Landline Takes Busing to the Next Level with TSA Changes

American, Landline

Landline — the regional airline that never leaves the ground — has one really big hurdle that it needs to overcome. It needs to convince people that it is not just another bus operator. Previous partnerships with Sun Country and United have showcased some of the opportunities it has, but now there’s a new partnership with American that shows what really differentiates this service.

Starting on June 3, Landline will operate buses for American in American’s livery — but without the ugly flag tail — connecting the Philadelphia hub with both Atlantic City and Allentown/Bethlehem. These are two different types of markets which will be a good test for the new partners.

American doesn’t fly to Atlantic City at all; that’s the sole domain of Spirit Airlines since it is a very low fare market. (JetBlue seems excited to get in there when it buys Spirit, but I don’t know why.) This is about expanding American’s presence to those in Atlantic City who might otherwise drive to another airport if Spirit can’t get them there. It also makes Atlantic City a new destination for all that inbound longer-distance traffic that… probably no longer exists. It should be about an hour on the road with no traffic.

On the other hand, American does fly to Allentown from both Charlotte (3x daily) and Chicago/O’Hare (2x daily). It used to fly 3-4x daily to Philly until the pandemic began. The last flight on that route departed May 1, 2020 and there was no plan to return with an airplane, especially once the pilot shortage hit.

American already has the ability to get people west and south via airplane, but for those who want to go around the northeast or to Europe in particular, American is not a great option unless people want to drive themselves. Now with this service, American can add more value and try to gain better loyalty in the local community.

This all sounds fine, but how many times have we seen bus service before? There are buses all over the place, and it’s not particularly appealing because of the disjointed nature of the bus ride from the airline ticket.

Landline first changed this with Sun Country when that partnership began. With a ticket sold on Sun Country, Landline would market its rides with a flight number that would be sold as part of the ticket. If you were late arriving on your bus because of an accident, it would be like arriving late on a regional jet. Sun Country would still have to get you to the destination or refund you, or whatever they require. That was a first good step forward.

With United, that arrangement was similar with “flights” on buses to both Fort Collins and Breckenridge. The flight in was great. You’d arrive on an airplane in Denver and then go to a different gate where you’d board your Landline bus. It was seamless. But the return, not so much. There was still the issue of security. That has now been solved with this American agreement.

Travelers who leave from Atlantic City or Allentown will go to the airport, check their bags, and go through security. There, they will board their bus and be taken airside in Philly where they will get off at a gate and walk right over to their connecting flight as if they’d walked off a regional jet. I don’t know how this works exactly, but it’s probably something like this.

This is a big deal, because not only does it make this just like a regional jet in all respects except that it just has a really long taxi time and never gets airborne — we hope — but it also shows TSA’s willingness to make meaningful changes to allow this kind of operation to happen from a security perspective.

This should be easy since it’s going from one airport to another and there is already a security checkpoint anyway, but Landline has much bigger plans.

Future Landline services, with regulatory approval, will connect industrial parks, corporate campuses, cruise ports, and other convenient locations.

The opportunities are endless, though it requires TSA willingness and funding. But imagine going to a conference at a big convention center and going through security and boarding a bus right there to make your connection. You could spend more time working and less time standing in line. Or a cruise? Maybe you wouldn’t always have to schedule that flight home after noon anymore. This could even help cruise lines to do a better job getting their passengers off the ship, staggering times to smooth the demand flow.

This first step is the biggest, because it establishes that functional partnership with TSA. It’s hopefully going to open up all kinds of opportunity. Now, when will we get a bus from Long Beach to LAX? If I can clear security in Long Beach, it would make for a very compelling offer.

38 comments on “Landline Takes Busing to the Next Level with TSA Changes

  1. I don’t attend many conferences or conventions, but the idea of doing one-off arrangements with Landline (to shuttle the attendees from the airport to the convention center before the conference, and back to the airport after the conference is over) makes a lot of sense as a potentially value-added service that the conference organizers (or the hotel/convention center hosting the conference) could arrange or provide, especially as for conventions most people stay at the recommended hotels and don’t necessarily need to rent a car or have their own transportation.

