United adds one-stop bus service to 2 Colorado destinations
United Airlines is expanding its reach in Colorado.
On Thursday, March 11, the Chicago-based carrier began its partnership with luxury-bus operator Landline to offer flyers one-stop itineraries through its Denver hub, with ground transportation to or from Breckenridge and Fort Collins.
The new partnership allows United customers to search and book itineraries to both destinations, with the last leg of the journey operated by one of Landline's premium coach buses. Once-daily service to Breckenridge began on Thursday, while four-times daily Fort Collins service begins on April 1.
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The first Breckenridge bus service carries United flight numbers 6388 and 6389. The first bus departed Denver for the mountains at 11:15 a.m. local time, while the return journey is slated for a 2:15 p.m. departure.
United's vice president of domestic network planning Ankit Gupta told TPG in an interview that these sub-100 mile destinations are popular with travelers, but there isn't a commercially feasible way to operate flights to either city. (United and Continental Express last flew to Fort Collins in the 1990s.)
"This seamless product transfers you from Denver to Breckenridge and Fort Collins and vice versa," Gupta told TPG.
Before United's new partnership, flyers headed for a Breckenridge ski vacation or to visit Fort Collins rented a car, used a rideshare or took a public shuttle to get to their final destination. This required maneuvering through Denver's three-concourse airport and claiming checked bags before finding ground transportation.
On the return to Denver, travelers needed to worry about potentially hazardous road conditions and unpredictable traffic patterns.
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The United-Landline partnership eliminates much of the stress and hassle. For one, travelers are protected during irregular operations. "We at United will take care of you," said Gupta. If flights are late or the bus is stuck in traffic, United promises to get you to your final destination on both ends of your journey.
Additionally, the Landline partnership offers the most seamless Denver connection experience possible. To start, you'll receive your bus boarding pass when checking in for the first flight on the itinerary.
After arriving in Denver, you'll head to Gate A78 in the A concourse, while your checked luggage, including skiing equipment, is transferred directly to the bus.
When originating in Breckenridge or Fort Collins, flyers receive their United boarding pass during check-in, and checked bags are tagged to the final destination. When arriving in Denver, you first proceed directly to security before going to the departure gate.
Landline is working on adding remote security screening at its outstations so that you can arrive in Denver already pre-screened and ready to make your connecting flight.
As for the passenger experience, each bus sports free Wi-Fi, streaming entertainment and spacious leather seating arranged in a 1-2 configuration. Landline has implemented United's CleanPlus anti-coronavirus cleaning initiatives, and bus capacity will be capped at 50% to promote social distancing.
MileagePlus members can earn Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and redeemable miles on the bus portion of the itinerary.
This isn't the first time that United's partnering with a bus operator. In Newark, the carrier offers one-stop connecting service to Allentown, Pennsylvania (ABE) via Easton Coach. Since 2019, Sun Country Airlines has offered a Landline bus connection from its Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) hub to cities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Related: Your inside look at Denver Airport's new terminal expansion
As for what's next with the United-Landline partnership, Gupta described two expansion opportunities. The first is simply growing the range of destinations.
"There are so many opportunities from Denver. Boulder, Copper Mountain, Estes Park Resort. We wanted to start with this test pilot and see how it performs,” Gupta said.
Aside from Denver, Gupta mentioned that "coastal gateways" like United's Newark or San Francisco hubs could be other cities ripe for expansion. In the New York area, points of interest near the Stewart International Airport could make Landline service worthwhile.
Another option United is considering is adding the ability to purchase bus service as a post-purchase add-on. Say you book a flight to Denver and then three months later decide you'll ski in Breckenridge. By offering the bus as an ancillary service, you could easily add the bus segment without reticketing your entire itinerary.
United's Colorado push comes as Denver passenger traffic has proven resilient during the pandemic. The carrier is boosting flights from its mega-hub as it competes fiercely with Southwest Airlines. United is down just about 20% in Denver departures compared to the pre-pandemic highs of 2019.