United Has Your 35-Seat ‘Flight’ Direct to Colorado’s Ski Slopes

United Airlines Holdings Inc. has a new twist on the marketer’s phrase “fly directly to the slopes” this ski season with a plan to sell tickets to a destination only 100 yards from the ski gondola in the resort town of Breckenridge, Colorado.

The twist: Passengers and their bags transfer to a bus at the Denver airport, the connecting point to their final destination 105 miles to the west. United said daily trips starting March 11 will be the first time Breckenridge has “airline” service, as it were.

A second United coach route introduced Friday will connect Denver International and Fort Collins, 70 miles to the north. This “flight” will take off four times daily starting on April 1. Both will be operated by The Landline Co., a Los Angeles-based startup, with buses painted in United’s livery colors.

United Has Your 35-Seat ‘Flight’ Direct to Colorado’s Ski Slopes

The arrangement allows airlines to sell destinations where they don’t fly—such as Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Fort Collins—but retain a passenger’s full journey and adjust fares for the entire trip just as they do with air-only itineraries. Partner Landline pitches itself to carriers as a “single-brand” experience that offers the same “seamless” passenger connection at hubs as a regional airline.

United chose its Denver hub for the busing trial because “you have so many ski resorts or second homes there and these are all in the 50-to-100 mile segment,” said Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president of domestic network planning.

Mountain-bound travelers currently drive, use car services like Lyft Inc. or scout out one of the dozens of ski-area shuttle services in the Denver area. “This is a low-risk experiment with very high potential,” Gupta said Thursday in a video call.  

The expansion into a ski resort town “really shows you the future of our business, this idea that the airport can exist anywhere,” said David Sunde, Landline’s chief executive and a former network planner for Alaska Air Group Inc. Landline has an office in town where it will collect and deposit passengers and their luggage, roughly 100 yards from the ski lift, Sunde said.

United Has Your 35-Seat ‘Flight’ Direct to Colorado’s Ski Slopes

The venture-backed company’s 35-seat buses have Wi-Fi access, a lavatory, power plugs and a tray at each seat. Passengers will be required to wear face coverings when not eating, following U.S. aviation rules regarding the coronavirus.

Landline began a similar service with Sun Country Airlines in late 2019 to shuttle the carrier’s passengers to and from two Minnesota cities, Duluth and Mankato. Sun Country expanded the offering to five additional cities in early February.

The notion of a bus- or small van- shared service to a large airport isn’t new—Europe has several and U.S. carriers have used the model in the past. United already has one market—Allentown, Pennsylvania—it serves as a bus codeshare from its Newark hub since Continental began the route in 1995. It also sold air-bus tickets connecting Newark with Trenton, New Jersey, and Poughkeepsie, New York. In the 1980s, America West Airlines had a similar arrangement between Scottsdale, Arizona, and its Phoenix hub.

United views bus codeshares as viable for routes of around 100 miles or less, and probably for leisure destinations more than business, Gupta said.

For Fort Collins, the bus will collect passengers at Northern Colorado Regional Airport in the adjacent town of Loveland. Bags are checked at the bus to the final destination. Landline is exploring ways it can have the Transportation Security Administration screen its passengers at locations outside of airports so that they can bypass security queues at major hubs.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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