One airline that recently flew to Honolulu from California, Oregon, and Minneapolis abruptly paused all of its low-cost flights to the islands with a promise that they would be back. In April, the airline claimed the reason for the pause was a shortage of pilots. Do you remember the carrier in question? Read below for the name.
This affects the decline of Sun Country Hawaii flights. The company previously informed its customers that “Due to the current pilot shortage affecting all U.S. carriers, Sun Country has regrettably decided to suspend service to Honolulu, HI (HNL) for the 2022 travel season… We apologize for any inconvenience caused this temporary suspension of Honolulu service causes for our customers… We hope 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. We ended up wondering if Hawaii was a good fit for this budget airline even before Southwest was added to the Hawaii travel mix.
Have Southwest Hawaii Flights Brought the Kibosh to Sun Country Hawaii?
Sun Country entered an increasingly competitive West Coast market just as the Southwest Hawaii giant was preparing 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 how customers in California and Oregon flying to Hawaii perceived Sun Country’s low-cost airline compared to Alaska Airlines and Hawaii-focused Hawaiian Airlines, the popular Southwest Airlines, and the legacy airlines was always in doubt.
Sun Country Hawaii flights started in 2018.
Sun Country Hawaii flights departed from LA, San Francisco, Portland and MSP using 737-800 aircraft. When they launched in 2018, Sun Country Hawaii flights began four times a week from Portland. With intense competition in this market from Alaska, Delta and Hawaii, Sun Country mistakenly saw an opportunity to expand in what it believed to be high demand and relatively little competition.
Sun Country also flies seasonally to Hawaii from MSP and LAX and flies four times weekly from Minneapolis to Honolulu via Los Angeles. The LA to Honolulu flight market has been and remains fully saturated, exacerbated by the entry of Southwest.
Move quickly in a different direction.
Like Allegiant, the low-cost carrier Sun Country relies on low-cost basic tariffs with a range of extras. Yesterday, Sun Country announced 15 new destinations for summer 2023, and Hawaii wasn’t among them. MSP’s fifteen new non-stop routes included twelve all-new destinations. That comes as the company announced an extension of its travel booking schedule through Labor Day.
As for returning to the islands, its new schedule does not feature Hawaii in its 2023 key vacation and winter season, spring break, and summer offerings.
Sun Country, run by former Allegiant Jew Bricker.
When Sun Country Hawaii’s 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. The Beat of Hawaii editors met Jude as Allegiant was preparing to fly to Hawaii, and we were impressed with him, his intelligence, and his determination. Bricker’s preferred model is one with low entry prices and a choice of fees to choose from.
Sun Country had a number of issues that Bricker dealt with. This previously included hundreds of passengers in Mexico. They also reported a failed attempt to switch from white-collar workers to lower-cost contractors for a variety of ground services. These did nothing to build trust with Minneapolis’ loyal customer base and eventually fell back to the staff.
Contrasting Sun Country and Allegiant.
These two airlines are not birds of the same feather. For example, Allegiant flew to Hawaii on old, unreliable, and uncomfortable 757 planes when they attempted to serve Hawaii. Sun Country, on the other hand, used Boeing 737-800 aircraft configured similarly to other airlines serving Hawaii. These offer 150 economy seats with a seat pitch of 31 to 33 inches and 12 first/business class seats with a seat pitch of 37 to 39 inches.
About Sun Country, the largest privately owned airline in the United States.
It currently serves 2.5 million passengers annually. How the airline defines itself: “Sun Country Airlines is a new breed of hybrid low-cost airline that dynamically deploys shared resources across our synergistic scheduled, charter and cargo businesses. Based in Minnesota, we are focused on serving leisure, visiting and chartered friends and family (‘VFR’) customers and providing CMI service for Amazon, with flights throughout the United States and destinations in Mexico, Central America, Canada and the Caribbean. ”
The 35-year-old airline previously flew to Europe and held the all-important ETOPS certification required for surface flights to Hawaii. You may recall that both Allegiant and Southwest struggled to get ETOPS for a long time before entering the Hawaii market.
With multiple owners and multiple fleets, Sun Country has often struggled to find a niche. Bankruptcies followed, followed by a full shutdown in 2001. After this, a group of investors bought out the assets from bankruptcy, and Sun Country was restarted.
Since then, Sun Country transitioned to an all-737 fleet and began expanding operations in the mainland and Mexico. It suffered another bankruptcy and financial fraud. Since bankruptcy in 2011, the company has grown and generally prospered.
In July 2017, Jude Bricker was named President and CEO of Sun Country. In December, they announced that the company would be sold by its current owners to Apollo Global Management.
Are you disappointed with the end of Sun Country Hawaii’s service?