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Sun Country Strands 250 Passengers in Mexico with No Flight Home

The recent attention focused on a 60 Minutes report covering Allegiant’s maintenance problems may have overshadowed another airline horror story: Sun Country canceled two return flights from Minneapolis-St Paul—one to Mazatlan, the other to Los Cabos—this weekend, leaving somewhere around 250 passengers with return reservations stranded in Mexico.

The canceled flights were the last of the season, so Sun Country had no future flights on which to book the passengers. Sun Country didn’t have available planes to send a substitute flight, it claimed, and made no attempt to arrange a charter flight from some other airline.

The cancellations were apparently legitimate, due to bad weather in the Minneapolis area, but the airline completely failed to honor its commitment to get its travelers back home. All the airline offered was a refund of half the round-trip fare. The amount of refund, probably $150 to $200, would have been woefully inadequate to cover a return flight on another airline, and many affected travelers probably had to stay an extra night or two in Mexico.

Beyond what it says about Sun Country’s customer service, this incident highlights a huge hole in consumer protection that needs to be filled. Airline deregulation essentially deprives passengers of the ability to assert basic contract law, and even common-law rights to sue airlines for contract violation and damages.

Nothing can undo the damage due to Sun Country’s stranded travelers, but long overdue legislation to give air travelers their full legal rights would help thousands of future travelers caught in similar situations.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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