After stranding hundreds of passengers in Mexico last winter and the ensuing public relations nightmare, Sun Country executives say they'll give free trip insurance to passengers heading on the airline's last international flights of the season.
CEO Jude Bricker and chief marketing officer Brian Davis made that promise Tuesday, months after it canceled its last flights of the season amid a massive April blizzard, forcing passengers to find their way back to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) on their own.
Though the airline canceled several dozen flights, it was most acute in Mazatlán (MZT) and San José del Cabo, where there were no other easy options for more than 250 passengers to book a flight home.
Its reputation was already taking a hit amid its transformation from Minnesota's Hometown Airline to low-cost carrier. But the Mexico fiasco was a gut punch for many once-loyal Sun Country flyers.
“I think it was hardest for us to watch the perception among the community that the airline didn't care, or that the employees weren't working hard,” Davis said. “While that's never an acceptable circumstance that we want our customers to find themselves in, our team really was working and doing everything in their power.”
In response, the airline will buy each passenger headed internationally on the last flights of the season trip insurance through Trip Mate. That's the same travel insurance policy Sun Country currently offers as an add-on for fares. Davis said it will be added automatically.
The airline generally charges $25 per person, per trip for that insurance. You can read the full terms of that policy on Sun Country's website.
Davis that they can book with us with confidence and that we're going to do everything we can to get you home.”
Davis portrayed the entire episode as a perfect storm of problems for an airline whose bread and butter is seasonal routes to vacation destinations.
Record snows during a typically dry April shut down runways at MSP for more than 12 hours, forcing the airline to cancel 40 flights. That unprecedented storm fell on the last weekend of Sun Country's service to several Caribbean destinations, and the airline had already scheduled all its planes for service elsewhere. While 20,000-plus calls flooded in for help, many Sun Country employees couldn't get into work during the storm.
So in addition to offering free travel insurance to passengers in 2019 and beyond, the airline is also beefing up its call centers. Davis said Sun Country has expanded employees' ability to work from home – a force they can mobilize in emergencies.
They've also launched a new automated email system to reach out to passengers when a flight is canceled, asking if they'd rather be booked on the next available flight or get a full refund to book with another airline.
It might be a start, but this likely isn't enough to erase the pain and panic that the meltdown in April caused.
Lead image: Chris Lundburg via Flickr