Senator wants answers for passengers stranded in Mexico

A Sun Country Airlines plant at San Francisco International Terminal A (B747131/Wikimedia Commons)

A lawmaker from Minnesota wants answers after a local airline cancelled its last flight of the season, leaving travelers stranded in Mexico.

Eagan, Minn.-based Sun Country Airlines cancelled return flights to the Twin Cities during a weekend snowstorm but failed to rebook or adequately refund the passengers, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., contends.

In a letter to the Department of Transportation, Smith called on federal transportation officials to look into Sun Country’s failures and to explain what is being done to ensure that airline cancellation policies protect travelers. She also criticized Sun Country for how it mishandled the rebooking and refunding of passengers who have been forced to figure out how to get home on their own.  

“Sun Country’s cancellation of these flights left approximately 250 travelers stranded in Mexico,” Smith wrote in her letter. “Despite these passengers being refunded the return-flight portion of their airfare, booking last-minute one-way travel proved to be an unplanned and costly burden on hundreds of consumers traveling to my state…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.”

The full letter:

April 16, 2018

Blane A. Workie, Assistant General Counsel
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings
United States Department of Transportation
West Building
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

Dear Assistant General Counsel Workie:

I am writing to express serious concerns regarding reports of Sun Country Airlines abandoning its scheduled flights on April 14, 2018, which left hundreds of Minnesota travelers stranded in Los Cabos and Mazatlán, Mexico. In a statement delivered via a Facebook posting, the Eagan-based airline announced that due to weather circumstances and the ending of its service season, Sun Country would not be booking any returning flight for passengers traveling from Los Cabos or Mazatlán, Mexico to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport (MSP).

Sun Country’s cancellation of these flights left approximately 250 travelers stranded in Mexico. Despite these passengers being refunded the return-flight portion of their airfare, booking last-minute one-way travel proved to be an unplanned and costly burden on hundreds of consumers traveling to my state. Some travelers account having to fly into neighboring airports in Chicago and then driving the remaining distance due to costly airline tickets and additional delays along the return route, costing one family nearly $2,000 to return home. Other travelers had to book last-minute one-way tickets on alternative airlines, which cost travelers $600-$900 each and without guarantee of a direct route to MSP. Further, news reports show that Sun Country customer service desks in the airports were closed and unable to assist passengers in finding alternative accommodations, while other consumers waited over 24 hours before reaching an airline representative over the phone. 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. 

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. This failure to act by Sun Country sets a negative precedent for other airlines to follow. 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. 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Palazzo Vecchio
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