Here’s what Sun Country could’ve done to treat its passengers better

The Cranky Flier — Brett Snyder — doesn’t want to hear any more about how tough things are for Sun Country Airlines or debates over whether the airline legally could abandon its customers in another country (it can). The airline blogger acknowledges that running an airline is hard and the nation’s laws protect companies like Sun Country.

But today he gives the company his Cranky Jackass Award because — come on! — it abandoned its customers in another country, and is still trying to talk its way out of responsibility for doing so.

That’s right. Sun Country has its fleet flying hard, and it doesn’t have the slack to send a rescue mission down to pick up those people who are stuck. So what did it do? It just punted. That is not a solution. People who likely got a bargain flying at the end of the season were now told to go buy a ticket on another airline out of pocket. You can be sure they had to pay a whole lot more than they did in the first place. Of course, a refund should be an option for people who need to get home. But Sun Country should provide more options for those where cost is a greater concern.

I sent follow up questions asking if the airline had thought about other options, but I didn’t receive a response before publishing. Here are just a few of the things Sun Country could have done.

    1) Find some spare aircraft time and send a rescue mission. I know, Sun Country says it has no spare aircraft time. But guess what? You can cancel one of the three daily flights to Vegas and reaccommodate those passengers so you can send a plane to rescue the Mexican tourists. There has to be some way to make this work.

    2)Charter a plane. This isn’t cheap, but it’s an option. If the airline wanted to prove it was the ULCC with a heart, then this would have given good press for miles.

    3)Put people on other airlines. It’s true, the big guys don’t have interline agreements with Sun Country, so the airline would have to just pay for tickets out of pocket on most. But Sun Country does have an interline agreement with Alaska, and Alaska flies to both of those places. This seems like a cheap solution for Sun Country, especially in Cabo where Alaska has a lot of flights back to the US (if not Minneapolis) and a lot of seats available to sell in the next few days. Mazatlán is tougher since Alaska has much less service, but it’s still an option that could be offered to some people. But Sun Country could have just bought the tickets outright. Maybe, what, $150,000 total to do that? It’s worth it.

Snyder says he agrees with the shift of Sun Country from a “well-liked hometown carrier” to an ultra low-cost airline, “but part of the pitch was that the airline was going to keep that ‘Minnesota nice’ attitude. This says very loudly, very publicly, otherwise,” he writes.

  • Guest

    ANY outfits “brand” is the sum total of their actions, not their ads. Sun Country made a choice to save money and I am sure plenty advised making the call on something less tangible than money.

    The CEO chose to use up whatever goodwill their brand had in order to save money. NO other way to look at it.

    It is legal, the investors will get the consequences.

    The law of supply and demand is harsh but consistent. The CEO just threw away a big chunk of demand.

  • KariBemidji

    Do these big companies and their CEOs and COOs believe they are immune from the virality of bad customer service?
    I have a rule at work: if we make this decision will we end up on CNN or YouTube (95% of the time, it’s not a good thing)?

  • Gary F

    Whatever they thought it was going to cost to fix the problem a few days ago now becomes very expensive.

  • jeb_r

    How is it legal that an airline can cancel a flight a few hours before it happens, abandon passengers in a foreign country, refund people the cost of the one way ticket that they probably purchased months ago, and consider that “making it whole” when that same customer can’t get a refund 25 hours after booking their ticket if the customer doesn’t want to travel anymore? (According to Sun Country’s website, there’s no way to get a refund of your ticket, only change it to a different date.)

    I don’t think this solution is enough, but I would be in favor of an airline being held to the same standards of refunds for cancellation as their customers are (so if the airline doesn’t allow refunds, then the airline has to offer a flight within a reasonable timeframe, no exceptions, otherwise the airline can offer a refund but the refund has to be the same as fare + what the airline charges to get a refund for a flight.)

    • Barton

      The EU has laws protecting passengers (either flying in the EU or from EU nations) from this exact circumstance. I doubt we’ll ever get similar rules here, but it was very nice when stranded in Brussels (not a bad place to be stranded in BTW) to have the airline responsible for all rebooking costs on a different airline PLUS paying me for my trouble.

  • John

    Sun Country is now officially on my personal “Do Not Fly” list.

    They got close when they announced that they were going the “no frills” route. This sealed the deal for me.

    Too bad too. We flew MSP to PDX a couple years ago. Slightly less expensive than other carriers, but maintaining good customer service and direct flights, so I went with them. Oh well. . . there goes another one.

    Edit: Frontier and Spirit have been on my list for quite a while already. I didn’t need to fly them to figure it out – once I added in the cost of bringing a carry on bag with me, I would have paid more to be less comfortable.

  • Jeff

    Cynical me, in a month or so most everyone will forget and it will go back to who has the lowest price*. I can see improving passenger rights through legislation, that would be lasting. Oops, cynical me – that will never happen.

    *Recall everyone boycotting United for dragging the guy off the plane.

  • Mike Worcester

    I’d be curious to know why Mr. Cranky Flyer was just fine and dandy with Sun County morphing from a “well-liked home town carrier” into El Cheapo Air. Is that something that all airlines should aspire to? Part of SC’s appeal was its approach to its customers, especially us humble (and apparently “pale”) Midwesterners and being an affordable option.

  • ec99

    Seems Sun Country suffered an eclipse.

  • Barton

    I am about to do a “blame the victim” post: I am sorry in advance as I hate to be that person.

    Why didn’t any of these travelers buy trip insurance? Yeah, sure, they were trying to save $$ and thus flew Sun Country to start with, but medical issues can come up when traveling overseas, or hotel snafus, or – I don’t know – airlines that leave you stranded. All issues that would/could have been solved with separate trip insurance.

    Admittedly, I have the benefit of hindsight. As I once bought trip insurance on a whim (“sure, why not?”) and then had to take advantage of it that same trip (broken ankle). Zero additional costs because of the insurance.

    The above statement doesn’t absolve Sun Country at all, they should have arranged for a charter flight back and then charged that cost to their insurance (which I am sure they have for such situations).