    It’s not hard to imagine a miniature TSA-style checkpoint set up in a corner of a convention center (or a meeting room in a hotel) to screen people before whisking them directly to the air side of the airport, or perhaps even (in areas with lots of conventions) TSA-style checkpoints set up on portable trailers that could be moved to different convention sites, such that people could go directly from their hotel or convention to the on-site screening area, board the bus, and get dropped off at the air side of the terminal in the airport… Once the screening equipment is purchased, and the procedures established, I don’t think the marginal cost (over “regular” airport security screening) would be that high.

    For pax returning from cruises, this makes a lot of sense as well, as most cruise passengers already go through airport-style security prior to boarding the cruise ship, so some or most of the required security equipment is presumably already present at the cruise port and not being used when passengers at the end of the cruise are getting off the ship.

    I really, really like this idea, and hope that the TSA is open-minded and willing to work with Landline to address any concerns the TSA might have, instead of simply saying “No.”

    1. Absolutely right Brett & Killroy!

      As I read this the first thing I thought of was Las Vegas & how great it would be if conventioneers could go through security at the convention center & then be bussed to the airside of the airport. Then you mentioned cruses & I thought of Miami having the worlds busiest port & the challenge of traveling between the port & MIA or FLL. This could solve all that in one feld swoop.

      1. As long as the service is reliable & frequent, I think the service would be worthwhile even for a potential upcharge (say, $10-20), but that it would probably make more sense to “embed” the service in the cruise/convention/hotel experience (and cost) and to market it as a “free” (no additional direct cost to pax who use it) value-added service/convenience.

        Similarly, there are some airport bus services that run regular coach buses (every 30-60 minutes) from commuter parking lots out in the suburbs to airports, and the idea of pre-screening might work for those.

        I guess my big question with all of this is whether the process will be made such that is still convenient for pax with checked bags (which, for example, many cruise pax have), or whether they would have to go to the usual airport check-in counter to drop the bags (and thus go through security again).

        1. There is precedent for airplane to bus baggage transfers, most notably the Disney Magical Express bus in Orlando. I haven’t used it (and feel like I heard that it might have been ended) but my impression is that passengers checked their bags at the originating airport and didn’t see them again until they got to their Disney World hotel room.

          Especially if the bus is arriving airside, I feel like bag transfers could work. You’d need a bag tag printer, which I’ve seen as part of self-service kiosks at some airports, and you might want to have a kiosk for people to check in anyway; especially for fixed locations like convention centers and cruise terminals. I don’t know if they’d have all the checked baggage security screening equipment at the offsite check-in location, but the airport baggage handlers could bring the bags to the airport’s existing screening when the bus arrives, rather than directly to the connecting flight.

          1. The baggage transfer to your Disney World resort hotel room was ended when the pandemic started and didnt restart when the resort re-opened. The entire free Magical Express system ended at the end of last year (2021).

            I guess my baggage did a similar thing when I went on a cruise to the Galapagose on the domestic Quito-Guayaquil-GPS leg in 2008 we checked in at the airport in Quito and next saw our bags on board the small expedition cruise ship. On the way back it was the same left our bags on the ship, didn’t see them again until Quito, the cruise line (just 40 passengers on the boat) gave us lounge access at the GPS Airport too.

  2. This is absolutely a big deal, particularly as some airports (*cough* AUS *cough*) are running out of space to put security lines. AA could run a shuttle from Austin Executive via Landline and get a bit more market share vs. Southwest here. Showing up two hours before one’s real flight there, clearing security, and arriving safely before the actual flight at AUS…there’s enough of a catchment area to fill a few buses.

    1. This reminds me of one the big marketing draws when helicopters in the mid-2000s (i dont think Blaze still has this arrangement) used to run from at least one of the Heliports in Manhattan to Newark and JFK, you cleared TSA security at the heliport.

      Wonder if American would ever bring this to Chicago O’Hare it would be particularly interesting in my local martket of South Bend that has United Jet service to O’Hare but American only serves (and only started serving the airport in 2018) to DFW and CLT. Historically we’ve also had airport connecting intercity bus service to Ohare and Midway but Coach USA ended it at the end of 2019, and a local operator tried to bring it back but it only operated for a few weeks in March 2020 and hasn’t restarted it. I think Coach USA runs similar service still to a bunch of locations in Wisconsin as well.

