“Wingless Travel” Takes Flight at Regional Airports

“Wingless Travel” Takes Flight at Regional Airports
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

When passengers choose to travel from a small regional airport to a larger hub, most assume a small regional jet will take them from Point A to Point B.

However, this sweeping generalization has recently been upended with the introduction of “wingless flights” in areas surrounding Denver, Minneapolis and Philadelphia. An increasing number of travelers accustomed to boarding flights on American Eagle, SkyWest, or PSA Airlines are now riding in coach buses between city pairs such as Fargo, ND, and Minneapolis; or Allentown, PA, and Philadelphia. Service is provided by The Landline Company, and tickets are typically booked through airline partner websites.

For regional airports, the company improves connectivity; at larger hubs, it helps reduce curb congestion.


Project: Coach Service Between Regional Spoke Airports & Larger Hubs

Service Provider: 
The Landline Company

Regional Airports: Atlantic City Int’l (ACY); Chippewa Valley Regional (EAU); Duluth Int’l (DLH); Grand Forks Int’l (GFK); Hector Int’l (FAR); Lancaster Airport (LNS); Lehigh Valley Int’l (ABE); Northern Colorado Regional (FNL)

Hub Airports: Denver Int’l (DEN); Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l (MSP), Philadelphia Int’l (PHL)

Airline Network Partners: 
American; Sun Country; United

Fleet: 25 Prevost H3-45 coaches

Signature Amenities: Leather seats with 36 inches of pitch; free Wi-Fi; restrooms

Sample One-Way Fares: Prices start at $29 for FNL/DEN, University of ND campus/FAR; $35 for EAU/MSP, DLH/MSP, FAR/MSP; $49 for University of ND campus/MSP

Key Benefits: Better connectivity for passengers; less curb traffic at airports

Duluth International (DLH) in Minnesota was the first community airport to initiate this particular brand of road-based shuttles. Starting in November 2019, The Landline Company began bridging the gap between DLH and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) with three-hour bus rides via a partnership with Sun Country Airlines. 

Northern Colorado Regional Airport (FNL) in Loveland, CO, followed suit to carry passengers to and from Denver International Airport (DEN). Aaron Ehle, planning and business development specialist at FNL, is extremely pleased to have premium shuttle buses as an option for travelers. 

“Landline has been going for about two years now, and people are really enjoying the service,” Ehle says. “It is really building steam.” The FNL-DEN bus route, generated by United Airlines, has grown from four times per day to 11 times on select days, and is now the company’s highest-volume route. 

Land Cruising

From Ehle’s perspective, the road-based service provides parallel access and rivals the efficiencies of bundled regional flights.

“You can book directly through United’s website, so it really operates a lot like the connecting flights,” he explains. “United really has a pretty slick system of making those reservations and matching the bus departures up with the flight banks at Denver International.”

Although the service is denoted on booking and reservation information by the phrase, “Includes Travel Operated by The Landline Company dba UA Bus Service,” some customers still expect to board aircraft. Landline Marketing Specialist Hannah Tamura says they are pleasantly surprised after riding in one of the company’s coaches. “We offer more legroom than an economy seat on most planes, have free Wi-Fi, and in-seat power and reclining leather seats in all our vehicles,” she relates.

The United Airlines booking platform allows FNL passengers to check bags to their final destinations within the carrier’s global network. And loyalty members can earn MileagePlus benefits for their coach trips.

Other travelers are also benefiting from the land-based service between FNL and DEN. Although the route started as a United-only partnership, it has since expanded to include customers on any airline. In addition, DEN passengers bound for the Fort Collins-Loveland area in general, not just
the airport, can book Landline trips directly through the company’s website. One-way prices start at $29 for the hour-long drive between airports; children 12 and under ride free with a paid adult. 

Whether their coach ride is bundled through United or booked directly with Landline, passengers can park free at FNL before boarding the premium airport shuttles.

“They are very nice buses with restrooms and Wi-Fi, so it is more of an upscale experience than traditional shuttle service,” Ehle attests. “I just used it, and it was very seamless. I really enjoyed it and have a lot of friends that do, as well.

