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Your next American Airlines flight could be on a bus

The airline has launched a bus-service partnership connecting travelers to smaller airports

(American Airlines/Washington Post illustration)
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American Airlines is launching a partnership to provide travelers with connections between airports … by bus.

Beginning June 3, transportation company Landline will connect Philadelphia International Airport, one of American’s hubs, to Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) and Atlantic City International Airport (ACY). Tickets for those trips with Landline service will be available starting today.

“Our partnership with Landline is one more way we’re making it easy for customers to connect to American’s premier trans-Atlantic gateway in Philadelphia,” Brian Znotins, American’s vice president of network planning, said in a news release from the airline. “Customers can start and end their journey at their local airport, relax on a comfortable Landline vehicle, and leave the driving to someone else while they work or start their vacation early.”

Landline CEO and co-founder David Sunde said in an interview that the announcement “is really the culmination of many years of deteriorating regional air service to small communities or smaller midsize communities.”

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Travelers can book their bus trip through the airline when they set Lehigh Valley or Atlantic City as their origin or destination, according to Landline’s website. The price is included in their ticket.

Customers will check in with American at one of the local airports and clear security just like any flight, but they will board a Landline bus instead, according to the release. When they arrive in Philadelphia, they will enter the terminal and head straight for their flight. Going the other way, they will board a Landline bus at the Philadelphia airport. This is all pending regulatory approval.

The airline will transfer checked baggage between the vehicles and planes. Members of American’s AAdvantage program will also earn miles and loyalty points on routes operated by Landline. The buses can accommodate up to 35 passengers and will have leather seats and free WiFi, among other perks.

Landline has similar partnerships with United Airlines in Colorado and Sun Country Airlines in seven markets in Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a separate news release from the company.

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Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, said he thinks this kind of partnership appeals to airlines in large part because of the ongoing pilot shortage. Without enough pilots, he said, airlines have to focus their energy on larger airports and more profitable routes, which comes at the expense of smaller airports and less popular destinations.

“Something like a Landline partnership, something like an air-to-bus connection, is a sort of clever way to be able to serve those travelers who want to get to Atlantic City, who want to get to Allentown, in a more seamless fashion than just flying them to Philadelphia and saying, ‘You’re on your own,’” Keyes said.

This kind of partnership can make travel smoother for customers, too, who would otherwise have to book each mode of transportation separately. “Being able to have it all within the umbrella of a single itinerary makes it a far simpler experience for the travelers, you know, not having to leave the terminal, not having to figure out where you need to go catch the bus,” Keyes said. “It sort of works more hand in glove.”

While Sunde said factors such as staffing shortages and fuel costs have made running any kind of transportation business harder, he points to longer-term challenges facing short-haul flights on small planes, an area of air travel that has been particularly vulnerable to external shocks.

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“I think that this is less a statement about right now and more a statement about, ‘Hey, looking 10 years forward, how do we keep communities connected to the air transportation system in a way that’s less vulnerable to crazy things that happen in the world, whether it’s fuel or anything else,” he said.

American spokesperson Brian Metham said the airline is “always looking for ways to make it easier for customers to connect to our global network.”

“Some shorter routes may not make sense operationally for an aircraft, but are ideal for Landline,” Metham said.

Keyes noted that this kind of agreement is more common in Europe and the Middle East, though United previously had a similar partnership with Amtrak. There is also a walkway across the border between the United States and the Tijuana airport, where domestic flights within Mexico are cheaper. “This whole realm of combining multiple modes of transportation is not new,” he said.

On short-haul segments, Sunde said, motor coaches are much more environmentally friendly than small airplanes. The cost of operating a bus is also “quite a bit” lower than a plane, Keyes added. He said he would not be surprised to see American expand on the model and other airlines make similar moves.

Sunde declined to comment on specific plans for growth, but he said, “We see this is a really important problem that needs to be solved for the U.S. transportation system, and we have ambitions to solve it in the biggest way we possibly can.”

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