My last United flight to Las Vegas and back was nothing special to write about. Despite getting one upgrade to Economy Plus from Cleveland to Chicago, I ended up in regular Economy on the leg from Chicago to Las Vegas. The way back wasn’t any more pleasant. After flying from Las Vegas to Houston overnight (admittedly, by choice), my final leg was traveled over two hours back in a Embraer 145 Regional Jet. Along the way, I ended up getting accosted by a gate agent because I pointed out they were making the final boarding call three minutes after boarding was scheduled to begin on my boarding pass. For some reason, I’m not sure these are the friendly skies that Untied keeps talking about.
It got me thinking beyond my Star Alliance Identity Crisis, and why I was flying United to begin with. More importantly, it got me thinking about alternate travel arrangements. I love flying, don’t get me wrong – but what if I could get a better experience on Amtrak (which only runs in the northern part of Ohio), or another provider? This lead me to try to answer the ultimate question: is flying United Airlines better than riding on a Greyhound bus?
Granted, my only experience in riding a Greyhound bus was traveling to see some of my college chums while a student myself many years ago. But from what I remembered, the entire experience wasn’t so bad. The ride was acceptable, and most passengers on the bus kept to themselves. And since those days (nearly ten years ago now, to think), Greyhound has improved their passenger experience.
Therefore, my intention for post is to attempt to answer the ultimate question: is flying United economy better than riding a Greyhound bus? My goal is to compare the two travel providers in four categories: facilities (airports vs. Greyhound stations), seating, on-board amenities, and overall convenience.
Facilities: United 1 – Greyhound 0
Anyone who knows me knows I love an airport. I even have a particular love for Chicago O’Hare: the bane of many travelers’ existence. I think my affection has to do with the amount of time I spent there in college, but I could be wrong. None the less, there’s nothing better than spending time in an airport. I will even book extra-long layovers, in order to take advantage of all the amenities that the flying experience has to offer (like lounge access).
Although airports are not known for their neighborhood curb appeal, there is a level of separation between the traveling public and the hoi polloi via the TSA (believe it or not, it might be the only time you truly appreciate the checkpoint). At a Greyhound station, you don’t usually get that level of separation. In fact, I would venture that, because of their open nature and location in particularly urban settings, Greyhound stations may offer better people watching opportunities than even airports. Which is not necessarily a good thing.
When it comes to facilities, airports win over bus stations, hands down. While not necessarily a victory for United, it’s a default win by simple comparison.
Seating: United 1 – Greyhound 1
Anyone who has flown economy over the last ten years feels the crunch of reducing seat pitch. Flying United in economy is no exception, as the seat space seems to get smaller each time I fly. With seat pitch ranging from 31 to 34 inches, flying isn’t what it used to be. Of course, I could always spring for Economy Plus seating, and pay an exorbitant amount for five more inches of legroom – but shouldn’t that already be a right?
It’s difficult giving a direct comparison between United and Greyhound, considering airlines use seat pitch as an industry-standard measurement. John Walton has a good article in Australian Business Times explaining why seat pitch is a different measurement than actual legroom. That being said, Greyhound boasts their retrofitted buses now have 14 inches of legroom and seat only 50 passengers per bus. At approximately 12 rows of seats (give or take), Greyhound buses are sure to have more legroom – and seat pitch – than United economy. This round goes to Greyhound.
Amenities: United 1 – Greyhound 2
Onboard your next United economy flight, take a close look at everything you’re being charged for. Want extra legroom? That will cost you. Want a power outlet between seats? No guarantees it’s available on your flight. How about Wi-Fi service? Because of international schedules, the pricing will vary and must be prepaid by the hour. This is assuming your flight is equipped with Wi-Fi in the first place.
Meanwhile, over at Greyhound, nearly every bus has both power outlets at every seat and free Wi-Fi access onboard. This isn’t an upgrade – it’s included in the price of a ticket. That being said, Greyhound doesn’t offer complimentary beverage service between destinations. But personally speaking, I’d opt for Wi-Fi and power outlets over When it comes to onboard amenities, Greyhound wins.
Convenience: United 2 – Greyhound 2
Finally, there is the matter of convenience to consider. In the case of the Ohio-Las Vegas trip I took, it only took me about a half-day of flying arrive at the desert oasis of Las Vegas from the frozen tundras of the Buckeye state. If I had taken that same trek on a Greyhound bus, it would take nearly two days to get there and two days to come home. I don’t know about you, but seeing the United States by bus over two days of driving does not sound incredibly appealing.
Once again, simply by the nature of the transportation mode, United wins by default. Despite being around $200 cheaper, four additional days of vacation time to traverse the United States on the road negates any savings that the bus may offer.
Final Verdict in United vs. Greyhound: No Contest
While I want to say there’s a clear-cut winner in this situation, both options offer their pros and cons. Greyhound may offer a better on-board product, but flying United is simply more convenient – and arguably safer. While I would personally love to try busing across the United States for sheer curiosity, I don’t know that I can afford the time. What I do know is that when comparing the two, I’m forced to choose between convenience and safety over on-board product and passenger experience.
Would you rather take a bus over flying? What would it take for you to consider the roads over the skies? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!