Sun Country's reputation has taken a hammering the past few days as "Minnesota's hometown airline" left 250 passengers stuck in Mexico.
The Twin Cities-based company, which was bought by a New York-based investment group last year, was forced to cancel dozens of flights because the weekend blizzard shut down MSP Airport.
Many found Sun Country helplines jammed as they sought to get on another flight, but the worst affected were those in Mazatlan and San Jose del Cabo, who were told that not only would their plane not fly, but that there wouldn't be a replacement as the route was ending for the season.
This in turn forced customers to make arrangements with other airlines, with any refunds they're due from Sun Country more than likely wiped out by the cost of booking another ticket.
What's more, if they did book with another airline, they'd have to wait up to 7 days for a refund from Sun Country.
Sun Country told BMTN that it couldn't send extra aircraft to Cabo or Mazatlan without canceling other flights, causing disruptions to even more passengers.
The debacle has led Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith to call for the Department of Transportation to look into Sun Country's "failures" and see what can be done to ensure airline cancelation policies better protect travelers.
'It took us 18 hours to get home'
Martha Fillion, of Hopkins, told BMTN she was among the lucky ones in Mexico as she jumped on an opportunity to fly back to the U.S. with United for a relatively inexpensive $250.
Others in Mexico have not been so lucky, and are still in Cabo and Mazatlan as they await flights.
That's not to say it was a cakewalk for Fillion however. The entire journey took her 18 hours – compared to the 4-hour flight she was expecting – and required getting a Megabus back to the Twin Cities from Chicago.
And Fillion said Sun Country were no help, with her boyfriend calling the airline 64 times from Minnesota as he tried to get her out of Mexico.
"None of his calls were ever answered," she told us. "Sun Country keeps telling the media they've 'given refunds' but the truth is, they've said WE have to contact THEM to request refunds (within 7 days), and no one can get through!"
'Agent suggested we drive back from Arizona'
Paula and John Shivers of Maplewood were told, after a day of trying to get through to Sun Country, that they'd have to pay $1,000 to fly home First Class on Sunday, after their flight home from Phoenix was canceled on Saturday.
As of Tuesday morning they're still in Arizona, and are due to fly out on the earliest flight they find at a reasonable price.
It's not THAT reasonable though, they're spending $550 with American Airlines to get home, which is more than double the $230 refund they'll get from Sun Country.
"We were livid! We both had jobs to get back to on Monday and 2 dogs at home that we had people taking care of for us," Paula Shivers told BMTN.
"We told the Sun Country agent that we are not rich people and cannot afford to pay for an expensive airline ticket home or lodging for 5 more nights in Phoenix. He replied that some people were opting to drive home and maybe we could do that!"
In total, the Shivers' expects the extra cost of lodging and food for the extra three nights they stayed in Arizona would total $1,100.
'I didn't have this problem with Southwest'
Michelle Soplata, of Shoreview, was due to fly out from RSW Fort Myers, Florida, late on Friday when a travel alert was issued a day earlier ahead of the storm.
After sitting on hold with Sun Country for more than an hour, she was offered a flight of either Saturday or Tuesday free of charge.
She suspected the Saturday flight would be canceled – which it was – so she has been forced to stay four extra days in Florida, returning Tuesday.
She did however inquire about getting on one of Sun Country's Sunday or Monday flights, only to be told (like the Shivers above) that she could get a First Class ticket for $1,000.
"I think they could have filled the First Class seats for maybe $100 or $200 extra and I and maybe many others wouldn't be missing 2 days of work," she said. "The staff was rude and very unhelpful."
"I was in the Dominican Republic when Tropical Storm Erica came through," she adds. "Southwest answered the phone quickly and offered us the next flight out of there and it was even a non stop, which our original flight hadn’t been. They didn’t charge any extra fees."
Wedding party stuck for days
With Mexico popular for destination weddings, it's not surprising that a wedding party was among those stuck south of the border.'
Hayden and Kristi Courrier finally returned from their wedding on Monday, after their party's Saturday and Sunday flights were canceled.
They told FOX 9 that some of their guests ended up having to shell out $1,000 just to get home, well above the amount they'll get back from Sun Country.
"Sun Country didn't help them reschedule anything," Courrier told the TV station.
Sun Country issues updated statement
Sun Country sent the following, updated statement to BMTN on Monday.
As you’re already aware, the blizzard significantly impacted all of our MSP operations as well as other carriers flying in and out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Due to the extreme weather in the area, MSP was closed to all arrivals and departures for a total of 9 hours on Saturday causing us to cancel 25 flights, combined with other carriers, the cancellation count came to 495. Network disruptions continued into Sunday due to weather challenges and runway closures at the airport. We had to cancel 15 of our flights, 315 flights were cancelled in total.
We understand that it has been difficult to call through to our reservations call center based on the significant increase of call volume and recognize the hold times are unacceptable. Our staff continues to work around the clock to reduce the call volume and assist every passenger affected by the extreme weather. We continue to staff to the fullest in an effort to decrease the wait time and assist our passengers as soon as possible. Some of our agents have literally worked from one day, through the night, and into the next to help passengers and to cover for colleagues who were unable themselves to get to work due to the storm.
Our most challenging recovery situation remains to be our Los Cabos and Mazatlán flights and we cannot apologize enough to those passengers who were hit by the one-two punch of an April snow storm and the seasonality end date of our winter schedule. Our fleet was already allocated to fly other operations and unfortunately, we were unable to send additional aircraft to Los Cabos and Mazatlán without cancelling more flights causing further disruptions to more of our passengers. We felt the best option for these passengers was to provide them a full refund on their airfare so they could get on their way as quickly as possible. If their tickets were booked directly with us, the refund is being automatically credited back to their account. If passengers booked through a travel agency or online travel provider, we are working with those partners to assist with those refunds. Sun Country may take up to 7 days to process the refund. Dependent on the passenger’s bank it may take longer for the refund to be reflected in the passenger’s account. We have expedited processing these refunds ahead of all others.