The snow was flying last weekend — but not much else.

Nearly 700 flights were canceled at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Saturday and Sunday. Many Minnesotans lost their rides home over the weekend — on a variety of airlines and from many different places.

That point may have been lost in a blizzard of bad news about Sun Country in Mexico. The airline canceled its last flights of the season out of Mazatlan and Los Cabos, stranding hundreds of passengers. Initially, the airline offered travelers a refund for only the return portion of their tickets, but two days later agreed to reimburse them for “additional reasonable transportation costs.”

The airline’s initial response may have been a rookie mistake by new owners. The outcry, from social media critics and Minnesota’s U.S. senators, likely swayed it. But the unfortunate circumstances point to a stark reality: There is a difference between large and small airlines — and saving money with a budget carrier can sometimes cost more in the end.

Sun Country has 27 airplanes, and when it ceases seasonal service to one location, its planes start flying elsewhere. The so-called legacy airlines, Delta among them, have a lot more wiggle room for creative solutions. Delta, for instance, has 856 aircraft.

Unlike Sun Country and other budget airlines, legacy airlines also have agreements with other carriers to fly its passengers if it cannot.

And all those unanswered calls to Sun Country customer service from burdened, frustrated, stuck passengers? They are a sign that the airline’s customer service team is small, mirroring its fleet — and no match for a crisis.

Airlines also differ in their contracts of carriage, which any flier tacitly agrees to when purchasing a ticket. Sun Country’s reads, “purchase of a ticket does not guarantee transportation.” Delta’s doesn’t go that far; it says the airline can change schedules, but it never suggests that it won’t get a vacationer home.

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s consumer guide to air travel, based on the passenger bill of rights, reads, “Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.”

 

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.