Sun Country Airlines, established in 1982, is a significant player in the American airline industry. Over the years, it has undergone numerous changes and transformations. This report provides an in-depth exploration of the airline’s history, from its humble beginnings as a charter operator to its current standing in the aviation sector.
Sun Country Airlines was founded in 1982 by a group of former Braniff International employees in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Initially, it operated as a charter airline, primarily serving vacationers looking for sun-soaked destinations. During this period, Sun Country had a fleet consisting of used Boeing 727 aircraft. The airline quickly gained a reputation for its friendly service and affordability, which appealed to leisure travelers.
In 1999, Sun Country took a significant step by venturing into scheduled services. This transition marked a shift from being exclusively a charter airline to a hybrid carrier. This strategy allowed the airline to serve a broader customer base and compete more effectively in the evolving aviation industry.
During these years, Sun Country expanded its route network to include more destinations. It focused on serving not only leisure destinations but also cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Las Vegas. The airline operated a mix of charter and scheduled flights, offering passengers more options for their travel needs.
The airline faced financial challenges during the economic downturn in the late 2000s. In 2008, the airline filed for bankruptcy, which marked the beginning of a series of ownership changes. Over the next few years, the airline changed hands multiple times.
In 2011, a group of investors led by Marty Davis purchased Sun Country Airlines. Under this new ownership, efforts were made to stabilize the airline’s financial situation. Despite these challenges, Sun Country continued to serve leisure destinations and evolve its business model.
One of the most significant turning points in Sun Country’s history occurred in 2017 when the airline was acquired by Apollo Global Management. Under this ownership, the airline underwent a significant transformation. It shifted its focus towards becoming an ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC).
As a ULCC, Sun Country aimed to compete with other low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier Airlines. This strategy emphasized low fares and unbundled services, giving passengers the option to pay for only the services they desired. This shift was indicative of the evolving dynamics of the U.S. airline industry, which was becoming more competitive in terms of pricing and service offerings.
In 2023, Sun Country won the award for best North American low cost carrier, from the prestigious World Airlines Award event hosted by Skytrax, outpacing Southwest, WestJet, and others.(read about it HERE).
Sun Country is a rapidly expanding airline. With 50+ passenger B737NGs already in their fleet, they are looking to add. In late 2023, they will begin receiving wet leased B737-900ERs from Omni International, to keep up with demand. They are in “active discussion” with both Airbus and Boeing, presumably to order the MAX or A321neo. I, for one, think its extremly likely that they go the Boeing route, in the name of fleet consistency.
Their route network already stretches across North and Central America, as well as the Carribean. It’s possible some day that they decide to traverse the Atlantic.
Sun Country Airlines Route Map
Sun Country’s recent history has been a story of success. In the past 6 months, they have added services to Branson, Missouri, Bemidji, Minnesota, Williston, North Dakota, and Saint Maarten. They are actively trying to secure more EAS routes in the Midwest, as many of Skywest’s contracts are soon expiring.
All signs point forward for the Minneapolis based airline. Not only are their passenger services booming, but their rapidly growing fleet of cargo 737-800s, operated on behalf of Prime Air. I’m excited to see where this airline goes next!