Heather Garnett of Minneapolis and her family were among hundreds of Minnesota travelers whose flights home from Los Cabos, Mexico, were canceled Saturday because of the snow.
But they were doubly stranded when they learned that Sun Country Airlines had ended its season Saturday and had no more flights — outbound or returning — from Los Cabos.
Other passengers who were supposed to head home from Mazatlan were in the same boat. The airline’s website shows its next flight to or from Los Cabos on June 29; no flights at all are listed for Mazatlan.
Unhappy passengers were venting their frustration on the airline’s Facebook page and Twitter account Sunday. The Eagan-based carrier said the flights were the last of the season so “we do not have another flight to reaccommodate passengers on.”
It also said the passengers will receive a full refund for the return portion of their flight: “Flights will need to be purchased on another carrier. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”
Kelsey Dodson-Smith, vice president of marketing for Sun Country, said the airline couldn’t send another plane to pick up stranded passengers.
“As disruptive as the current situation is for the affected passengers, the alternative — canceling other flights to other destinations — would have been more disruptive to even more passengers,” she said in an e-mail.
Sun Country’s telephone reservations line disconnected callers or said lines were jammed and directed them to “please call back later.” No one was staffing Sun Country’s airport counters, passengers reported from Los Cabos, Phoenix, Tampa and other locations.
Dodson-Smith acknowledged that Sun Country’s call center is “still struggling to keep up with the call volume so it can be hard to get through.”
She said the airline hopes that the return-flight fare refund “will more than compensate for the cost of making alternative arrangements home. And, we really do apologize to everyone caught up in this.”
The kerfuffle comes just as the airline’s sale to Apollo Global Management, one of the nation’s most prominent private equity firms, was finalized. Mitch and Marty Davis, the former owners, said they decided to sell Sun Country to a group that could help grow the company faster.
Several operational changes are in the works. In February, the new owner said it’s shedding 350 workers from its ground service operations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a move executives said will make the airline more efficient.
The Garnetts and their children, ages 11, 9 and 4, ultimately boarded a United Airlines flight from Los Cabos to Chicago on Sunday afternoon. But they paid a high price for the last-minute, one-way tickets. They rented a vehicle in Chicago and hoped to get back to Minneapolis sometime in the early morning hours. The cost: almost $2,000, about half again as much as the entire vacation was to cost them.
The flight to Chicago really was their only option, said their travel agent, Emily Kladivo of Emily’s Travel Service. A flight to MSP would have cost $709 per person and taken 26 hours, with stops in Mexico City and Atlanta.
Kladivo said she has never experienced anything like this before and called the airline’s response “ridiculous.”
“Weather is out of their control; how they’re handling the situation is IN their control,” she said. “Send a plane, go get your passengers.”
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who runs Elliott.org, said this is a story he’s heard before.
“Here’s the bottom line: There’s what the airline has to do legally and then there’s the right thing for them to do. What it has to do legally is nothing, just refund the unused portion of the fare. But the right thing for them to do is send a plane down there to pick up these passengers or pay for their flights back.
“They know that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “They’re just hiding behind their contract.”
Elliott doesn’t buy Dodson-Smith’s rationale that sending another plane means inconveniencing other passengers.
“That’s not how that works,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be their plane. They could charter an airplane to fly them back. The right thing to do is just cover their expenses and apologize.”
Kim Katzenmeyer of Vadnais Heights encountered a different problem. She said she and a friend flew to Phoenix this past weekend on Sun Country for a quick golf vacation. They boarded a flight back to MSP on Saturday, flew two hours of the three-hour flight and then were turned around and flown back to Phoenix.
The passengers were told all other airports were busy with diverted flights.
“They said just go up to ticketing,” Katzenmeyer said. “They’ll take care of you. We get off the plane, we all go to ticketing and they say you have to call this number and rebook your flight. I’ve been calling for 24 hours and nobody picks up.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “It was just supposed to be a quick little golf vacation that’s turning into a very expensive vacation.”