A nonstop bus service between the Duluth and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports with one-way rates starting at $9 will be launched in June.
Known as Landline, the company will provide its lowest rates to customers who then fly to their destination via a partner airline, said co-founder David Sunde. Landline has an agreement with an airline, Sunde said, but he could only say that it's a low-cost provider.
The first trip to Minneapolis will be on June 4, with a full schedule of four trips in each direction beginning the next day. The earliest will leave Duluth at 2:20 a.m. and the latest at 5:10 p.m. A similar service will begin in Mankato, Minn., on June 6.
The lowest rate will be considerably less than existing transit options. The lowest one-way option for Jefferson Lines is $25; the lowest option for the Groome Transportation shuttle is $44. The estimated one-way fare for the proposed Northern Lights Express rail transit is between $30 and $32.
Landline's highest fares would be comparable to Jefferson's, Sunde said. The higher rates would be for people who choose an airline other than the partner airline. The lowest rates won't be across the board.
"Customers will need to book early and before the buses are filling up," he said. "Instead of having one price point like a typical ground carrier would, we're able to have several."
Its buses will include in-seat power, Wi-Fi and leather seats with ample legroom, according to a Landline news release.
Sunde and co-founder Ben Munson are longtime business associates in the aviation industry based in Santa Monica, Calif. They chose to start Landline in Minnesota after months of research that included an extended road trip last spring, Sunde said.
"One, you've got a hub carrier in this state that's really large and airfare across the state compared to other areas is quite high," he said. "And then you have a lot of cities that are in a one- to three-hour drive of that big airport. So the geography and the pricing made a lot of sense for us."
Mankato was chosen primarily because it hasn't had its own air service in 20 years, Sunde said. Landline also wanted to work with one of the two largest markets outside of the Twin Cities area - Duluth and Rochester. Tom Werner, director of the Duluth International Airport Authority, and his team were "great to work with," Sunde said, "and we were able to come to an agreement that made a lot of sense for us."
Landline is leasing space from the airport that hadn't previously been used, Sunde said, and Landline will pay a fee to the airport for every passenger they carry. In turn, Landline receives a share of the airline's revenue from those who purchase tickets combining the bus and plane.
He doesn't expect to draw away people who fly out of Duluth now, Sunde said. The target is people who drive their own vehicles to Minneapolis to catch a flight.
"Duluth has actually a great air-service portfolio with United and American and Delta, but a lot of times those airlines are targeting the business traveler," Sunde said. "It's a lot harder for a low-cost airline to service a city like Duluth because they typically use much larger aircraft. So just like United or Delta would partner with a regional affiliate like Sky West to fly the regional jets to Duluth, we are the same thing for a low-cost carrier. But we're using a bus because the cost structure of a ground vehicle is so much better than a regional aircraft."
It's a model that's used sparingly in the United States, Sunde said.
United has a bus that operates from Allentown, Pa., to Newark, N.J., and Emirates airlines operates a bus from Seattle to downtown Vancouver. It's more common in Europe.
Landline will announce its airline partner later in the spring, according to the news release.
To learn more
Full schedules, booking opportunities beginning June 5 and more information are available online at landline.com.