Sun Country’s rough ride

It’s hard not to think that Sun Country’s latest problems are a sign that the once hometown airline is descending into the abyss of no-frills airlines, which is notable only because Sun Country was once known for customer service.

The airline is going in a different direction now and so far the results are predictable.

Over the weekend, the airline stranded passengers in Los Cabos, Mexico, because the flying season has ended for the airline there and a blizzard here prevented any flights from landing.

What are passengers to do? They’re on their own. The airline, in a classic example of corporate gobbldynonsense, said it’s doing everything it can, except giving enough of a rip to go get its passengers.

Thank you for checking in and giving us a chance to weigh in. The April snow storm has absolutely slammed our MSP operations (and others—we understand there were 495 MSP cancellations yesterday); we had 25 cancellations yesterday and 15 today, plus five diversions and extensive delays due to the airport being closed for nine hours to all operations. The airport disruptions are continuing today; we hear there are 227 cancellations already.

Our agents are working around the clock, some of whom stayed past their shifts to work overnight in the call center, to provide the best service possible to our passengers impacted by all this. The two most challenging recovery situations are definitely our Los Cabos and Mazatlan flights. As soon as we realized we would be unable to re-accommodate these passengers we let them know of the situation and gave them a full airfare refund to make alternative arrangements. For all other flights, we are re-accommodating passengers to get them safely on their way as soon as possible.

An April snowstorm is an awful way to start or end a getaway and we apologize to everyone inconvenienced by the severe weather. We very much appreciate our customers’ patience and are doing everything we can to help them.

The airline, once hometown owned, is being sold to a hedge fund and will fly “more efficiently,” its overlords say.

This is what efficiency looks like.

And last night’s 60 Minutes report on Allegiant Airlines, which serves St. Cloud, is what efficiency looks like, too.

It’s also what the Federal Aviation Administration looks like these days, too, according to the report.

It has to do with a change of policy. Over the last three years, the FAA has switched its priorities from actively enforcing safety rules with fines, warning letters and sanctions-which become part of the public record-to working quietly with the airlines behind the scenes to fix the problems. It may well be what’s allowed Allegiant to fly under the radar.

But Loretta Alkalay, who spent 30 years as an FAA lawyer, says it does not absolve the agency of its responsibility to ensure airline safety.

Steve Kroft: The FAA’s job is to enforce airline safety, isn’t it? Isn’t that part of its job?

Loretta Alkalay: Yes. When the FAA knows that an airline has a problem, or there are sufficient red flags, it is supposed to step in and protect the public because airlines have to operate, by statute, to the highest level of safety.

Steve Kroft: And there are red flags here, in the case of Allegiant.

Loretta Alkalay: Yes, there’s definitely red flags.

Jude Bricker, Sun Country’s president and CEO who is remaking Sun Country into a low cost, no-frills airline, previously was the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Allegiant Airlines.

  • Gary F

    I flew Sun Country last summer for the first time and loved it. I made a vow that I’d try to fly them more often if I had a chance.

    Then weeks later they announced they were becoming a no frills bottom dollar company, then this. Things will truly have to change before I fly Sun Country.

    • I miss Midwest Airlines…. deep leather seats, leg room, and chocolate chip cookies baked on the plane.

      • Gary F

        I fly mostly for business, so I have no choice on which airline I choose. So for most of my life its been whatever was purchased for me.

        • If a company books an employee on Allegiant, they’re trying to cut costs in a different sort of way.

          • Yikes!

            /And welcome back, Bob.

          • Jack

            Hubby said this morning that if his employer forced him to take Allegiant, he will take the firing instead. I support that stance.

          • lusophone

            A lot of companies have excluded carriers listed in their travel policy. So they either ban their employees from flying those carriers or they are not included in a price comparison against other carriers for a specific trip. I imagine Allegiant is already on that list for many companies and if they aren’t already, they will be after the 60 Minutes report. If one works for a company that forces their employees to fly one of these carriers, its time to find a new job IMO.

      • Barton

        I was just talking about Midwest Airlines. They were so lovely to fly! I discovered them when I was living in KC and flying about 60% of the time for business. They made life pleasant.

  • Mike Worcester

    Echoing Gary’s comments — After several great experiences with Sun Country, I am now watching it slink into the land of El Cheapo. Sure what’s not to love about low-cost tickets, but at some point the cost becomes secondary to how patrons get treated. Next time the family is heading west, I’ll be flying Alaskan, despite their minimal presence at MSP.

    • TBH

      I flew Alaskan to Seattle a couple years ago and absolutely loved it – their annual companion fair sounds like a pretty solid deal if you are into playing the credit card game as well.

    • jon

      Ended up on an alaskan airlines flight last year with my wife (who is a terrible flier) it was the best experience flying I’ve had since…. well since before I was big enough for leg room to be a meaningful concern.

  • ec99

    Anyone remember Eastern, Western, TWA, Northworst, Pan Am, North Central, Republic, PSA, Laker, and a whole list of others? Consolidation eliminates choices and competition.

    • On the old Eastern shuttle, if there was even ONE passenger who was left when the shuttle was filled, they’d roll out another plane to accommodate him/her.

      Sun Country, please note.

    • Mike Worcester

      My first commercial flight ever was on Ozark Airlines. A *few* years ago 🙂

    • Jack Ungerleider

      My dad traveled a lot for business. At one point in time I think we had decks of playing cards from several airlines including Western and American.

      • ec99

        Times change. I remember when airlines handed out 5-cigarette packs for the flight.

        • John Juergens

          Western Airlines used to give free champagne to all adult passengers.

