Ridin’ solo, literally: A review of United’s brand-new bus service between Denver and Breckenridge

May 12, 2021

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There’s a new way to fly with United, and it doesn’t involve a plane.

On March 11, the Chicago-based airline debuted a brand-new bus service option for flyers headed to destinations within a short driving distance of its Denver hub that aren’t commercially feasible to serve with a regional jet.

In partnership with bus operator Landline, United is offering one-stop connectivity to both Fort Collins (FNL) and Breckenridge (QKB), with four daily buses to the former and just one to the latter.

Ever since United inaugurated the bus service, it’s been top of my review wish list. Over the years, I’ve skied many of Colorado’s top mountains — usually, I fly into Denver and rent a car or take a mountain shuttle to the slopes.

This new bus service promises to cut the stress and remove the hassle of taking packed shuttles. Plus, you’re protected by United in case of delays or cancelations with either the flight or the bus.

So, read on for how it went.

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Getting to Denver

My morning with United began bright and early at New York LaGuardia’s jaw-dropping Terminal B.

It’s been nearly a year since it opened, and I still can’t get over how much of an improvement the new terminal is (though wear your walking shoes since it’s a trek to the gates).

I even brought my skis along for the trip to see just how the bus connection actually works.

Check-in was completed within minutes — there was no line at the Premier Access counter that I used on account of my 1K status.

Within moments, my skis were checked all the way through to Breckenridge, as you’ll see with the QKB airport code on the bag tag.

Despite checking sporting equipment, the United check-in agent let me know that they’d carry the skis over to the oversized belt. I proceeded directly to security.

I was handed two boarding passes, one for the LGA-Denver segment and another for the bus service. Unless you read the fine print, you’d otherwise have no idea that your second “flight” wasn’t actually operated by a plane.

Seats for the bus sector are pre-assigned, though the agent offered to move me if I desired.

The pre-departure experience was otherwise uneventful. United’s LGA lounge is still closed (though it’s reopening soon), so I just stuck to the airside views.

United Flight 438 was operated by a 22-year-old Airbus A319. With just 12 first-class seats, I didn’t score an upgrade. In fact, I was number three on the list, after two invite-only Global Services members, neither of which got the bump either. After months of mostly empty planes, scoring a free first-class recliner has become more challenging.

Fortunately, I was traveling on a Tuesday — one of the slowest days of the week — so my middle seat (and a handful of others) remained empty.

United is still serving an all-in-one snack pack with pretzels and Biscoff cookies, and the beverage cart pulled up right behind with a choice of non-alcoholic refreshments.

The flight flew by. I connected to Wi-Fi ($22.99 for the full flight pass) and worked until we landed in Denver, where the fun began.

Denver transit experience

We pulled into Denver’s Terminal B, Gate B31, right next to the concourse’s main artery.

Though United primarily uses the B Gates at Denver, the bus service, along with a handful of other regional flights, depart from the A concourse.

That meant taking the train between terminals. I find Denver’s signage to be quite clear, though you’ll want to make sure you’re headed in the right direction when boarding the train.

After the short ride to the A gates, I made my way to the dedicated bus gate, A78.

That involved trekking to the far east end of the A pier, riding down an escalator to the ground level and then walking until what felt like Breckenridge.

Getting to the bus is definitely a long hike from the B gates, so you’ll want to hustle if you have a short connection.

Once I arrived at the gate area, I passed regional jet flights to places like Medford, Oregon, and Great Falls, Montana.

Though United doesn’t operate a lounge in the A pier, there are restrooms, a CNBC shop and a restaurant in this regional gate concourse.

It took me a minute to figure out where Gate A78 was. I found A77 and A79, but A78 was nowhere to be found.

Turns out, you need to follow signs for Gates A83 to A99 to get there.

Gate A78 was marked with a banner promoting the new Landline connection. There was a single gate agent manning the podium, which turned out to be plenty — she announced that there was just one passenger, Zachary Griff, on Tuesday’s ride to Breckenridge.

As she called for boarding, I noticed in the corner of my eye that my skis had made the connection — the driver was loading them into the baggage compartment as my boarding pass was scanned. United’s app also displays up-to-date bag status, which confirmed that my skis were indeed on the bus.

Taking the bus from Denver to Breckenridge

Let’s start with the single best feature of the new bus service — it departs from the airside area, meaning that you don’t need to exit security and claim your bags, before finding a rental car shuttle or waiting for a shared ride to the mountains.

