It’s easy to overlook Sun Country. After some initial bursts of media coverage when Jude Bricker came in as CEO and then again when the airline IPO’d, the airline has really flown under the radar. That’s a shame because at least in some ways, it’s doing some really creative things. Most recently it has launched Sun Country Door-to-Door in partnership with Landline. I spoke with both Sun Country Chief Marketing Officer Brian Davis and Landline CEO David Sunde to get more details on just how exactly this will work.
On the surface, this looks like a standard car service for anyone who lives within 30 miles of Minneapolis/St Paul airport. The idea is that you book your ticket on Sun Country’s website and then, if you’ve survived long enough to make it through 4 pages of the airline trying to sell you stuff, you see this:
Let’s start off by noting that this picture is misleading. You will not be met at the airplane by a car. But it’s also more than just a car service in that the airline treats it like a connecting flight which has real benefits. This is similar to what Landline already does with scheduled buses from around Minnesota into MSP, and it’s what United has done with Landline in Colorado.
To start, the booking implementation is pretty clunky, but they just wanted to get this to market and it will be refined later. You pay for the service and then the booking request gets sent to Landline. It’s either all or nothing for the booking — meaning for roundtrips you buy both directions or nothing — and everyone has to opt in on the reservation and come from the same address. Service is between $30 and $95 per person each way with the first traveler being at the high end and then additional travelers getting cheaper with each one up to a maximum of 4 people.
A Landline agent will call to confirm that the pickup address is within 30 miles of MSP. If not, they’ll just refund your money. If so, they’ll talk to you about a pickup time and then be there ready to go when it’s time to travel. Eventually, this whole messy interaction will be automated.
This is where it starts to get interesting. With a normal car service, you are usually told you’ll be picked up 700 hours before departure so that you won’t miss your flight. That’s the worst. But with this service, David tells me that they “are scheduling the rides to arrive about 5-10 minutes prior to the start of boarding” which means only about 35 minutes before departure.
When the driver picks you up, you are considered checked in for your flight, meaning Sun Country is obligated to get you to your final destination just like on a connecting flight even if you misconnect. You’ll put your bags in the trunk of the car, and then you’re off.
At the airport, you get out and are given access to the priority security line, and you go right through the gate where you’ll have priority boarding. Meanwhile, the driver takes your bags into the airport and gets them on their way to the airplane. (There are a few exceptions, like if you’ve been picked for additional screening by TSA or if you have to check a gun. In those cases, you have to go to the counter yourself, but they’ll know that before you leave for the airport.)
On the return, if it’s a domestic trip, the driver meets you at baggage claim. For international, you’re met outside customs. Then the driver takes your bags and gets you into the car. On the way home, it’s much more similar to a traditional car service since you’ve already navigated the airport gauntlet yourself. Overall, this is a very slick offering.
I was curious how far they’d take this idea that it’s a connecting flight and not a car service. Do you need to tip the driver? Because if you try to tip an airline pilot, you’re going to get some weird looks and it’ll be declined. But if you tip a driver, well, that’s expected. David told me this.
This (along with all of our products) is like a connecting flight so tipping is not necessary. Unlike rideshare companies, our drivers are not independent contractors – we provide access to benefits and all drivers are part of the Landline team. With all that being said, sometimes people want to express an extra thank you to our team and we of course do not prevent them from doing so! Even some of our Landline & Landline Express drivers have received tips in the past for going above and beyond. Tl;dr – this isn’t a black car service and you shouldn’t expect to bring extra cash for a big tip.
That part about drivers being Landline employees is particularly important. Brian told me that all of the drivers have to go through the equivalent of airline customer service agent training to make sure that they understand how this works and how it interfaces with the airport. This makes sense considering the drivers are effectively mobile agents. It’s a much more sophisticated operation than you might expect.
Brian explained that there is a lot more they can do with this, starting with streamlining the process with better automation. The way it works now is that they send a report to Landline at the end of every day, and then if there are too many bookings on one day, they’ll stop taking new bookings. As of now, they can’t differentiate by time, so a day is either available for booking or not. That will change.
They’ll also look to add more flexibility, letting people book one way service on a roundtrip itinerary, and they’d like to allow people who booked on separate itineraries to be able to arrange for a car together, maybe even rideshare with a neighbor. I can see a day where instead of typing MSP into the initial search box, you type your address. But that isn’t happening soon.
This kind of offering is much easier for Sun Country since the airline’s flights are so highly concentrated in the Twin Cities. But it’s entirely possible that any airline could do their in their hubs. To me, the key is having this considered a connecting flight so whether you have a flat tire or run into a traffic, you have nothing to worry about. Even better, once your bags are in the car, you’re done with them.
The service begins operating around Thanksgiving for anyone up there who wants to give it a shot. And if you do, let me know how it goes.