  • MrE85

    I’m sure there are some good people left at Sun Country. I’m sorry that things have changed for the worse. Jude Bricker walked into his job a wealthy man, he will walk away even richer, regardless of what happens to the airline, its employees and its customers. The best we can hope for us that no one dies due to shoddy work on the planes and a lack of federal oversight.

  • >>The airline, once hometown owned, is being sold to a hedge fund and will fly “more efficiently”, its overlords say.<<

    Yeah, I don't fly those "discount" airlines for a reason.

    • Ask the Pioneer Press how well that hedge fund acquisition worked.

  • jwest8

    The passengers were abandoned. That is totally different than stranded. Sun Country’s CEO has no heart or conscience. May Sun Country swiftly fly into to sunset of bankruptcy as its prospective passengers abandon it.

  • I used to fly Sun Country faithfully as they had a route directly to my hometown in MI – my family also used it to come visit me here. I also used it when dating my now-husband who lived in DC.When they cut the route under a “cost saving” move, I stopped flying them – I don’t understand cutting a route that was consistently full for the 2 flights you did back/forth each day.

    This latest move and their steady decline to Spirit Air levels of surface proves to me that they won’t be in business within 5yrs.

    • Mike Worcester

      Should we start a pool now to see who buys them out? Probably another discount carrier?

      • Jerry

        Probably another hedge fund, who will strip mine them for their assets.

        Who knew we would look back fondly to when they were owned by a Ponzi scheme and a countertop manufacturer.

      • ec99

        Rumor is that Warren Buffet is looking to buy an airline. Odds favor Southwest, but who knows?

  • Kassie

    We flew Sun Country to Vegas a few weeks ago and it was the most miserable flight I have ever been on. They have the seats so close together I had less than an inch of space between my knees and the seat in front of me. Jerry had even less. I don’t know how someone with truly long legs could have sat there. We paid to check a bag, so we could only have a personal item for our carry on, which we HAD to put under our seat, which probably would have been fine if we had any sort of leg room, but was not fine when we had none.

    My next flight is on United. For what it cost to bring a carry on onto a Sun Country flight, I was able to upgrade my seat to business class, get a free carry on and personal item, and hopefully be comfortable on my trip to Virginia.

    • Jack

      It must be really bad if you want to fly on United. 😉

  • chlost

    We booked a flight to Portland OR on Suncountry just a few weeks ago. Now I am regretting it and am dreading the flight. I am tall, so leg room is an issue. When we’ve flown Suncountry in the past, it was okay. It appears to have changed. I wish I’d known that about 3 weeks ago.
    Also, a family member (whom we haven’t seen for a couple of years) works for Suncountry, so we have felt as though we were being supportive. Now I am wondering if she should be worried about her retirement benefits.

    • Jerry

      I’m 6’2 and the flight to Vegas was like being in the back of a subcompact car. The distance between the seats was less than the distance from my hips to my knees. The flight back was better, except for being a red eye.

  • AL287

    In regards to any kind of airline travel, less is certainly not more. It’s why I travel Amtrak when I visit relatives down south. My aging body can’t handle being crammed into a seat with no leg or overhead room to stand up for even three hours.

    The adage I’ve lived by for my entire life is “You draw more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” The airline industry has abandoned its customer service for profit at any cost, including paying customers.

    Let them have a few more pet deaths and passengers assaulted for an overbooked flight and the shoe will be on the other foot—-eventually.

    Fewer seats with more leg room and higher prices or more seats with a lot less leg room and cheaper prices. These are the flying public’s choices.

    Unfortunately the former is disappearing at an accelerating rate.

    Europe maintained its rail lines and added high speed rail travel. America chose convenience over comfort.

    I’d rather drive than fly anywhere on a plane. At least you can stop and stretch your legs.

    • QuietBlue

      I’m getting to that point, and probably would already be there if time weren’t an issue.

    • Anytime we can drive somewhere in a day vs. flying, we drive, even if it’s a 12+ hour drive. Between the fiddling around trying to find a flight and comparing prices, getting tickets and the getting to the airport and parking, the whole ghastly check in procedure followed by security theater and then the wait, boarding hassles, and unraveling it all at the other end, we have HAD it!!!

      • AL287

        I’ve made the 18-hour drive to Baton Rouge at least 15 times over the last 30 years with one night at a hotel. I’ve flown there only twice. Once in 2001 when my father was ill and asked me to come home after his discharge from a week hospital stay (I’m an RN) and a second time in 2013 for my niece/godchild’s wedding.

        I agree with you 100%. It’s just not worth the hassle.

    • Mike Worcester

      I close my eyes and imagine high speed rail that can move passengers along distances now taken up by the shorter flights (think 1.5 hours or less), leaving the longer distances (think, 3+ hour flight times) more for airlines. Considering the current political climate and state of our infrastructure, I’ll just have to keep imagining on that one :/

  • lusophone

    The culture portrayed in the 60 Minutes report on Allegiant reminds me of the details that came to light after the crash LaMia flight 2933, which was carrying the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense and media on their way to the South American Cup final in Colombia. There wasn’t enough fuel for the actual flight plan. The airline and the governmental bodies in charge of oversight didn’t do their jobs, so the flight was allowed to take place. The airline was trying to save money and the aviation authorities didn’t do what they should have to prevent the tragedy. We look at other countries and their problems and think that could never happen here, but it appears it is happening here in this case.

  • Craig P

    We had been big Sun Country supporters and customers until the point where Marty Davis started sending the company down hill. We flew them to Las Vegas about six weeks ago and the experience was miserable because they’re so understaffed. They have great employees but, too few. They’ve said they’re headed for the trash heap of no-frills airlines. No thanks. Good-bye, Sun Country….