Sun Country Door-to-Door Is a Unique and Far Superior Alternative to a Car Service

Landline, Sun Country

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.

27 comments on “Sun Country Door-to-Door Is a Unique and Far Superior Alternative to a Car Service

  1. Virgin does this quite well with Upper Class in London. They offer it in other cities too but not with the seamless connection LHR offers.

  2. The devil is in the details for stuff like this, and it will be interesting to see how well Sun Country and Landline can execute on this from an operations side, especially if/when this takes off.

    However, if this can be executed fairly smoothly and consistently (and that, to my mind, is the biggest question of all with this), this is very exciting, and should add value to a wide range of pax, from families with young children to business travelers.

    Even if the services and guarantees don’t directly pick up or deliver people at their homes, but (such as for people who live farther away from the airport) are rather incorporated into regularly scheduled airport shuttle services that leave from commuter lots, I think there’s a lot of value here if done right.

    On a personal level, I fly into ATL several times a year to see family that lives in a small town that is ~ 70 minute drive from the airport. I often use a scheduled shuttle service (think 15-passenger vans) to and from ATL that picks up and drops off people in parking lots just off the freeway, as replaces the 2.5 hours that it takes family to drive to ATL and back with a <30 minute local trip to a commuter lot and back, and is ~$50 each way. If a service or guarantee similar to what Sun Country is doing with Landline were offered, even if I had to get a ride to/from a parking lot on the edge of the small town and ride in a cramped van with 12 other strangers, I'd not only pay a premium for it, but would also likely pay a small premium to book a flight with the airline offering the guarantee.

  3. For the record, I LOVE this idea and living under 30 miles from MSP I’m definitely in their target market. The head scratcher comes from ST being a ULCC where most people are choosing them for the cheap cheap cheap flights. Before Jude arrived they were more of a hometown rival to DL but now they’re the hometown alternative to Spirit. That’s fine, but dropping what, $200 ($400 r/t) for a family of 4 to get shuttle service to the airport seems extreme for your Caribbean vacation on a budget. Especially when at most an Uber would be $100 (inc. tip). Depending on how long you are gone you can buy a lot of parking time for the same amount. Priority boarding and expedited security is nice but again, not the perks that most budget travelers go for. I already get that on DL with medallion status and CLEAR. The time saving aspect of not having to think about airport logistics (which takes a ton of time BTW) is what’s great. As a mostly business traveler I could see this selling big in that arena for those schedule packed days where you go right from the boardroom to a flight, etc. But alas, not sure many people in those shoes are flying SY these days. Maybe they are. Best of luck to them.

    1. Great point, it’s a luxury type add-on for a ULCC which does seem like a bit of a mismatch.

      But if I could do this with UA in DEN and catch a ride to Breckenridge, no price would be too high!

      1. Well it’s not exactly Door-to-Door, but Landline does offer a similar service with UA in DEN. They provide ground connections to Breck and Ft. Collins out of gate A78. It’s booked as part of your UA ticket, just have to select Breckenridge (QKB) as final destination (or Fort Collins/Loveland -FNL). Here’s more info united.com/landline

  4. 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.

    Is that the norm in LA? LOL

    In all seriousness, this sounds really interesting & if successful I could see it working in other cities with other providers.

    Another benefit of this type of service not mentioned at all is lessening of roadway congestion at terminal curbsides. With fewer vehicles stop at the curb, traffic conflicts with passengers would become nonexistent.

    What about public transit providers such as LIRR, Metro-North, NJT, Trimet, SEPTA, CTA & MBTA who have direct or near direct rail services to their airports… is there a way to incorporate such a program for them?

    1. I’m not sure that this would lessen congestion on the curb, as you’d still have a car dropping off a person at the terminal and parking there (or nearby) while the driver ran in to check the passenger’s bags.

      It’s a bit off-topic, but IMHO outside of subsidizing mass transit or shuttle services, the two biggest things that an airport can do to help reduce congestion in the dropoff/pickup areas are: (1) create and advertise the presence of a convenient “cell phone waiting lot” near the terminals (preferably trash cans and portapotties, and ideally with regular bathrooms with running water, similar to what might be found in a city park or highway rest stop, and an electronic display board showing arriving flights), and (2) very aggressively patrol the curbs and enforce the “No Waiting / Must be actively loading or unloading” rules with strong warnings and/or tickets.

