A computer glitch that shut down the baggage system at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's Terminal 2 produced a Christmas Eve nightmare for hundreds of passengers and two airlines.

Two weeks later, airport and airline executives explained the malfunction that bedeviled Sun Country for days. "It was a huge struggle for us," Jude Bricker, Sun Country's chief executive, said at an event earlier this week.

A computer hard drive linked to a key conveyor belt failed, along with its backup. As a result, luggage could not move from the ticket counter to gates in Terminal 2 for more than three hours, leading some flights to take off with passenger bags left behind.

The situation was unusual for the airport's baggage system, which occasionally has a mechanical problem that might last a few minutes, said Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the airport. This was the first time MSP had a prolonged outage and the first time it was due to a computer malfunction.

The airport initiated new maintenance procedures and policies to improve response time if something like it happens again, Hogan said. "It was very unfortunate, absolutely," he said.

Sun Country and Southwest Airlines have large operations out of Terminal 2 and were the only airlines affected by the long outage on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

"We have infrastructure in place to handle standard lost bag rates," but the Christmas Eve volume exceeded the airline's capacity, Bricker said. It took Sun Country several days to reunite all the bags with passengers.

"It's unacceptable," Bricker said. "We need to build that infrastructure to get bags to people sooner when we do lose them."

The outage came just as Sun Country was getting its ground operations on track following difficulties that began in May when it dismissed 350 workers, including ticketing agents, gate agents and wheelchair assistants, and hired a contractor to handle that work. Just two months later, it replaced the contractor.

Sun Country had worked well with the contractor, Toronto-based Global Aviation Services Inc., in other markets, Bricker said. But it was too small to handle Sun Country's workload at MSP. Sun Country in the fall turned to another contractor, Delta Global Services, or DGS, which also handles ground activities for Delta Air Lines at Terminal 1.

"DGS has done a great job and they continue to get better," Bricker said this week.

The U.S. Department of Transportation doesn't publish Sun Country's mishandled baggage rate, which is self-reported to the government, because the airline doesn't meet the revenue threshold: one-half of 1 percent of all domestic passenger revenue for all airlines.

Bricker said Sun Country's lost baggage rate is about 2 per 1,000 bags. According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the national average is about 2.3 lost bags per 1,000 passengers.

Sun Country said it is in the middle of upgrading many of its IT capabilities that it hopes resolves the customer service complaints it has recently faced. Bricker, who inherited the old system, said it currently takes seven minutes to check-in a passenger. The company is investing $6 million to build a new website and point-of-sale system that will reduce the check-in time to 90 seconds, matching the industry average.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767