Sun Country Grows North and South
Sun Country Airlines on Tuesday announced a significant fourth quarter expansion to nine new markets via a total of 18 new routes. Most notably the airline announced its first scheduled service in anyone’s memory out of Duluth and Rochester. Flights will operate to Phoenix and Fort Myers (Southwest Florida International Airport), its most popular cold weather destinations from the region.
Greater Minnesota has been served by Sun Country’s Landline bus service from MSP Airport and these flights will augment, but not replace that, according to the airline’s chief revenue officer, Grant Whitney. He said data from the Landline operation helped inform Sun Country’s decision to fly into Duluth International Airport and Rochester International Airport.
Sun Country, which completed an IPO in March, raising roughly $218 million, will use some of the proceeds to advance its growth plan, said Whitney, with the airline hoping to acquire three to five additional (used) 737-800s by the time the service ramps up. As part of the growth, the airline will begin service to secondary airports in key winter markets, Punta Gorda and Clearwater/St. Petersburg, Florida, and Mesa Airport near Phoenix. Grand Cayman and Turks and Caicos are among new Caribbean destinations in the expansion.
All of the service will operate two to four days a week, commencing on a rolling basis from November to February, depending on the market, which allows the airline to test customer uptake without committing an excess of resources to unproven routes or destinations.
With the new Florida service, Sun Country will be the first carrier to offer nonstop service from MSP to all airports in Southwest Florida, an indication of the durability and predictability of winter vacation ties between the Upper Midwest and the I-75 corridor, which brackets the northern reaches of the Tampa area and Naples and Marco Island on the south. Sun Country continues to serve Florida’s east coast (Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach), but the area is not as popular with Midwestern travelers.
In the nearer term, Whitney says Sun Country is planning more typical summer of domestic flying, resuming flights to Hawaii from California, and its traditional complement of East and West Coast urban airports from MSP, plus the addition of service to national park regions of Montana and Wyoming (as well as Alaska), which have seen surges of seasonal visitors in the pandemic.