This U.S. Airline Stranded More Than 200 Passengers in Mexico
(- and Never Came Back To Pick Them Up)
- Was this the wisest approach to customer service?
17 April, 2018
When it comes to airlines, you might think there are certain business basics beneath which no airline will sink. You might also think that the moon is made of leather, trees speak Greek and cows produce Chardonnay.
The latest example of, well, questionable customer service comes from Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines. It had to cancel two flights from Mexico back to Minneapolis, because the latter suffered a snowstorm.
It so happened that these two flights were the last of the season, so Sun Country couldn't offer its customers any flights within a reasonable future.
It therefore decided to refund the cost of its customers' tickets and bid them all adios. It surely wouldn't be beyond many imaginations that those customers then had to spend a lot of money on hotels, food and alternative flights.
"The fact that they felt it was OK to send an email telling everybody that 'find your own way home,' I guess to me that doesn't seem right," passenger Abby Pettit told CBS.
On its Facebook page, the airline offered the almost classic: "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause." All this happened on Saturday. Inconveniently, it wasn't until Monday that the airline seemed to realize this didn't look good.
A First Apology.
"We cannot apologize enough to those passengers who were hit by the one-two punch of an April snowstorm and the seasonality end-date of our winter schedule. Our fleet was already allocated to fly other operations and unfortunately, we were unable to send additional aircraft to Los Cabos and Mazatlán without canceling more flights causing further disruptions to more of our passengers," said the airline's Vice President of Marketing Kelsey Dodson-Smith in a statement.
Of course, Sun Country could have chartered a plane or two in order to bring back its customers. There are plenty of Jumbo Jets currently lying around, doing very little. The airline might have even got a good deal. It might have even made for a PR story of rare airline decency.
Instead, Senator Tina Smith has written to the Department of Transportation to express her serious concerns. In it, Smith wondered why there didn't even appear to be customer service agents available for 24 hours to talk customers through their options and, dare I say it, help.
She also mentioned that one of the first acts of Wall Street private equity fund Apollo Global Management after buying Sun Country was to get rid of, oh, 350 customer service staff, only to encourage them to reapply for their positions - which were now outsourced at a somewhat lesser level of pay.
A Second, Belated Apology And Greater Compensation.
It was only on Tuesday that Sun Country President and CEO Jude Bricker released an email he'd sent to all the company's employees. It was long, yet he spent the first part of it declaring how well the airline had done in the snowed-under circumstances.
After many of words of praise, he admitted: "We need to find ways to improve our customer communications as we failed in that area."
I think that's probably correct.
Bricker tried to explain what had happened with its lack of customer service and what the airline was now doing:
- Most calls were bounced (busy signal) beginning Saturday all the way through Monday. We're working hard to dig ourselves out of the situation. All of our customers (except for the passengers that were on the Saturday MZT and SJD cancelled flights) [the two from Mazatlan and Los Cabos involving the stranded passengers] had a confirmed re-accommodation by midnight last night.
- With hindsight, we should have flown a rescue flight to MZT as service options are limited. SJD 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. Either way, for these routes we should have been reachable and covered their transportation costs if we didn't fly them home.
And finally, some good news for the stranded passengers:
- We have made that commitment that in addition to refunding their original roundtrip ticket on Sun Country (which we have expedited above all other refunds), we will also cover any additional reasonable transportation costs they incurred in excess of their original Sun Country roundtrip fare, not limited to the difference they paid on another carrier, but also including taxis, shuttles, any reasonable transportation costs required to get them to and from the airport. We have a special email address set up and staff dedicated to assist those passengers. We are committed to finding them a way home.
Some may find it refreshing that it isn't only airlines like United and American that seem keen on making as much money as they can at the expense of customer service. Ultimately, though, when choices are scarce, what can passengers do? At least passengers now have the hope of greater compensation that they were offered before. This surely came about because no airline enjoys negative publicity, especially when it's so clear the airline's service failed.
But nothing will really change. The next time passengers are booking a vacation, they'll see Sun Country's relatively cheap fares and book with the airline all over again.
Or will they?