Sun Coun­try feels heat af­ter strand­ing trav­el­ers in Mex­ico

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Ben Mutzabaugh

Sun Coun­try Air­lines now says it plans to re­im­burse pas­sen­gers left stranded in Mex­ico af­ter the car­rier can­celed its last flights of the sea­son af­ter a late-sea­son bl­iz­zard in Minnesota.

In­stead of ex­tend­ing its sched­ule or send­ing char­ters to bring home about 250 pas­sen­gers from the Mex­i­can re­sort cities of Cabo San Lu­cas and Mazatlán, Sun Coun­try opted in­stead to re­fund fliers’ fares and then told them they were on their own to find a new way home.

Sun Coun­try’s re­ver­sal comes af­ter in­tense so­cial me­dia back­lash and a wave of neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity about how it han­dled the sit­u­a­tion.

In a Tues­day email ob­tained by USA TO­DAY, Sun Coun­try CEO Jude Bricker told air­line em­ploy­ees the com­pany has de­cided to cover the travel costs in­curred by “right­fully frus­trated” cus­tomers who had to pay for a new way home af­ter the can­cel­la­tions.

Sun Coun­try has faced crit­i­cism from nu­mer­ous cor­ners about not do­ing more, and Bricker con­ceded in the email that Sun Coun­try should have con­sid­ered at least one “res­cue flight” to bring home the ma­rooned fliers.

“With hind­sight, we should have flown a res­cue flight to MZT (Mazatlán) as ser­vice op­tions are lim­ited. SJD (Cabo San Lu­cas) has more ser­vice op­tions and we felt the best op­tion for those cus­tomers was giv­ing them a full roundtrip re­fund on their Sun Coun­try flight to make al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments as quickly as pos­si­ble,” Bricker said in the email.

He con­tin­ued, say­ing Sun Coun­try would re­fund fliers’ orig­i­nal round-trip fares and any ad­di­tional “rea­son­able” trans­porta­tion costs paid by pas­sen­gers in their at­tempts to re­turn home.

The As­so­ci­ated Press says “Bricker’s note made no men­tion of cov­er­ing lodg­ing for trav­el­ers forced to stay overnight, and a spokes­woman didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to an email.”

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., ex­pressed “se­ri­ous con­cern” about the way Sun Coun­try han­dled the can­cel­la­tions this past week­end. “As many trav­el­ers are al­ready fi­nan­cially squeezed by the air­line in­dus­try, it is trou­ble­some to see a do­mes­tic car­rier aban­don­ing its pas­sen­gers in a for­eign coun­try, forc­ing them to find their own way home and to in­cur fur­ther ex­pense of time and money,” Smith wrote in a let­ter to the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. “This sets a neg­a­tive prece­dent for other air­lines to fol­low.”

Some trav­el­ers said they spent thou­sands of ex­tra dol­lars and flew into air­ports hours away from Minnesota to get back home, ac­cord­ing to Smith. She im­plored the DOT’s Avi­a­tion Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Di­vi­sion “to en­sure that can­cel­la­tion poli­cies af­fect­ing air­line trav­el­ers, es­pe­cially those stranded in for­eign coun­tries, ap­pro­pri­ately pro­tect con­sumers.”

JEREMY DWYER/SPE­CIAL FOR USA TO­DAY

Sun Coun­try now says it plans to re­im­burse all stranded pas­sen­gers.

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