  3. One more fun/crazy idea… Imagine going through airport security at a downtown train station (in say, Chicago or San Francisco, where the big airports have train service from downtown), boarding a “sealed” express train (or a special sealed compartment/car of a train) to the airport, and being ushered directly airside open arrival at the airport.

    If a service like that could be offered by the local transit authority with enough frequency and reliability (and preferably with TSA PreCheck lanes), it might have some draw for business travelers.

  4. The UA/Landline service to Fort Collins/Loveland airport is targeted to have TSA check at FCL (at least according to the local paper). That is supposed to happen this year. I’m really hoping more than just Avelo comes to the airport, but that might have to wait until the new terminal is built.

    My biggest issue with the UA service to/from FNL is how it aligns (or doesn’t) with flights from most east coast cities and especially EU/UK arrivals. Each time I look, I’d realistically have to spend the night at DEN to connect and that’s just silly.

  5. We are talking about airlines, companies that seem to have lost their way running an aviation business. Now they want to continue that good management running a bus service. (“Don’t blame us. It’s the bus company’s fault. They said they couldn’t find qualified drivers. And, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania said they didn’t have enough snow plows to clear the highways.”)

    Airlines will do anything they can (except airline interline) to keep the competition at bay. First, regionals, but then! Now, the busses. Sure, it’s all “direct service.” “We use the same flight/bus number throughout.”

    If an airline can’t “airplane-serve” a community, quit trying. Be an airline, not something like a PF (people-forwarder.)

  6. The bus is a standalone operation from the airline. Think of it as a codeshare that has the same number as the flight.

    There are several areas in the NYC area where this could work in various combinations such as…
    SWF to EWR
    HPN to JFK/ LGA/ EWR
    HVN to LGA/JFK
    ISP to LGA/ JFK

    1. Yeah, that sounds good on paper and is all fun and games until you try to take your bus “flight” from ISP or HVN during a rainy rush hour or at the start of a big holiday weekend when traffic is horrible throughout that northeast corridor. Then your “flight” could take 3 hours and you’ll miss your actual airplane.

      1. If the weather is bad or it’s a holiday you take that into account & plan for it. There’s no difference if you are taking transit or driving to the airport, the conditions are the same either way. The key here is you go through security at a less congested location & then once at the airport you are already at the airside location ready to board knowing your bags are in transit without hassle.

        1. The difference is that you are driving and are therefore free to leave 3 hours earlier if you want. This bus service has a set schedule which is more apt to see delays in a traffic hellhole like New York or LA or Atlanta (yes, Atlanta). And some of those delays can be massive.

          If it’s raining, they’re not just going to move the departure time forward by 90 minutes with late notice.

  7. The concept is great esp. to help small cities remain connected to air service. I would just like to know that the TSA is making absolutely certain that the bus remains completely secure once it leaves one airport’s tarmac until it gets to the next. Short of electronic records for all doors and baggage holds, there is a risk of someone putting something on the bus that can be accessed once the bus gets inside the secure area of the next stop. I hope they can figure it out , though.

  8. UA had a contracted bus service called GroundLink that offered service between SJC and SFO. Also available in some other parts of the country based on quick Google/flyertalk research. Bus had a flight number, was bookable as part of a UA ticket, and earned frequent flyer miles. Based on what I saw on FT, it was discontinued in 2002. I never had the chance to take it, so I don’t know how security was handled and if its demise was in any way connected to stricter security measures after the creation of the TSA in the aftermath of 9/11.

    1. UAL had a few of those over time. In recent memories, there was one between EWR and ABE, another one between IAH and BMT, IIRC.

  9. TSA has been doing this with sports teams for years. Teams are screened at the venue as they board the busses after the event. Nice to see this extended to the general public.

    1. That’s interesting. How does that work physically?

      I would imagine that it would be hard to make a mobile version of a TSA checkpoint. I would think the fluroscopes / magnetometers / millimeter-wave things would be pretty hard to move. Do they just do a lot of hand screening of luggage and people? If so, doesn’t it end up being really slow?

      I saw the comments about setting up temporary versions at convention centers and thought “impractical.” Maybe not?

