Snow can create a big white beautiful playground. And it can shut down an airport.
That's what happened last April when a late season blizzard closed Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for nine hours. More than 800 flights were canceled.
Passengers from all airlines were delayed with little recourse. An airline's contract of carriage — which passengers de facto agree to when purchasing a ticket — absolves airlines from responsibility for "acts of God," i.e. snowstorms.
Sun Country passengers were hit particularly hard. With a small fleet of planes in a tight schedule of service, the airline was stuck. And so were its passengers; 250 of them were stranded in Mexico because they had booked the airline's last flight for the season. They were told to find their own way home. The airline eventually agreed to pay for those passengers' return trips.
The fiasco was a stark reminder that small airlines with low fares may wind up costing fliers time and headaches. But who thinks about snowstorms when booking an April flight? Most vacationers just consider their pocketbook.
Sun Country, which took a PR hit, learned some tough lessons from the experience, said Brian Davis, the airline's chief marketing officer.
Last April, upset passengers were made more so by their inability to reach Sun Country's phone support. Many of the airline's agents couldn't make it to the call center, stuck at home by unsafe roads. Now, the airline has 50 agents using at-home call stations. It has also retained a third-party call center in case another huge event lights up the phone lines.
The airline found it couldn't reach out directly to many customers last April because it didn't have their contact information. It has remedied that by asking for contact information at check-in.
Sun Country is also buying an insurance policy for everyone on its last flight out of an international seasonal destination. It will cover the cost of a return flight should Sun Country cancel.
Contact Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.