Kristen Leigh Painter
Sun Country Airlines will pay the added travel costs for 250 passengers who were stranded in Mexico this weekend when two snowstorm-related flight cancellations collided with the seasonal changeover of its routes.
For two days, the Eaganbased airline came under withering criticism from local travelers, including Minnesota’s two U.S. senators, for not doing more to help the passengers left in the Mexican resort cities of Los Cabos and Mazatlan when Sun Country couldn’t send airplanes there on Saturday.
The airline told the travelers that, with routes changing on Sunday and service over to those two cities, it had no planes to get them back. It offered full refunds but did nothing more.
Tuesday afternoon, CEO Jude Bricker announced Sun Country would pay for “additional reasonable transportation costs” for the stranded fliers, including any difference they paid to rebook on other carriers, as well as taxis, shuttles or other expenses for getting to and from airports.
“Clearly, going forward, we need to improve our ability to handle stresses to our system like what we experienced over the weekend,” Bricker said.
Minnesota’s U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, sent Bricker a letter earlier Tuesday, seeking answers on the airline’s weekend actions.
“Sun Country has an obligation to make a good-faith effort to charter a replacement flight or rebook passengers on other airlines after a final flight of a season is canceled,” the senators wrote. “In addition, Sun Country should also provide consumers with advanced notice of their policies for final flights of the season.”
After Sun Country announced the additional compensation, Klobuchar said, “I think that it would’ve obviously been better to have done this sooner, but I am glad that they saw reason here.”
Bricker noted that Sun Country had trouble connecting with stranded customers who booked tickets through third-party websites like Expedia or Travelocity.
Sun Country did not have those passengers’ contact information.
“Oftentimes, the e-mails we send them route through the travel agent or online travel provider and don’t arrive to the customer immediately,” Bricker said. “The past several days we have been hard at work to make contact with these passengers. We are committed to finding them a way home.”
But the airline was also dealing with passengers from more than two dozen other canceled flights during last weekend’s snowstorm, the largest seen in the Twin Cities in any April.
Its customer service line was flooded with calls and some passengers encountered busy signals for hours while repeatedly making calls.
As well, some call center employees couldn’t get to work on Saturday because of the snow, and some who did worked overtime and through the night, Sun Country said.
“We need to find ways to improve our customer communications as we failed in that area,” Bricker wrote in a companywide memo Tuesday. “Even if we had been able to staff per the plan, we could have not handled the roughly 6,000 passengers who were affected by a canceled flight.”
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was closed for nine hours Saturday, leading to 495 flight cancellations, including 25 Sun Country flights. The effects of the storm continued Sunday with another 315 flight cancellations at MSP, 15 by Sun Country.
Kevin and Jane Lewis had their Sun Country flight from Fort Myers, Fla., to Minneapolis canceled Saturday night. After calling customer service nearly 30 times without reaching an agent, and with their e-mails going unanswered, the couple paid nearly $1,000 to replace their tickets.
The St. Paul couple finally arrived, after 10 hours in three airports, at their St. Paul home early Tuesday morning.
“Throw in the extra hotel, meals, car rental, etc., it ended being around an extra $2,000 all in,” Kevin Lewis said Tuesday via e-mail. “Still don’t know what Sun Country will or will not be able to do for us. I guess it could have been worse. Uff da.”
“There were many other customers who were inconvenienced that understandably wanted to talk to us over the weekend,” Bricker said.