Latest Sun Country Airlines News
Sep 14, 2021
As new competitors arrive at MSP, Sun Country reminds Minnesotans that it's one of them As new competitors arrive at MSP, Sun Country reminds Minnesotans that it's one of them The Twin Cities airline is adding Caribou Coffee and other local foods as it embraces it counts on Minnesotans for growth. September 14, 2021 — 12:59pm Sun Country Airlines, facing more competition from low-cost carriers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, is reminding Minnesotans that it too is very Minnesotan. The Twin Cities-based airline announced Tuesday a series of new in-flight food and beverages from beloved local brands, including Caribou Coffee and Fulton Brewing. It's also introducing Dot's Pretzels, the zesty Midwest snack with a cult-like following , and a suite of new free movies and shows with a Minnesota bent. "Our in-flight offering was trimmed back during most of the pandemic. We've learned a lot since then about how to safely provide service," Brian Davis, Sun Country's chief marketing officer, told the Star Tribune. "So we are ramping back up our in-flight offering with renewed committed to our hometown roots, our Minnesota flavor." These in-flight refreshments though are just the latest moves by Sun Country to ingratiate itself to Minnesotans, on whom its existence depends. The airline jump-started its marketing as demand for air travel, which plunged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, returned this spring and summer after vaccinations became widespread. Most of its efforts are focused on Minnesota, including partnerships with local favorites like Sever's Fall Festival, University of Minnesota Athletics and the Twin Cities Marathon. Star Tribune Sun Country CEO Jude Bricker, in a 2019 file photo. Sun Country, founded by a group of pilots and flight attendants here four decades ago, underwent a major transition in recent years. Leadership brought in from the outside, and backed by a New York-based owner, transformed it into a cost-disciplined carrier. Jude Bricker — Sun Country's chief executive recruited to Minnesota in 2017 from Allegiant Air — took the company public earlier this year, creating a windfall for its owner Apollo Global Management. Bricker's cadre of executives for three years improved business fundamentals, including modernizing its technology. The changes at times came with costs to Sun Country's customer service, upsetting longtime travelers. Headline-grabbing events, like one debacle in 2018 in which two planes full of passengers were stranded in Mexico with no flight home, left many Minnesotans disenchanted with the hometown carrier. Just as Sun Country stabilized, the pandemic hit. That delayed many of its marketing plans, including a partnership with Brooklyn Center-based Caribou to design and install special coffemakers onboard the aircraft. Earlier this year, rival Allegiant's sudden announcement of plans to enter the MSP market with three southern destinations this winter ruffled Sun Country. It immediately announced plans to fly the same three routes beginning on the exact same day as Allegiant — with two being new routes and the third being an earlier start date. Both airlines directly cater to leisure travelers who choose airlines based primarily on price. This often means customer loyalty is harder to maintain than for major carriers like Delta Air Lines that hook customers with rewards, credit card points and a vast global network. Bricker, when asked about Sun Country's future geographic growth last week at Cowen's Annual Global Transportation and Sustainable Mobility Conference, told investors: Minneapolis. "We picked up a bunch of market share in Minneapolis through COVID as airlines cut back really dramatically in this market in particular — more so than their systems overall — and I think we can hold on to that market share through the recovery, which is a lot of growth in and of itself," Bricker said. Sun Country is the No. 2 airline at MSP behind Atlanta-based Delta, the behemoth that flies around 7 of 10 flights at the airport. While Delta slashed its flight operations at MSP by 50% from 2019 to 2020, Sun Country cut its flights during the pandemic's first year just 35.5% As executives tell it, Sun Country never actually turned its back on Minnesota. They were simply focused on the nuts and bolts, while earning their Minnesota stripes. "We were a little bit self-conscious that us (as non-native Minnesotans) waving the flag as the hometown airline would come across as a little disingenuous," Davis said. Bricker, who moved his wife and teenage children from Las Vegas to Minnesota four years ago, recently purchased a home here after renting for several years. Davis said Bricker intentionally did as many iconic Minnesota activities, from camping in the Boundary Waters to cheering for Minnesota's sports teams, as he could. As for the Minnesota-theme in-flight menu, some of it — like "The Mighty Ducks," "Grumpy Old Men," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Juno" entertainment options — were added following Allegiant's announcement. Others, like serving hot Caribou coffee beginning in early 2022 and making it the official coffee of Sun Country Airlines, were hastened in response. Fulton Sweet Child of Vine IPA will be added to the list of beer available for purchase onboard. Sun Country has Fulton Lonely Blonde since 2019, which will still be available. Sun Country Airlines already offers Minnesota-based Prairie Organic Gin and Vodka for in-flight purchase. Kristen Leigh Painter covers the food industry for the Star Tribune. She previously covered growth and development for the paper. Prior to that, Painter was a business reporter at the Denver Post, covering airlines and aerospace. She frequently writes about sustainable food production, consumer food trends and airlines.