“Air Force One” in The Marshall Islands
Here I am in Guam, an outpost of the United States in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and home to — from what I can see — a lot of US Military, Korean tourists, and an incredibly disgusting hotel. There’s no desk so I’m writing this blog post while sitting on two towels on the floor. I’m using two because they serve as a better barrier against the cockroaches.
Why am I here? Well, let’s go back about 36 hours.
One of the “holy grails” for airplane lovers like me is United’s “Island Hopper” service from Honolulu to Guam by way of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. As a lover of all things aviation, UA154 has been on my bucket list for a couple of decades.
The flight stops at four or five islands (depending on the day) and takes about 14 hours to complete. It’s an opportunity to visit some unique places and do some unique flying. I’m on my way to a meeting in Australia and it was “kind of” on the way… I also want to do more travel writing, so I reached out to the folks at Airways magazine and offered to put together an article about the flight. They agreed and I booked the trip.
The flight leaves Honolulu at 7:25 in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I wanted to be very well rested for the flight, so I went to bed extra early – about 5:00! I fell immediately to sleep thanks to a natural gift and the time difference between my home on the East Coast and the five hour difference to Hawaii.
It was a fantastic sleep, too! When I finally got up, I rolled around, stretched, and looked at the clock. It read 7:30. I freaked out. I hadn’t even packed! [You, dear reader, are likely smarter than I am so you already know where this is heading. Well, at the time, I did not.] Without thinking, I slammed everything into my suitcase and ran for the lobby. I jumped in a cab knowing I’d missed the flight, but maybe – just maybe – there was a delay and I’d be okay. The pain! The humiliation! The missed opportunity!
As we got closer to the airport, I glanced at the clock in the cab and saw what you already predicted. Two letters: P.M. next to the numbers 7:55.
My sense of dread turned into joy, which then became embarrassment.
“Sir, I need to go back to the hotel.”
“Yeah. I, ummm, got the time wrong. Can we just go back.”
He was happy about the double fare and I finally had an answer about how I could be so tired after such a long night’s rest.
So, after an actual good night’s sleep, I woke up and headed to the airport again.
The flight was incredible with unbelievable views, kind people, and more airplane experiences than I can relate here. You’ll have to subscribe to Airways for the details…more to come!
I will give you a sneak preview of an anecdote I’ll include in the Airways article that illustrates just how special this experience really was. As I sat in the gate area back in Honolulu (still relieved that I hadn’t missed the flight), I overheard one of the airline employees telling the flight crew that the President of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, would be on the flight.
She boarded before anyone else and didn’t even need to show a boarding pass or passport. When I boarded awhile later, there she was in the seat just in front of mine. Nearly everyone who walked past smiled, shook her hand, or just stared in awe. They didn’t seem to notice me. Not only is President Heine the country’s first female leader, she’s also the first woman in the nation to have earned her Ph.D.
In the Marshall Islands, they don’t have “Air Force One.” Instead, they’ve got “United 154.”
After landing at our first stop in Majuro, we chatted a bit. She asked me why I was in the Marshall Islands. When I told her, she gave me the same look I’ve gotten from just about anyone. I took it to mean she really wanted me to stay, but it was probably that she just didn’t understand why a person would voluntarily subject themselves to such a grueling day. I asked her whether I could take a picture with her. She looked taken aback, but with a little convincing, she agreed. I mean, c’mon! She’s the first President I’ve ever met!
So, after flying with a President yesterday, today I’m fighting off cockroaches. My, “how the worm turns.”
Moral of this story? Use a 24 hour clock when traversing so many time zones and the international dateline.
Later today, I head north to get south: First Seoul, then Sydney.