Sun Country: The Past, Present, and Future

Sun Country: The Past, Present and Future


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Introduction

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.

1. Founding and Early Years (1982-1999)

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.

2. Transition to Scheduled Services (1999-2008)

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.

3. Ownership Changes and Challenges (2008-2017)

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.

4. Apollo Global Management Acquisition and ULCC Transition (2017-Present)

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.

5. What’s Next?

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!

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Why am I not surprised? Anyway, nice topic!

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Here you go.

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Didn’t they used to operate Los Angeles to Hawaii? I’ve seen charters but I swear they used to operate commercial to one of the Hawaiian islands.

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Anyone remember the short lived MSP to Gander to London-Stansted? I believe it was summer of 2010 if I’m remembering correctly

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I would love pictures of past, and present, and maybe future.

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Thank you! I couldn’t have added anything about this in the original topic, because the Tweet came out at 5:04 PM (Central), and that’s after I submitted it for approval.

For a while, yes. Now they have these pretty frequent Los Angeles - Kona flights, which are casino charters, according to a Sun Country pilot who has worked those flights. They do, of course, have several daily MSP-LAX-MSP turns.

They have indicated a high demand for flights from Minneapolis to Hawai’i, but non-stops, even on the MAX, wouldn’t be possible. Probably, sooner or later, they’ll do MSP-OGG/HNL with a quick technical stop somewhere on the west coast. Totally doable in a 737-800. I honestly wonder if they’ll ever move into the wide body market to serve these longer vacation routes.

I’ve read about that. Interesting one. It got dropped due to the expenses outweighing the demand. They used to do Minneapolis - Stansted with their DC-10s as well. It was a charter.

Good idea!

The Past


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Sun Country operated a fleet of B727s when they first began operations in 1982.


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Sun Country’s first CEO/Chief Pilot, Jim Olsen and his wife, circa 1985.


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Sun Country operated a fleet of DC-10 aircraft, across the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

The Present

Currently, the airline operates 51 B737-800s, 1 B737-700, with some B737-900ERs on the way. Additionally, they have 30 or so B737-800s in a cargo configuration, flying on behalf of Prime Air.
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The bulk of their fleet is the 737-800, which serves their almost 200 destination cities.


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Sun Country’s lonely 737-700, pictured at KSFO.

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One member of Sun Country’s rapidly growing fleet of cargo planes for Amazon’s Prime Air. If you’ve ordered from Amazon before, there’s a distinct possibility your package has been on one of Sun Country’s planes.

The Future

Interestingly, Sun Country has added pay rates on its collective labor agreement this year for the B767 and A330 (source). This could be a hint of things to come for the carrier.

Probably, at some point in the near future, Sun Country will have to decide whether to stay with Boeing, or bring Airbus into the fleet. I cannot think of any successful US based LCC with a mix of Boeing and Airbus, so realistically, they’ll go down the Boeing road. Buying AIrbus would be ultimately more expensive for the airline, because it would be a much bigger adjustment for schedulers, and thus require more training, for ground handlers, airports, and, of course, pilots.


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Will Sun Country pursue the MAX 10?

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The carrier has hinted at widebodies. Would they buy Boeing, like the 787, or go with Airbus and their A330neo/ceo?

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Wait seriously? That would be insane

Yep!

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I made a nice little map here of all of Sun Country’s 2023 destinations outside of the Continental United States (Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and the rest of Latin America/the Caribbean).
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Sun Country is the best Low Cost Carrier in North America of 2023, according to SkyTrax’s measures, outpacing Southwest, last year’s victor.

https://www.stories.suncountry.com/post/sun-country-wins-prestigious-world-airline-award#:~:text=Sun%20Country%20was%20awarded%20the,awards%20in%20the%20airline%20industry.

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that’s interesting! To be honest, I’ve always wanted to try flying on Sun Country

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I remember back in the 90s seeing the DC-10s and 727s going STL-LAS, possibly charters. I don’t think they had MSP-STL back then

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ive always wanted to fly on them, now i can since they fly to BIL

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Believe it or not, Sun Country has a gate at Washington Reagan. They use it sometimes, maybe once every month or two. But they just rent it to another airline when their not using it.

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A flight review from Sun Country’s past:

Definitely a fun read.

This is almost definitely for an extension of their agreement with Amazon, I’d be surprised if they launch passenger 767/a330 service in the near future but Amazon uses both of those aircraft.

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I think long haul passenger service is in their not too distant future. Most definitely some sort of newer narrowbody. I’d expect an order this year, honestly. I wonder if this recent MAX 9 situation will impact their decision at all.

Two interesting pieces of Sun Country news


Sun Country is looking at opening a crew base in Portland (KPDX).


Sun Country is looking at purchasing more 737-800s.

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