Sun Country now reimbursing travel costs after stranding passengers in Mexico

Sun Country Airlines is now committing to reimburse customers for their return trip costs after several canceled flights to Mexico stranded hundreds of travelers in Mazatlan, Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, the byproduct of an historic snowstorm that crippled operations at MSP and slowed down travel in much of the upper Midwest last weekend.

Tuesday morning, Minnesota Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar sent a joint letter to Sun Country demanding answers on how the company handled the situation.

Hours later, the company's new CEO, Jude Bricker, admitted Sun Country made a mistake in handling the situation Tuesday afternoon in an email to employees, saying in part, "With hindsight, we should have flown a rescue flight to [Mazatlan] ... Either way, for these routes we should have been reachable and covered their transportation costs if we didn’t fly them home."

It's the latest attempt by the Minnesota-based airline to quell a rising public relations disaster just months after the company was bought by Apollo Global Management, a New York-based investment firm. Bricker acknowledged as much in the email released to Fox 9 and said he hopes the company can learn from the incident.

"We need to find ways to improve our customer communications as we failed in that area," he wrote. "We’re working hard to dig ourselves out of the situation."

Sun Country said in another statement Sunday that the weekend's snowstorm "slammed" their operations, forcing at least 40 canceled flights and even more diversions and delays--par for the course for flights coming into and out of MSP during the blizzard.

The real problems, however, came with the cancellations of several flights out of at least three locations in Mexico--the airline's last flights out of the area for the season.

In his email to employees, Bricker outlined what he saw as Sun Country's three options following the cancellations:

  1. Refund the customers' money and let them book their own itinerary
  2. Fly a recovery fight Monday, the soonest they could arrange, despite the fact it would displace other passengers
  3. Fly a recovery flight later in the week, which would prevent Sun Country from displacing other travelers

The airline chose option No. 1, though in addition to problems with flight logistics the snowstorm also served to complicate Sun Country's communications as well.

"Due to the extreme weather conditions and road closures, many of our agents were unable to get to the office [in Eagan, Minn.] throughout the weekend," Bricker wrote in his email. "Many volunteered to come in or work extra shifts, but we still struggled to get to the planned staffing levels."

With many of the travelers booking their flights through a travel agent, Bricker said, the airline didn't have contact information for some people and faced an uphill battle to get in touch with everyone regardless of staffing levels. 

By Monday, however, the airline's flights were back to a normal schedule, with Sun Country pledging to reach every affected passenger by email or phone Tuesday.

"Clearly, going forward, we need to improve our ability to handle stresses to our system like what we experienced over the weekend," Bricker said.