By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sun Country Airlines will highlight Tuesday what the company calls positive changes and future plans. But passengers have repeatedly reported to us their complaints about canceled flights and customer service.

WCCO investigated the numbers that point to mounting frustrations with the airline.

A September trip for Marcia Krogseng turned into a scramble. In May, she booked both their outbound and return flights on Sun Country. But when they tried to check in to return home last month, Krogseng discovered the seasonal route had ended, leaving them stuck in Washington D.C.

“I was confused I booked this on your website,” Krogseng said.

More than $1,000 later they had no choice but to make it back on Delta. Sun Country told WCCO they tried to call Krogseng months before to notify her of the change but her phone number was disconnected.

Despite having her e-mail address that the company had used many times before.

“They had a way to contact me but they didn’t,” Krogseng said. “I just want people to be aware of the problems,” she added.

Krogseng’s is one of many on a Facebook group swapping their Sun Country stories. There are stories of days of delays and weeks of waiting for any communication from the company.

After canceled flights made news across the country, we repeatedly asked Sun Country’s CEO to sit down for an interview. We were denied.

Sun Country Airlines has been in the midst of major changes. In the last two years, it’s gone from a Minnesota family business of-sorts to a low-cost carrier operated by a New York hedge fund. Apollo Global Management has cut costs and added fees, dropping first class and slimming down seats. But we wondered what this transformation has really meant for Sun Country travelers.

WCCO examined The Department of Transportation’s consumer complaints against the airline. We found a dramatic rise in dissatisfaction.

From 19 complaints in 2016 to nearly six times that last year, 112 in 2018. The company is on track again this year for more passenger turbulence: 64 complaints so far. They are figures that represent only those who’ve taken the time to file a formal report with the government. Far fewer than what we’ve seen on social media sites and other consumer websites.

As the editor of Skift Airline Weekly, Madhu Unnikrishnan has monitored the changes.

“He’s turned it around. At least operationally,” Unnikrishnan said.

Jude Bricker took over as Sun Country’s CEO in 2017 after a long stay at Allegiant Air.

“It’s a formula that worked for Bricker and his management team at Allegiant, not very frequent flights to leisure destinations,” Unnikrishnan said.

He chalks up canceled flights and increasing complaints to growing pains as the airline serves more travelers. A Sun Country spokesperson says the number of passengers has skyrocketed by 56% since 2016. Unnikrishan believes many of the issues come down to numbers.

Sun Country’s 30 airplanes simply can’t compete with larger carriers like Delta’s 900. Meaning more planes and staff at the ready when things go wrong. Profits also play a part as government reports show the airline has become much more lucrative. Costs are down and net income up by millions of dollars.

“Kind of the overriding issue seems to be communication with their customers,” Krogseng said.

Still, Unnikrishnan agrees Sun County’s customer service might need some work. Krogseng isn’t the first to be blocked on social media by the airline for speaking out.

“That’s just not a good look. Own it. Respond to it and other airlines do that you take the sweet with the salt. I think that buys you brand credibility if you do that,” Unnikrishnan said.

On Tuesday, Sun Country will host a media day to show off its new headquarters at the airport.  We were told it’s when we could finally ask questions directly to the airlines’  CEO.

However, after the airline learned this story was airing Sun Country communications rescinded our invitation to tomorrow’s event. After we started asking questions, Marcia Krogseng’s received a refund for those Delta tickets.  A Sun Country supervisor also acknowledged to her that she hadn’t been properly notified.

The airline told WCCO it takes all complaints seriously and works with individual guests to resolve their concerns.

Liz Collin