An airline that not long ago flew to Honolulu from California, Oregon, and Minneapolis, abruptly paused all of its low-cost flights to the islands with the promise that they would be back. In April, the airline alleged the reason for the pause was a shortage of pilots. Do you remember the carrier in question? Read below for the name.
This is regarding the demise of Sun Country Hawaii flights. The company previously told customers that “due to the current pilot shortage impacting all U.S. airlines, Sun Country has regrettably elected to suspend service to Honolulu, HI (HNL) for the 2022 travel season… We apologize for any inconvenience this temporary suspension of Honolulu service causes to our customers… We are hopeful for a return of Honolulu service for the 2023 travel season.”
Our take was and still is that Sun Country will not return to Hawaii. In the end, we questioned whether Hawaii was a good fit for this low-cost carrier, even before Southwest got into the Hawaii travel mix.
Did Southwest Hawaii flights put the kibosh on Sun Country Hawaii?
Sun Country entered an increasingly competitive West Coast market just as behemoth Southwest Hawaii prepared to swoop in and launch its massive push into Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai.
The routes that Sun Country Hawaii flew were already well-served. And just how Hawaii-bound California and Oregon customers perceived low-cost carrier Sun Country, compared with Hawaii-centric Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, popular Southwest Airlines, and the legacy carriers, was always in doubt.
Sun Country Hawaii flights started in 2018.
Sun Country Hawaii flights commenced from LA, San Francisco, Portland, and MSP using 737-800 aircraft. When they started in 2018, Sun Country Hawaii flights began from Portland, four-times-weekly. With intense competition in that market from Alaska, Delta, and Hawaiian, Sun Country mistakenly saw what they believed would be strong demand and relatively little competition as an opportunity to expand.
Sun Country also flew to Hawaii from MSP and LAX seasonally, operating from Minneapolis to Honolulu via Los Angeles four times weekly. That LA to Honolulu air market was and remains completely saturated, which was exacerbated by Southwest’s entrance.
Rapidly moving in a different direction.
The low-cost carrier Sun Country, like Allegiant, focuses on cheap base fares with a range of extras. Yesterday Sun Country announced 15 new destinations for summer 2023, and Hawaii wasn’t among them. The fifteen new nonstop routes from MSP included twelve entirely new destinations. That came as the company announced an extension of its booking schedule for travel through Labor Day.
As for returning to the islands, their new schedule does not list Hawaii in its key holiday and winter season, spring break, and summer 2023 offerings.
Sun Country, led by former Allegiant’s Jude Bricker.
When Sun Country Hawaii flights were first announced, company president Jude Bricker said, “the addition of Honolulu to the family of Sun Country destinations gives our travelers the opportunity to experience the unique culture and history of Hawaii.”
As you may recall, Bricker was the Chief Operating Offer behind Allegiant’s desire to fly to Hawaii. Beat of Hawaii’s editors met Jude when Allegiant was preparing to fly to Hawaii, and we were impressed by him, his smarts, and his determination. Bricker’s preferred model is one of basic low-cost entry prices and a menu of discretionary charges.
Sun Country has had a series of issues that Bricker has dealt with. Those included previously stranding hundreds of passengers in Mexico. Also, they made news of a failed attempt to change from employees to lower-cost contractors for a myriad of ground services. These did nothing to inspire confidence within its loyal Minneapolis customer base, and they ultimately reverted to employees.
Contrasting Sun Country and Allegiant.
These two airlines aren’t birds of a feather. For example, Allegiant flew to Hawaii on old, unreliable, and uncomfortable 757 aircraft when they attempted to serve Hawaii. Sun Country, on the other hand, used Boeing 737-800 aircraft configured similarly to other airlines flying to Hawaii. These offer 150 economy seats with 31 to 33 inches of pitch and 12 first/business class seats with 37 to 39 inches.
About Sun Country, the largest privately owned airline in the United States.
It currently serves 2.5 million passengers yearly. Here’s how the airline defines itself: “Sun Country Airlines is a new breed of hybrid low-cost air carrier that dynamically deploys shared resources across our synergistic scheduled service, charter, and cargo businesses. Based in Minnesota, we focus on serving leisure and visiting friends and relatives (‘VFR’) passengers and charter customers and providing CMI service to Amazon, with flights throughout the United States and destinations in Mexico, Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean.”
The 35-year-old airline previously operated to Europe and had the all-important ETOPS certification required for over-water flights to Hawaii. You may recall that both Allegiant and Southwest long-struggled to obtain ETOPS before entering the Hawaii market.
Through multiple owners and multiple fleets, Sun Country has often struggled to find a niche. It incurred bankruptcies and a complete closure in 2001. Afterward, a group of investors purchased the assets out of bankruptcy, and Sun Country was restarted.
Since then, Sun Country moved to an all-737 fleet and started expanding operations on the mainland and Mexico. It suffered yet another bankruptcy and financial fraud. Since emerging from bankruptcy in 2011, the company has expanded and generally thrived.
In July 2017, Jude Bricker was appointed president and CEO of Sun Country. In December, they announced that the company was being sold by its current owners to Apollo Global Management.