Sun Country Airlines received government permission to scale down to just six flights a week from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as it waits out the demand slump from the coronavirus outbreak.
The airline — which is based at the airport and was flying dozens of flights a day from there just a few weeks ago — flew just four on Monday. It will continue to adjust its schedule and could stay above that minimum number if demand warrants.
The airline has planned its schedule for May and assigned pilots to flights. But after a decision from the U.S. Department of Transportation on Saturday, Sun Country can cut back to the bare minimum of six a week through at least mid-June if it wants to.
“This decision allows us only to fly at that minimum,” airline spokeswoman Kirsten Welker said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the number we fly.”
Executives are watching demand two weeks ahead of time to base decisions on flights. They are trying not to cut flights on short notice, Welker said.
On Monday, Sun Country flew from MSP to Sarasota, Fla., Palm Springs, Calif., Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But its planes, as with other airlines since the outbreak worsened last month, are mostly empty.
If it ran at a bare minimum of six flights a week, Sun Country estimated to the DOT that the flights would be 25% to 43% filled. Under the DOT order, Sun Country must run three round trips a week to Fort Myers, Fla., and one each to Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix.
The DOT gave Sun Country leeway to halt flights to and from 21 other cities. The agency has been taking greater oversight of airlines’ schedules as carriers seek federal aid under the CARES Act. Officials are trying to balance airline finances and a goal of “minimal connections” for communities across the country.
Sun Country asked to be allowed to fly only once a week to Fort Myers. But the DOT required it to fly at least three times because few other airlines serve that city.
Four weeks ago, Sun Country was operating at 60% of its normal capacity and had parked most of its fleet near its hangar at MSP. On Monday, Welker did not have a precise figure of its current operating capacity relative to before the outbreak.