Operating an airline is a difficult industry with many companies either going out of business or merging with competitors to survive. Being an airline passenger is no walk in the park either, for a number of reasons anyone who has ever been to an airport can easily list.
Fixed Line, a four-year-old transportation startup based out of Fort Collins, Colorado, thinks it’s found a way to create a better experience for airlines and their passengers. The big idea? To distribute the check-in process by dispatching people closer to where they live in many smaller hubs long before they reach their departure gate.
Eventually, if all goes as planned, his customers will be dropped off just a stone’s throw from the plane they’re about to board.
Of course, big ideas often begin with the implementation of smaller ones, and for now, Landline, founded by Stanford graduate student David Sunde, is largely a bus service that transports people from regional hubs to major airports. It came after Sunde spent nearly four intermittent years at airline Surf Air, where he saw some of the challenges regional airlines face, from their expensive operations to pilot shortages.
Nevertheless, Festnetz already does more than just stamp tickets for passengers. It has already partnered with American Airlines, United Airlines and Sun Country Airlines, whose passengers unknowingly book travel using landline, which operates as a white-label service. As for travelers, they hop on an American Airlines bus — if that’s the provider — with AA programs and appointments, and that trip to the airport from the hub near where they live is simply built into the total cost for their fare.
Meanwhile, due to these partnerships, Fixed Line is able to check in both the passengers and their luggage, so the last remaining step when they reach the airport is to go through airport security.
Of course, this last step is not irrelevant. The worst part of most passengers’ experiences is the long security lines. But Festline is also working on that. Indeed, Sunde volunteers that this would be “groundbreaking,” saying that not only would Festline become the country’s first ground transportation company to receive the blessing of the Transportation Security Administration, but that he expects its approval to come .
“There is a pre-existing regulatory approval for regional airlines; For us it will be an industry first when it comes, which is really cool,” says Sunde. “I always want to be respectful to TSA, and they take their time; We have been working with them for a long time. But I’m optimistic about that. We have successfully advanced into more complicated things.”
Likely, the startup – which aims to eventually take passengers directly to a nearby gate – will receive backing from investor Tusk Ventures, a company that has positioned itself as something of an expert at the intersection of technology and politics. (Company founder Bradley Tusk previously worked in politics and was an early advisor to Uber.)
Other backers of Landline include Upfront Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Wildcat Capital and Drive Capital, who just led a $28 million round in the company that closed this week, bringing total funding to $38 million.
In the meantime, the company is doing what it can to build an infrastructure that will put it on a solid footing for the future. For example, it has its own ground transportation certificate, but also has the insurance requirements and security team that would be required for a regional airline.
Now she can, so to speak, go full throttle with her newly raised capital. While it operates in nine cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado, it plans to expand as soon as possible.
It will also use some of that $28 million to bolster its 100-strong team, about a quarter of which works in operations. (Many of the others are drivers who are considered the company’s full-time employees.) According to Sunde, the company is particularly focused on building its own onshore software development team to work on a door-to-door product that landline is currently in the pipeline Pilot phase where travelers don’t even have to drive to a nearby hub but can be picked up at home.
It’s not a particularly sexy deal, but it could be an overlooked opportunity, especially given the current overly congested state of airports as well as customer frustration at most airlines.
“The future of the coach business lies above all in the idea that the airport no longer has to be next to the runway,” says Sunde. “It can be in the basement of the building or in a shopping mall. And we can distribute check-in and load from those places where it’s really difficult to improve infrastructure.”
“I 100% see that someday in our future,” he adds.