Running an airline is a tough industry, with many companies either folding or merging with rivals to survive. Being an airline passenger isn’t a walk in the park either, for a range of reasons anyone who’s ever been to an airport can easily enumerate.
Vaste, a four-year-old Fort Collins, Colorado-based transportation startup, thinks it has found a way to create a better experience for both airlines and their passengers. The big idea? To divide the check-in process by processing people into much smaller hubs closer to their homes, well before they get to their departure gate.
If everything goes according to plan, the customers will eventually be dropped off with just a jump, jump, and jump out of the plane where they are about to board.
Big ideas, of course, often start with the execution of smaller ones, and right now Landline, founded by Stanford grad David Sunde, is largely a bus service that transports people from regional hubs to major airports. It came about after Sunde spent nearly four years on and off the airline Surf Air, where he saw some of the challenges faced by regional airlines, from their expensive operations to pilot shortages.
Yet Landline already does more than just punch cards for passengers. It has already partnered with American Airlines, United Airlines and Sun Country Airlines, whose passengers unknowingly book trips with Vaste, which operates as a white-label service. As for travelers, they’ll hop on an American Airlines bus—if that’s the carrier—packed with AA programming and appointments, and that ride to the airport from the hub closer to their home is just built into the total cost of their ticket. .
Meanwhile, thanks to these partnerships, Landline is able to check in both the passengers and their luggage, so when they reach the airport, the last step left to do is to go through airport security.
That last step is of course not unimportant. The worst part of most passengers’ experiences are the long security lines. But Landline is also working on that. Sunde notes that it will indeed “change the game,” saying that Landline would not only become the first ground transportation company in the country to receive the Transportation Security Administration’s blessing, but he expects its approval to come.
“There is pre-existing regulatory approval for regional airlines; for us it will be a first if it happens, which is really cool,” said Sunde. “I always want to respect the TSA, and they take their time; we’ve been working with them for a long time. But I’m optimistic about it.” We got into more complicated things with success.”
Likely, the startup — which will eventually take passengers to a nearby gate — will get some help from investor Tusk Ventures, an outfit that has positioned itself as something of an expert at the intersection of technology and policy. (Business founder Bradley Tusk previously worked in politics and was an early advisor to Uber.)
Landline’s other backers include Upfront Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Wildcat Capital and Drive Capital, which just led a $28 million round in the company that closed this week, bringing total funding to $38 million.
Meanwhile, the company is doing what it can to build infrastructure that will give it a solid foundation for the future. For example, while it has its own ground transportation certificate, it also has the insurance requirements and the safety and security team that would be required of a regional airline.
Now, with its newly raised capital, it can, as it were, put the pedal to the metal. Although it operates in nine cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado, it will expand these as soon as possible.
It will also use some of that $28 million to add to its 100-strong team, about a quarter of whom work in the operation. (Many of the rest are drivers who are considered full-time employees of the company.) Sunde says the company’s main focus is building its own on-shore software development team to work on a door-to-door product that Landline currently owns. testing, where travelers don’t even have to drive to a nearby hub, but can be picked up at home.
It’s not a very sexy thing, but it could be an overlooked opportunity, especially given the congested state of airports right now, as well as customer frustration with most airlines.
“The future of the coach business is very much the idea that the airport no longer needs to be next to the runway,” says Sunde. “That could be in the basement of the building or in a shopping center. And we can move check-in and tax away from these places where it’s really hard to improve infrastructure.”
“I see that one day 100% in our future,” he adds.