      1. In the situation that I am aware of, a United employee is the charter coordinator and is authorized by TSA to do the screening of the players and others at the stadium. He then “seals” the bus to make it sterile and then it can go directly to the airport tarmac for the charter flight.

  10. My first, admittedly facetious observation is that I thought the “conventional wisdom” called for Philadelphia to be de-hubbed. Apparently, that isn’t happening soon. But seriously, this kind of service makes sense on a lot of different levels.

    Generally speaking, short air hops on small aircraft are a waste of time and fuel. The door-to-door travel times aren’t that different over short distances. There are a number of close-in cities near large hub airports that could benefit from these types of arrangements. I’m thinking of places such as Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin from Chicago, or Long Beach, Burbank, La Jolla, Ontario, and Santa Ana from LAX or San Diego. A bus or train between these kinds of close-in places can make sense if the connections can be made easily.

    Continental used to have a codeshare with Amtrak at Newark. To me, that was a good idea. Coordinated, multi-modal service makes sense if the stations and airports can be easily connected, and the TSA can be accommodated. Philadelphia airport is about 20 minutes from 30th Street Station downtown via bus. The possible rail and road connections from Philadelphia could replace a potentially huge number of short flights without a huge time loss, and valuable aircraft and crews could be used for longer distances, where the time and cost advantage of air travel is obvious. That’s the case with Allentown, where American is retaining its flights to Charlotte and Chicago, while replacing its short flights to PHL with busses.

    In Chicago, flights to Milwaukee, Rockford, Peoria, and Madison could be replaced by busses (or rail, if the connections can be made) while flights to places like Dallas, New York, Phoenix, etc. would be flown by large regional or mainline aircraft instead of 50-seaters. Milwaukee’s “flights” could be via bus to O’Hare, while flights to Charlotte, Philadelphia, New York, Phoenix, and Dallas would go by air. In New York, the Long Island Railroad connects large numbers of passengers to JFK. Why not expand that service to include places like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hartford, Albany, or Providence via Amtrak in the cases where the times are convenient?

    I realize I’ve gone more than a bit overboard with this, but the possibilities are endless.

  11. If this works out for them, perhaps we can see this concept expanded to some of AA’s other hubs like CLT & MIA. Could allow them to re-establish some long closed regional routes like CLT-HKY, MIA-RSW, etc.

  12. Nice work as always Brett.

    If the airlines look at this through a different lens (specifically providing more reasonable prices to small regional airports) there could be a massive opportunity to take share from airport bus service connections. By offering reasonable bus fares, they could essentially make an entire industry of airport bus services redundant. There is a regional bus service that essentially hubs at Salt Lake City (although technically based in Idaho) that has routes connecting all of Southern Idaho, essentially all of Utah, and parts of other neighboring states with SLC Airport, simply because it can be so much cheaper to ride the bus to SLC than to start flying in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Jackson — even Boise at times. (Granted this company also serves as the regional bus service for much of this region). Delta could handicap this in a second by offering bus connections from, for example, Pocatello or Twin Falls where the trip to the airport is less than 3h by road. But then they would have to give up their higher fares out of these airports. The same could happen in, for example, St. George with bus service to Las Vegas. The list goes on and on. But that would require a major change in thought process among the airlines that often get high fares out of some of these smaller airports. If I’m in Eugene and I can spend $50 on a generic bus vs. $75 on an Alaska Air bus to Portland, I’ll do the Alaska bus every time assuming it is timed properly for banks of connections, the security screening is in Eugene, and I have protection from the airline in the event of a late arrival.

  13. I used to take the bus from ABE – EWR on United and back when I lived in the Lehigh Valley. On the outbound, I really did wish I could clear security at ABE and be dropped off on the airside of the terminal (I wouldn’t’ have even minded if it was that armpit of EWR (Terminal A)). The inbound was great since I caught the bus at a gate in Terminal C and bags were transferred seamlessly to the bus. This service provides a real upgrade to the outbound leg, and I would pay for it. I would much rather park at ABE and go through security there than schlep to PHL and pray that there were no accidents on the NE Extension or the Blue Route on the way down that would make me miss my flight!