      I know that space near airports is at a premium, but I’m surprised that an airport hasn’t tried to make its cell phone waiting lot more attractive, with good bathrooms, picnic tables, etc. If the cell phone waiting lot were co-located with the taxi waiting lot, there might be enough people waiting around in one spot to attract a few food trucks.

      1. Airports seem to be doing the opposite of using discounts to encourage mass transit. For example, it costs almost the same to ride BART from Millbrae to SFO as it does to ride from Millbrae to downtown San Francisco and it’s only $1.50 more to ride all the way from Millbrae to Richmond. I remember there being airport surcharge fees in other cities as well. Additionally, in the case of SFO, the requirement to buy a Clipper Card for $3 if you don’t already have one makes transit even less cost-attractive. Across the Bay, at OAK, the fare to ride the BART connector from the Coliseum/Airport station to OAK is $6. The ride to and from the BART station costs 2/3 of a day of parking alone.

        1. Agreed. I’m not an expert, but when I’ve used airport mass transit (especially commuter rail or subway-style rail, but also city buses, as opposed to the privately-run shuttles buses that bring in people from the suburbs) it appears to be used much more by airport workers than by arriving/departing passengers, which I guess makes sense, as traveling on a packed city bus or train with a few suitcases isn’t the most enjoyable activity.

          I will say, though, that there have been times (such as BART from SFO, and the train from ORD to the Loop) when I’ve used airport mass transit as an arriving passenger and it’s been quite useful, especially when it’s more reliable and speedy than getting a cab or Uber.

          Given the multitude of political interests and the money that many airports make from tolls & fees from taxis/rideshare/cars/parking/etc, I doubt that encouraging pax to use mass transit is a realistic priority for many US airports or for the cities & political entities that they work with, but that may just be my cynicism showing.

          1. One issue with using mass transit to go to/from an airport is where to stow luggage, especially if you are travelling with the maximum that you can check and carry on when flying Southwest (i.e. 2 checked bags and one carry on and one personal item). I imagine that most if not all mass transit systems don’t have luggage racks and stowing luggage would be an issue.

          2. Kilroy, you’re absolutely right. IMO it’s just that most airports in the US were not designed with intermodal transit in mind. True seamless rail to air connections, meaning those that don’t require an interim bus or shuttle or $2.3 billion vanity monorail between train and airport, are few and far between in the US.

            I can only think of DCA, BWI, MDW, ORD, ATL, SFO, PHL, MSP, STL, SEA, PDX and CLE (Cleveland was actually the first US airport to have a rail station inside the air terminal) as qualifying airports in the US using that standard.

            IAD, LAX and MCO will join the list once various rail projects to those airports are completed.

            Finally it’s worth noting that these are all intermodal connections to local rail systems. No US airports have direct access to national (read Amtrak) rail in the terminal as is so frequently the case in Europe and Asia. BWI and EWR come closest.

  5. This is definitely a cool product, but as others noted, it will be interesting to see how well it fits with SY’s ulcc business model.

    A big question for me is how “protected” am I if the flight is missed because the car service cut things too close time-wise? If SY only has one flight per day (or worse) to where I’m going, will they put me on DL to get me where I am going? Or is the protection limited to rebooking on SY metal? Depending on the route, the latter may not be much “protection” at all.

    1. Wes – It’s a good question. I know that Sun Country has been putting people on other airlines if there’s an option and they have nothing, but honestly, that’s a tough sell for a lot of those Caribbean spots with infrequent service. Most will have morning departures down, so you miss one, you miss the day. If they run into this problem a lot, they’ll have to tweak the formula for sure.

      1. If Sun Country has to do this a lot, it seems that would eat into whatever they stand to make from this service very quickly.

    2. There you go. That’s the hitch. If you have a traffic jam on Interstate 35W or if Cedar Avenue gets clogged by Mall of America shoppers and they have no seats for, say a week, then what happens? Or, if your only option is a bone-crunching Sun Country Middle Seat.