“When you get to Denver, all you have to do is get off the bus and go through security and on to your gate.”

Multimodal Travel

Since Landline shuttles operate as “wingless flights,” passengers receive wing-worthy benefits. For example, if Landline passengers booked through United are delayed due to road congestion in Denver, they are automatically booked on the next flight to their final destination, with checked baggage transferred accordingly. 

“Landline has a good connection rate, but I did have one ride last year where (the shuttle) arrived a little later than anticipated,” Ehle says. “But they were able to get me through a fast-track security line so I was able to make my flight.”

Looking to further improve service, he is hopeful that FNL will soon secure the same TSA benefits as Atlantic City International (ACY) in Southern New Jersey and Lehigh Valley International (ABE) in Allentown, PA. Since July 11, American Airlines passengers at both airports can check bags and clear security before boarding their Landline shuttles. Passengers are dropped airside at PHL, eliminating the need for them to pass through the TSA checkpoint there. As the first multimodal system to partner with TSA for screening passengers and bags, the service could prove to be an industry game-changer.

“When we get that TSA approval here, it will be even more like a connecting flight where you will check in here, go to security, and then you’ll be dropped off at the concourse area in Denver,” Ehle relates.

“We really want to be a multimodal transit hub, so we’re not looking to just offer flights,” he adds.

That said, FNL isn’t trying to compete with DEN. “We aren’t even a blip on their radar,” Ehle chuckles. “What we are looking to do is help people get to Denver International Airport in a more timely and convenient way, and obviously offer direct access out of here to destinations that people are looking to get to.”

Another Example

Chippewa Valley Regional (EAU) in Eau Claire, WI, is pleased to offer its passengers coach connections to MSP through Sun Country Airlines. 

“Even before we had airline service with Sun Country, we had a relationship with Landline; so we were familiar with their company and their brand,” says EAU Airport Director Charity Zich. “Because of Landline’s seamless relationship with Sun Country and our new relationship with Sun Country as the primary airline at our airport, it made perfect sense that we would work together to have Landline supplement the less-than-daily flight service to provide additional options to travel from our area.”

The ground transportation schedule is specifically designed to accommodate and maximize connections with Sun Country flights at MSP. Without complications from heavy traffic, construction or snow on the roads, the coach ride from airport-to-airport typically takes about 90 minutes.

“The No. 1 preference of travelers from our region is to travel by air if that works with their schedules and the pricing is right, but both of those things don’t always work,” Zich notes. “Our goal as an airport is to maximize options for area travelers, and Landline offers another option.”

People throughout Western Wisconsin use the EAU/MSP coach route to access the Twin Cities unrelated to air travel.

Fleet Speak

As co-founder of The Landline Company, David Sunde is gratified to provide service to customers in communities such as Eau Claire and Fort Collins.

“We think of ourselves as the world’s first multimodal airline,” he says. “What does that mean in non-buzzword language? Very simply, we are a regional airline in every sense of the word with the one distinction being the lack of CRJ-200s or ERJ145s. We operate a fleet of predominantly Prevost H3-45s. But for customers, the experience is nearly identical.”

In fact, Sunde is confident that riding on Landline’s fleet of 25 luxury coaches is often easier than flying.

“I am really happy and amazed with the progress we have made, and really proud to say that we are now a national provider with affordable connectivity,” he reflects. “I think we have established ourselves as a partner that is really reliable if you’re an airline feed, and keep you connected to major airline networks if you’re an airport.”

The bus company’s network is also expanding beyond airports. Following the overwhelmingly positive response to service between Hector International Airport (FAR) in Fargo, ND, and MSP, Landline added stops at the University of North Dakota to its schedule in September 2023. While the new service does not follow the company’s typical airport-to-airport model, airline passengers traveling from the university campus in Grand Forks can connect to FAR or continue on to MSP. One-way fares for the FAR segment start at $29, and one-way fares continuing to MSP start at $49.

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