Sun Country Airlines is suing an airport services firm it says created flight and baggage disruptions that damaged its reputation and finances.
The lawsuit provides new details about how a cost-cutting effort last year backfired for the Eagan-based airline. Sun Country passengers endured flight delays, long lines and other problems for months, and executives said recently that the airline is still recovering from the mess.
The trouble started shortly after Global Aviation Services Inc. of Toronto took responsibility for much of Sun Country's daily workload at its primary hub, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in state district court in Minneapolis, Sun Country said Global Aviation and its chief executive committed fraud by lying about its capabilities before the firm was hired to run the airline's operations at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Sun Country also said Global Aviation breached the contract by failing to do the work necessary to get flights, passengers and cargo through the system in a timely manner. The lawsuit also suggests Global broke aviation security rules.
"Global's breaches and incompetence harmed Sun Country's brand and reputation with its customers," the airline said in the lawsuit. "Global increased customer wait time at ticket counters and gates, further inconvenienced customers by causing flight delays and lost and damaged customers' bags."
Sun Country declined to comment for this article. Global's chief executive Carmel Borg, who is personally named as a defendant in the suit, deferred comment to his lawyers, who did not respond.
Before 2018, the airline had hired an outside firm, Swissport International Ltd., to manage its ramp services and baggage handling. Sun Country had its own staff for passenger services, including ticketing and boarding.
After the airline changed owners in 2017, new executives began to transform Sun Country's cost structure, operations and routes. Late that year, they decided to outsource the work of about 350 people at MSP. More than a dozen companies, including Global, bid for the work, which included towing aircraft, loading and unloading baggage, cleaning airplane interiors, checking in passengers and handling cargo and U.S. mail.
In February 2018, Sun Country picked Global, a firm it had relied on for such services in a few Florida airports. But the lawsuit said, "As soon as the agreement took effect, Global failed to marshal the staff necessary to perform the agreed-upon services and began breaching the agreement on a regular basis."
One such occasion occurred on June 14 when 26 ramp agents should've been scheduled to work to handle the day's flight demands. Global scheduled just nine people and two didn't show up. Sun Country said Global didn't notify it of the staff shortage.
On July 1, the suit said, only eight people staffed the ramp when 24 people were needed. That same day, no one showed up for work in the baggage room.
Similar shortages happened at Sun Country's ticket counter. Passenger wait times exceeded an hour and a half on some days, compared to a more typical wait time of 20 minutes, the airline said in the lawsuit.
When Sun Country raised its concerns to Global's chief executive, the airline said Borg twice blamed it on the "Minnesota work ethic," adding that the state's workers were "drug users," according to the suit.
Between May and July, customer complaints to the Better Business Bureau and U.S. Transportation Department about Sun Country were six times greater than in comparable periods in recent years.
Global eventually hired an outside consultant to assess its staffing problems. According to Sun Country's suit, that consultant discovered that Global personnel tried to speed up new-hire orientation with a shortcut that "criminally violates" the security requirements of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates the airport.
By late June, Global decided it could not meet Sun Country's expectations and gave the airline a three-month notice that it would exit the deal. In the suit, Sun Country said, "After it sent notice of termination, Global all but abdicated its responsibilities under the agreement."
Office workers from the airline's headquarters took shifts filling jobs that Global could not, or would not, staff. Top leaders, including Chief Executive Jude Bricker, cleaned airplanes.
After Global's contract officially ended on Sept. 28, Sun Country hired DGS, formerly known as Delta Global Services, to run its ground operations at MSP. Executives say Sun Country's services at the airport significantly improved under DGS, though the airline continues to get a higher than usual volume of customer complaints.
Global Aviation Services Inc. is not the same company as Eagan-based Global Aviation Services LLC, a provider of aircraft maintenance services that is not involved in the matter.