Yesterday, I wrote about Sun Country stranding passengers in two Mexican cities, leaving them with no option but to purchase tickets on other airlines to return home. Now two U.S. Senators from Minnesota are threatening to punish Sun Country for such indiscretion.
U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the junior senator from Minnesota who took over for the seat vacated by Al Franken, issued three press releases over the incident.
The first is entitled, “Sen. Tina Smith Takes Stand for Minnesota Travelers Abandoned in Mexico by Sun Country Airlines.” It includes a letter to the Department of Transportation asking, in part:
I therefore request that you work with Sun Country and the airline industry using all of your tools available as Assistant General Counsel of the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, to ensure that cancellation policies affecting airline travelers, especially those stranded in foreign countries, appropriately protect consumers.
Meanwhile, Sun Country, which was just acquired by private equity firm Apollo Global Management, announced in February that, to improve efficiency, it is laying off 350 workers from its ground service operations at MSP.
Her bottom line:
As many travelers are already financially squeezed by the airline industry, it is troublesome to see a domestic carrier abandoning its passengers in a foreign country, forcing them to find their own way home and to incur further expense of time and money.
Putting Sun Country in the Hot Seat
Her second press release, entitled, “Klobuchar, Smith Demand Answers from Sun Country After Airline Cancels Flights and Strands Passengers in Mexico,” features a letter to Sun Country Airlines CEO Jude Bricke from both herself and Minnesota Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar.
It includes the following assertion:
After cancelling flights, airlines have an obligation to support consumers who are making short-notice international travel plans. 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.
CEO Bricke is asked the following questions:
• If Sun Country was unable to make one of its own planes available, did Sun Country make a good-faith effort to rebook passengers on other airlines to provide consumers with a return flight to MSP?
• If Sun Country was unable to make one of its own planes available, did Sun Country make a good faith effort to charter a replacement flight to provide consumers with a return flight to MSP?
• For final flights of a season, does Sun Country have a policy to make consumers aware that if flights are cancelled, alternative transportation will be necessary?
• How much notice did Sun Country provide before the flight cancelations from Los Cabos and Mazatlán, Mexico to MSP? For final flights of a season, does Sun Country have a policy of providing customers any advanced notice of inclement weather that may result in a potential flight cancelation so consumers can make alternative arrangements?
• When Sun Country cancels flights, does it include any resources to make alternative transportation arrangements?
• Does Sun Country have procedures for increasing call center capacity during and following severe weather?
These are great questions.
Proposed Legislation to Ensure this Never Happens Again
Her final press release is entitled, “Sen. Tina Smith Exploring Legislation to Prevent Another Sun Country Airlines Fiasco“.
Sun Country stranded thousands of travelers around the country and in Mexico, leaving them to rebook on their own and front the money—hundreds, even thousands of dollars—for hotels and car rentals and other unforeseen costs. This type of confusion isn’t just bad business. It’s deeply unfair to Minnesota families. I’ve already asked Sun Country to explain how this happened, and I’ve also asked the Department of Transportation about how its airline cancellation policies adequately protect consumers.
“But that might not be enough. I’m exploring legislative fixes to prevent this kind of debacle from happening again. When somebody buys a plane ticket, they should trust that the airline is going to get them home.
Is there a bit of political posturing going on? Oh absolutely. Perhaps even nauseatingly so. Yet is it really unreasonable that airlines who operate in the United States should be required to get passengers home? I tend to think not…
> Read More: Shameful Sun Country Strands Sundry Sun Searchers