Inaugurals, brandnewairlines, airline sunsets, new planes, unique planes. What do these all have in common? They’re a magnet for AvGeeks. And any time you get a group of enthusiasts in a room together they all start telling their “AvGeek experience” stories. You know how it goes – “the shortest flight I ever flew was…” and then someone chimes in with theirs. It’s good fun.
Today we are excited to tell you about an AvGeek experience we just recently learned of (and promptly booked) thanks to our friend and sometimes AirlineReporter contributor Nick Benson over at JetTip. Picture this: An inaugural flight between a new city pair, to an airport you and your friends have probably never been to. Just an 85-mile flight, onboard a 737 with a bunch of fellow AvGeeks…
Let’s Fly an Inaugural EAS Flight
On December 1, 2022 Sun Country will inaugurate service between MSP and EAU (Chippewa Valley Regional Airport) using one of their 737s. At time of writing, the new route is a bargain at just shy of $40 each way. This is a ULCC, so seat selection, etc., are extra. But here’s the thing – it’s a short 45-minute flight, and an inaugural so why not just roll the dice? We realize this isn’t Spirit, but here’s your chance to go full un-bundled, like I did in 2016 when I tried the Bare Fare, for science. Do it, and you’ll have another story to tell your friends.
Wendy Burt, Sr. Director of communications for Sun Country confirms that this unique new route is part of the DOT’s Essential Air Service program. EAS is intended to ensure service to undeserved communities. She also confirmed that “there will be an event in Eau Claire on the first day to celebrate.” Airline-themed cake, anyone? We can only hope…
If I had to sum up my recent Sun Country Air flight experience with one word, it would be: “kids.”
It is not the airline’s fault that I was surrounded by kids on my over three hour flight from Seattle (SEA) to Minnesota (MSP), but it did make my experience a little less enjoyable.
Now, I am not one of those who complains every time a kid is next to me. I know I was there once and I know that parents are just trying to get somewhere with their family. But when I have a gaggle of kids surrounding me and not behaving, I can’t help but take notice. Luckily the airline came through and over all I would still say I had a good flight experience.
This time-lapse from our friends at Jet Midwest offers a rare glimpse into the plane repainting process from start-to-finish. The clip begins with a Sun Country Boeing 737-800 (N804SY) landing at Kansas City International Airport. After a fast and furious time-lapse of less than five minutes, we witness what could easily be mistaken for a brand-new plane heading back to its home base in Minneapolis, MN (MSP).
At first, you see that the paint is noticeably weathered but still beautiful in its own right. In fact, I contend that the 12 year-old paint job, as-is, was arguably more attractive than a brand-new paint job with most of the larger airlines who sport “Eurowhite” liveries (can you tell that I do not like bland liveries?)
The paint scheme that Sun Country planes sport is what many AvGeeks would refer to as a “jelly bean” livery; i.e. at the very minimum, a brightly-colored plane. There is however some dissent in the community that argues a true “jelly bean” requires that each plane be slightly different, for example the historic liveries of Braniff seen below.
The rumors surrounding Sun Country’s buy-out have been circulating for quite sometime. I have heard that Delta, AirTran or Southwest might be good candidates for a take over. Out of those three, Southwest seems the most likely.
I spoke with representatives from all three rumored buyers and they each had their own unique way of telling me, “no comment.” That was totally expected, since either they honestly have no interest or this is a hot topic and one of them is not ready to let the cat out of the bag. I have spent the last few days trying to get a hold of someone at Sun Country, but with no success. Either this is a topic they want to avoid or they aren’t so keen talking to bloggers.
Sun Country is based at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP), which Southwest has recently started to fly into. This being a new market, presumably Southwest would want to be able to grow rapidly. With the recent merger of Delta and Northwest (which was based at MSP), there could be Northwest loyalists who aren’t wanting to start flying Delta and looking for a new airline to LUV.
There is also fleet similarities between Sun Country and Southwest. Sun Country flies Boeing 737-700 and -800’s, while Southwest is just steps away from starting to fly the larger -800 among other versions of the 737. Southwest has been looking at flying internationally and taking over Sun Country would allow them to quickly start. Since Southwest is installing satellite based ROW 44 internet, they would have an advantage over other low cost carriers that fly internationally.
Sun Country recently came out of bankruptcy by creating a viable business plan. Although the airline publicly states they feel confident with their future, this would be a good time for another airline to take them over. Sun Country has announced they will be purchasing new aircraft, expanding routes and hiring 100 new employees. That confidence is good for Sun Country’s future and should make them a better value for possible buyers.
Southwest might also want Sun Country to make their books look better. Since Sun Country flies mostly to leisure travel destinations from the very cold MSP, the first quarter is their best. However, the first quarter is Southwest’s weakest. Combining the two is like completing a financial puzzle.
So most things look like a great match. However, there are always two sides to a story and I spoke with Steven Frischling, who writes the blog Flying With Fish, and he sees some issue with this match up. First, purchasing Sun Country wouldn’t mean that Southwest would be getting their aircraft, “While many look at Sun Country’s fleet as compatible with Southwest Airlines, especially with Southwest announcing that they are exploring the 737-800, Sun Country does not own its fleet. All of its 737-700s & -800s appear to be leased. So a purchase of Sun Country would not include aircraft,” he explained.
He also points out that one of the major reasons airlines will buy out another airline is to get slots at a particular airport. However, slots are not that difficult to get at MSP and Southwest wouldn’t need to buy an airline to increase flights. “Sometimes buying an airline for landing slots, fleet, routes or gates makes sense,” Frischling stated. “While Southwest Airlines is changing how it does business, Sun Country offers Southwest Airlines nothing. The airline is not even a competitor.”
So, this might only be a rumor and nothing will come of it, but it is always fun to think about. The old Southwest probably wouldn’t have any interest in Sun Country, but things have been changing over at the Dallas based airline. Will the new Southwest look to take over Sun Country and expand internationally? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.