had flown between Hong Kong and Guam or Saipan for years, for a long time with DC-10. But it was cancelled altogether following the 2008 economic downturn as well as US Immigration issues. But they're back with twice a week service with the 737-800. Hong Kong SAR citizens now can visit Guam visa-free. Prior, they could go to Saipan/CNMI visa-free, but not GUM, and not even just transiting to SPN.

Anyways, I had first row of coach, in 7C, with nobody beside me. The front part of the coach (the elite section) was also quite empty. But behind the exit rows (totally empty) tour groups from Hong Kong packed the aircraft. First was also full. So, very strange flight with the ends filled and middle-section very empty.

My very first time on a GUM-based CO 738. There was packaged blanket, but no pillow. There was a headrest liner, which you won't see on a mainland 737. Headphones are complimentary. Besides the regular CO Hemisphere and duty-free catalog, there's also a Japanese-language United magazine.

There was complimentary dinner service - beef with rice, or a pasta. The portion for the main course was the smallest I had ever seen on a flight. I didn't know they make airline dishes that small. But at least the taste is fine.

Two films were shown from the overhead monitors on this 4:45 flight. And you guessed it - "Midnight in Paris" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" again!!!! - this time with subtitles in traditional Chinese. I figure I could have watched these same two movies for a combined eight times from Houston to Hong Kong.

One of the GUM-based flight attendants is Chinese, but he made announcement in Putonghua/Mandarin. CO has no scheduled flight from GUM to China or Taiwan, but they sometimes do charter flights. Also, they will start flying to Singapore (via NRT and HKG) at the end of October. Putonghua/Mandarin is spoken in those places, but Hong Kong uses Cantonese.

Flight was otherwise uneventful other than the time it took. CO did not pad the timetable at all. Despite door closing 11 minutes early, we actually arrived at our gate at HKG one minute late. Actual flight times was 4:37 (scheduled 4:45).
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Sep 13th, 2011, 08:25 PM
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Finally, a record of sort at HKG.

8:20p Wheels touched round on Runway 7L
8:26p Doors open at Gate 20 (closest to terminal)
~8:34p My three Star Alliance Priority-tagged bags came out among the first batch
8:37p Out customs door

When things line up, the efficiency of HKG is pretty amazing. Though I had also saw long lines at the e-channel automatic immigration control, and an hour at baggage claim due to a design problem with their carousel and poor attitude of its workers.

Ultra-longhaul vs breaking up into shorter flights

I have to admit that 7:48 (longest flight of my trip, IAH-HNL) is a lot more easier to handle than 15 hours on EWR-HKG, and it was fun to visit new places like GUM. But will I do this again? Absolutely NOT! Just takes too long, and hours after I arrived in Hong Kong, I could still feel my body swinging.

I haven't had this feeling for many years, and not after a regular one-stop trip like IAH-EWR-HKG.

Also keep in mind that I was in some of the best economy seats on all 3 flights. I'd feel absolutely miserable if stuck in the back of the 737 for a 4:37 flight after already been in the air for 15+ hours.

For those who fly on CO regularly, CO's 777 on non-stop to Japan/China/HK all have flat beds, compared to recliners on the 767, so there's even less reason for those flying in business.
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Sep 13th, 2011, 10:08 PM
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I've considered that flight but, "did they ever turn off the fasten seatbelt sign?
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Sep 14th, 2011, 07:03 AM
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You never fail to amaze me, Ray~
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Sep 14th, 2011, 04:31 PM
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wally - The CO Micronesia crew (HNL-GUM and GUM-HKG) are more like Asian and European carriers in their fastern-seatbelt sign usage. The signs come off right after we get to cruise, and they don't turn them on to with the slightest turbulence.

DebitNM - What's so amazing, exactly?
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Sep 14th, 2011, 05:37 PM
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Your attention to detail for one. Duh!
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Sep 14th, 2011, 06:15 PM
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Great stuff.

My brain has plenty of room for useless but interesting details like this. Unfortunately, those details displace non-interesting but important and useful ones.

Will you be posting pictures, rk? The good ones especially.
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Sep 14th, 2011, 06:18 PM
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J62 - Not many pics on this trip, but will try to post some after I set up my desktop computer in a couple of days.
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Sep 16th, 2011, 02:06 AM
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Thanks for posting this wonderfully detailed report! I'm hoping to go to Palau at some point, and info on connecting in GUM is hard to come by.

Regarding breaking up the long flight, isn't the right way to do this to stop at each place for a night or two (or a week) of relaxation before boarding your next short hop?
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