How Sun Country Airlines Is Looking At Airports

Sun Country Airlines only recently made a full transition to a low-cost carrier. Targeting a completely different market than Delta Air Lines, the airline has to make some very strategic decisions when entering a new airport. Here’s how the carrier works with airports.

Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country Airlines is a distinctive low-cost airline. Photo: Sun Country Airlines

What Sun Country needs at an airport

Charles Breer, Sun Country’s Senior Director of Airport Affairs and Facilities, shed a lot of light on how Sun Country approaches airports when it looks at getting into a new destination.

The airline is a low-cost carrier, so it has to make sure that it keeps its cost structure low. This means making sure that airport expenses are low and getting availability is not a problem. Sun Country does not like to lease out gates, which other major airlines do. First, it needs to ensure that it has a gate available for Sun Country to use.

Sun Country
Sun Country does not operate on a hub-and-spoke model. Photo: Sun Country Airlines

The next thing Sun Country likes to minimize is real estate at the airport. The airline generally likes to use existing ticket counters for cheap, which sometimes means scheduling flights within certain times.

The next thing Sun Country looks at is IT and computer systems. If needed, it brings its own computers in to help get the system working. This is less of an issue for Sun Country than gates and ticket counters, which are closer to a non-negotiable basis.

Looking at Sun Country’s model

Take an airline like Delta that flies between San Antonio and Minneapolis. Sun Country also seasonally flies the same route. Where Delta will fly year-round, either through mainline or regional jets and sometimes with multiple daily flights, Sun Country only flies a few times per week.

Delta also flies to more destinations than just Minneapolis out of San Antonio. So, Delta staffs its ticket counters for a longer period of time than Sun Country and leases gates. Sun Country, which will only fly a few times a week, will come in when the airport has a free gate and ticket counters.

Sun Country route map
Sun Country’s route map is very seasonal. Photo: Sun Country Airlines

This is not problematic at a lot of destinations, however. In a bid to attract new airlines, many airports will keep a gate open for common use or held explicitly to build up new services.

How the crisis has impacted all of this

Sun Country believes that there are a lot of new opportunities. The airline can look at some more expensive airports now that previously may have been bad options for the airline, are now a little more enticing. This especially depends, according to Mr. Breer, on the airport’s financial status. Depending on how airports have used government assistance or cut costs, some have been able to provide more attractive pricing for Sun Country Airlines.

That, however, is not the case across the board. At other airports, where they have not been as successful at cutting costs, it has actually become more expensive for airlines to fly into. This only works at airports that are in high demand for carriers. Think about big airports in places like Florida, where every airline is looking to add more flights, where runway capacity is constrained, and gate capacity is also limited.

Sun Country plane
Some airports work well for Sun Country; others do not. Photo: Sun Country Airlines

Still, Sun Country is a carrier that, based on its market position catering to leisure travelers, is an airline that has more options open to it now than before. How many it jumps on, however, remains to be seen.

Are there any airports you think Sun Country should fly into? Let us know in the comments!


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