      The point is that unless Sun Country holds back seats until the last minute, passengers are T-O-A-S-T, toast. The legacy, network carriers have enough problems with this when their hubs go down due to weather. I can only imagine how Sun Country would handle it. Note too that a lot of these passengers are leisure travelers on very fixed schedules.

      1. Dave – Let’s also remember that since this is a connecting flight in a sense, Sun Country can make the decision to hold the airplane. It can reliably know how many people are on their way and how far out they are.
        So that’s certainly an option that would not otherwise exist.

  6. For me I would rather have them ask in the booking process what time I would like to be picked up or what time I would like to arrive at the airport.

    I would not want to take the chance of missing a flight if they got me there 35 minutes ahead of time.

    Road work, weather and accidents can slow things down at any time, so I’m the arrive much earlier then needed type guy.

    I know where I live the price would not be worth it since I can take a train much cheaper and just walk to the local station from my home. Plus if you live within 30 miles of an airport, you can usually find someone to drop you off and/or pick you up anyway.

  7. The AirTrain fees at Newark (and JFK) that the Port Authority charges have gotten out of hand. Its now $7.75 per person each way ($5 also felt high), although at JFk you can pay $25 for 10 rides within a month that can be shared by up to 4 people. At both Newark and JFK I have tricks that if I have the time invovle taking local buses (generally full of airport employees) to avoid the high AirTrain fees

    My partner and I flew into Newark last weekend needing to rent a car that I had booked at a neighborhood budget half a block from the Rutherfold train station because it was half the obscene (over $400) price of renting at the airport. We had a perfectly pleasant but costing $30 total ride on the monorail to one train to go two stops to Secuacus and then making a connection to ride the single stop to get the car.

    On our way back, I opened the Uber app and saw that it was reading my mind with a $30.04 fare back to airport so we did that. I did also tip our driver. Airport transit shouldn’t be priced in a way that it costs the same as a taxi for 2 people.

    1. Wow, I had no idea the Airtrain fees are so egregious. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked given the locale but, as you noticed, it’s a terrible disincentive to use transit if the total price is comparable to the price of a cab or Uber. Also surprised to hear about OAK being $6 for a ride from BART to the airport. I guess I should be happy the bus from BWI to the BWI rail station for Amtrak and MARC is free. Whoo hoo!

      These air to rail connections should all be free to encourage usage; they certainly weren’t built with the goal of generating a profit or even being cost neutral. Seems like complete stupidity to diminish the value of these investments with onerous fees that discourage the actual behavior they were built to support. Then again, government, enough said.

  8. This sounds super interesting, and JSX should 100% do this with Landline as they could cut things even closer. There are times where I’d pay for this in Austin if supported by my airline.

  9. Definitely earning an ”A” in creativity. Can’t really add much to the pros and cons that others have brought up. I just find the timing of roll out to be interesting. I lived in MSP for 3 years; Yes their snow removal protocol probably the most efficient in program in the US (next to ANC). But 2 ft of snow is 2 ft of snow and doesn’t magically disappear from 494, 35E/W, etc. without hard work and time.
    Seems that rolling this out in the spring and working the kinks out during the warmer months would make more sense versus kicking off going into the winter weather season.

  10. I realize this is a bit of a stretch, but this kind of service sort of ties in with the larger overall issue of how to efficiently connect people to airports. It’s also interesting in light of Scott Kirby’s recent remarks about 50-seat aircraft and service to smaller communities. Getting around on the ground is just as important as getting around in the air.

  11. We booked a flight before this service was offered, our flight is not until January. When talking with Sun Country the only way to add this now is to cancel our flight and then rebook it. The cost of the flight is substantially more. Is there anyway to add the service to an existing booking?

    1. Jon – If they say you can’t do it, then I guess that means you can’t do it. I’m not sure of any other way to get around it.

        1. Jon – More professional? Do you think I’m somehow connected to Sun Country or Landline? I just write about it, and there’s nothing I can do above and beyond what Sun Country allows.

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