United literally and figuratively handles all the heavy lifting.

If you’re originating at an outstation, your bags are checked through to the final destination, but you’ll still need to clear security in Denver. Note that Landline is working on figuring out a more seamless solution for passengers originating in Colorado.

Boarding the bus requires walking down a short ramp to the tarmac.

Since I was the only passenger, we were on our way within minutes. For aviation enthusiasts like me, the best part of the ride will undoubtedly be the first mile or so.

To exit the airport, the bus drives alongside many of the airport’s taxiways, providing incredible plane spotting from its large glass windows.

It didn’t take long to exit the secure area, and merge onto Pena Boulevard for the 100-mile, two-hour drive to Breckenridge.

Despite my mid-May trip, Mother Nature wasn’t yet done with winter — once we got into the mountains, it snowed the rest of the trip.

A first-class (motor) coach experience

By now, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t your traditional airport shuttle experience.

In addition to the significant time savings, the bus itself is equipped with comfortable leather seats in a spacious 1-2 configuration.

There are 35 seats on the bus, spread across 12 rows. Solo travelers should definitely ask for a C-lettered seat.

The black seat finishes were slick, resembling an upgraded version of United’s Embraer 175 first-class cabin.

Each seat sports 36 inches of pitch, except for Row 9, which has just 31 inches because it’s right behind the designated seating area for wheelchair-bound passengers.

Just like an airplane, the front-row “bulkhead” has a bit more legroom than you’d find in the other seats, but it doesn’t have full-size tray tables and all bags need to be stowed in the (small) overhead bins.

Each seat has a pretty generous recline, making for a very comfortable ride to the slopes.

The bus itself was spotless. It was in pristine condition and felt brand-new.

There’s one single lavatory at the back of the motor coach. Note that it doesn’t have running water.

There’s also a mini-fridge and bar area next to the restroom. For now, it’s empty, but Landline is considering adding waters and snacks once COVID restrictions ease.

As for the onboard amenities, each row of seats has two AC power sockets and two USB-A ports.

There’s also free, password-protected Wi-Fi, though the speeds — roughly 0.71 Mbps upload and 1.33 Mbps download — weren’t great. I had a much faster and more reliable connection when tethering through my phone.

United and Landline promote complimentary onboard streaming of movies and TV shows while onboard, but I couldn’t get the portal to work on my laptop or iPhone.

I managed to work the entire bus ride on the 14-inch wide and 10-inch long tray table. Plus, since I was the only passenger, I even made a few phone calls along the way.

The most rustic check-in counters in the United network

Before I knew it, my solo ride was over. We pulled into United’s Breckenridge outstation — 319 North Main Street — 30 minutes early.

For those staying in Breckenridge, the bus stop is located in the center of town, within walking distance of restaurants, stores and other services.

Once I got off the bus, I started parting ways with the friendly driver, before realizing that United and Landline are renting a three-story house that acts as the check-in area and departure lounge for travelers originating in Breckenridge.

I couldn’t help but take a peek inside, and I’m glad I did. I found the coolest United check-in counter I’ve ever seen — its design resembles a chic ski lodge.

This is where you’ll check in, drop your baggage and get your boarding passes when starting your journey in Breckenridge.

If you arrive with enough time to spare, there’s plenty of seating in the departure lounge, spread across individual recliners, shared workstations, a high-top table and more. There’s even a fridge stocked with Aquafina bottled water (no security means you can bring one on the bus).

 

In the summer months, the outdoor deck will be open, which overlooks the Blue River creek and packs pristine views of the nearby mountains.

Bottom line

There’s no question about it. If you’re looking for the most seamless transit experience to Breckenridge (or Fort Collins), taking the one-stop United bus service is the way to go.

You’ll get your boarding pass when checking in, and your checked bags, including skis, will be automatically transferred to the bus.

You don’t need to wait for Denver’s notoriously slow baggage claims, nor do you need to freeze outside on the curb waiting for a mountain or rental car shuttle.

You simply show up as if you’re boarding a plane, only to find a bus waiting for you.

Of course, taking the bus doesn’t work as well if you need a rental car to get around the mountain, but if you can manage on foot, with public transit or with rideshares, then the United Landline service would be my top choice.

Best yet, you don’t need to worry about missing a flight because of the bus — when you book with United, you’re protected against irregular operations, whether it’s an unexpected snow storm or a mechanical delay.

All photos by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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