Earlier this afternoon, Sun Country CEO Jude Bricker emailed out an update to Sun Country employees outlining what happened as the airline left 250+ passengers stranded in Mexico.
This long overdue response comes several days after we broke the story on Sunday morning, and after days of a public relations nightmare as most local and many national news outlets picked up the story. U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith also sent a letter Tuesday demanding a response.
Overall, the good news is Sun Country announced they will be covering some of the additional airfare costs incurred by travelers flying out of Mazatlan (MZT) and San Jose del Cabo (SJD):
“We have made that commitment that in addition to refunding their original roundtrip ticket on Sun Country (which we have expedited above all other refunds), we will also cover any additional reasonable transportation costs they incurred in excess of their original Sun Country roundtrip fare, not limited to the difference they paid on another carrier, but also including taxis, shuttles, any reasonable transportation costs required to get them to and from the airport. We have a special email address set up and staff dedicated to assist those passengers. We are committed to finding them a way home.” – CEO Jude Bricker
Sun Country has gotten a lot of heat for not sending planes down to rescue the customers it left behind when it ended seasonal service to MZT and SJD. The airline had maintained it couldn't send its own planes to Mexico without creating larger disruptions to passengers on other Sun Country routes.
Bricker's email doesn't explicitly address their option of a charter, but he admits they should have at least sent a rescue flight to Mazatlan.
“With hindsight, we should have flown a rescue flight to MZT as service options are limited. SJD has more service options and we felt the best option for those customers was giving them a full roundtrip refund on their Sun Country flight to make alternative arrangements as quickly as possible.”
A charter flight would not have been cheapest solution, but it would have allowed Sun Country to continue their operations without having to cancel additional flights or reposition aircraft.
It’s unclear how much the airline will cover as “reasonable transportation costs.” Will they cover the $2,000 one Minnesota family spent to fly last-minute flight to Chicago, then drive to Minneapolis? The company’s email also makes no mentions of hotels or other accommodations, though that’s less of a surprise.
We’ve asked Sun Country for details on what expenses they’ll cover but have not heard back yet. We’ll update you here as we get more information.
Minnesota's two senators also raised an important question for the airline industry at large. What responsibility do airlines have to notify customers when they book the last flight on a seasonal route, in case things go awry?
We are no experts in the arena of public relations, but it seems clear why this is happening.
Sun Country is finally relenting after nearly 3 days of horrible headlines and a storm of criticism from passengers, airline industry experts and more. And most importantly, the airline is starting to address the nightmare they put their own passengers through.
The whole incident – and the airline’s initial response – seems to have vaporized much of the remaining goodwill flyers had for “Minnesota’s Hometown Airline” as it transformed into a low cost carrier.
Sun Country failed to take responsibility right off the bat, with CEO Bricker stating, “If there's not a flight out, there's not a flight out.” Shortly after, a Senior VP stated they weren’t sure if a charter was even considered.
The inability of Sun Country to hold itself accountable for abandoning 250 of their customers in a foreign country only exacerbated the problem and allowed it to snowball into a PR nightmare. Until now, their response has been tone deaf and fallen far short.
Ultimately, this is what one should expect from a company that replaces their CEO with an executive from an airline that is infamously known for cutting costs. It's also what happens when a local family divests themselves of a much-beloved airline and allows a NY investment firm to take over and implement cost cutting measures, including cutting many tenured employees.
Sun Country was more concerned about its profits than its customers or the reputation of the airline until its penny-pinching decisions come back to bite both. Sadly, the brunt of this fiasco comes to rest on Sun Country's long tenured employees who have tried their best at damage control, while the executive team ran the ship into the rocks. Today's action should have been the response on day one.