  14. I too, might be taking this over the top, but…!

    So you live in Allentown. You go to the Allentown airport to fly to Phoenix on AA. AA says it has service at Allentown. The check-in person tells you that you are booked on a bus to Philly to fly on AA from there. What! I would never take this service.

    So you live in Phoenix to fly to Allentown. You have been told that AA serves Allentown. You fly to Philly and are told you catch the AA bus to Allentown. What! Again, I would never do this.

    Busses. In that area, like most places, schools can’t find drivers, tour bus companies are begging for drivers, truckers are needed everywhere, but AA. who can’t find pilots, knows something about surface drivers that no one else knows, I guess.

    May I suggest AA contact Southern Airways Express just down the road to use its 9-seater Cessna single-engine Caravans for those days Southern isn’t flying Lancaster to Nantucket and back (That is any day but Saturday).

    Make the service AA-online, and interline for any other airline wanting the service.

    But, bus, Please!

    1. As long as you pay attention when booking, I don’t see how you would be “surprised at the airport” that you were going to be put on a bus.

      1. Also remember the bus isn’t on the curb, it’s through a gate from the concourse. You are not mixing with those passengers who cleared baggage claim.

    2. Most of the intercity buses I’ve ridden are much more comfortable than a commercial aircraft.

    3. AA doesn’t know about surface transportation. They don’t operate the buses.

      Finding bus drivers shouldn’t be a problem if you pay enough.

  15. Probably not quite the same thing, but this has made me nostalgic for the few years when you could check in (luggage as well) for flights at Paddington Station in London, before taking the Heathrow Express and walking straight through security. 9/11 ended that experiment.

  16. This will Fail.
    Nobody is gonna want to tweak to a airport deal
    With airport parking and TSA just to jump on a BUS to another airport. We accept the regional Feeder flights because they fly over the traffic on the roads. No matter how much your glam it up or spin it. It’s still a Flipping BUS.

    1. Your anti bus stance is clouding your judgement. We’re not talking about transit style busses, we’re talking about coaches with high-backed seats that are more comfortable than the seat on the plane you would be connecting to.

      1. I’m not Anti Bus. I’m Anti Airport to Airport BUS.
        Now If this was from a Downtown,Major connecting point in a Rural metro area, Cruise ships terminals and places like LAS strip or Walt Disney World where the satellite BUS terminals handles all the TSA passengers screening and baggage screening. This would help Eliminating the bottle neck at the Airport TSA checkpoint and over crowded airports parking lots. The Airport to Airports just shifts the TSA bottle neck screening problem from PHL to ABE in a scene screwing over the Flying passengers at ABE.
        So if American and an example could finds a property closer to downtown Allentown or in the college area this would be something to support since it takes some stress off of both airports by eliminating congestion at both TSA checkpoints vs just PHLs.
        Same could work in places like LAX that has the Fly away buses. Like Oxnard,CA could have a TSA clearance Bus and Baggage system to eliminate the traffic congestion and crowds at LAX then it’s a win win. But having you check bags and clear TSA at regional airports like LGB,BUR,SNA or ONT only to add congestion to their facilities so the BUS can drive them to LAX is horrible plan.

        1. I take it you’ve never been to ABE? Security is a ghost town most of the day and the parking is cheaper and much easier than the mess currently at PHL with the economy lot still closed and all on property garages filling at peak times.

          That said, I live roughly halfway between ABE and PHL and I’d be hard pressed to drive up to Allentown for a bus. Traffic on 76/476 south of the PA turnpike is a crapshoot 24 hours a day.

  17. Back in the 1990s, there was the Rockford O’Hare Shuttle, operated as a partnership between United Airlines and Peoria Rockford Bus Company. It connected Rockford IL to O’Hare in Chicago, and you could book it as a United Airlines flights… seamless ticketing… including baggage transfer to the appropriate United Airlines jet at O’Hare. It was very successful, with passengers even having their own security check before boarding the bus at the Rockford Bus Terminal…they were pre-screened for the jet…TSA screening.

    This arrangement was done to facilitate the demise of turboprop service on American Eagle from Rockford to Chicago. United Airlines accomplished this, as American abandoned the route, having lost the price war.

    This is nothing new.

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