Sun Country: A lesson in reading the fine print

Lines moved briskly at MSP International on Monday morning.
Despite a backlog of rescheduled passengers rescheduled as a result of the storm, lines moved briskly at MSP International on Monday morning, April 16, 2018.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

Dear reader,

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip.

Only in this case, it wasn't Gilligan, the professor, the Howells, et. al., who were marooned. It was hundreds of tourists that Sun Country Airlines, under new ownership, stranded in Mexico. The weekend snowstorm forced cancellations of the carrier's last seasonal service to Mazatlan and Los Cabos. The company issued refunds that likely fell far short of the amount required to book a last-minute flight home on another airline.

When stuff like this happens, the first thing to check is the carrier's contract of carriage. That is typically a tome of legalese spelling out what carriers will do for you, and what they can do to you — like stranding you in Mexico even after you've paid for a round-trip ticket.

In the case of Sun Country, they don't bury the fact that your ticket may become meaningless. The first sentence of the second paragraph is blunt, to the point, and not what you might expect:

"Purchase of a ticket does not guarantee transportation."

Frontier Airlines' contract of carriage has the same phrase, only it's buried on page 19 of 26.

But not all airlines reserve the right to take your money and leave you stranded.

Delta Air Lines, for example, the dominant carrier in Minnesota says this in its contract of carriage:

"Delta will use its best efforts to carry the passenger and baggage with reasonable dispatch. Times shown in timetables or elsewhere are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. Delta may without notice substitute alternate carriers or aircraft and may alter or omit stopping places shown on the ticket in case of necessity. Schedules are subject to change without notice. Delta is not responsible or liable for making connections, or for failing to operate any flight according to schedule, or for changing the schedule or any flight."

So, yes, Sun Country apparently can strand paying passengers whenever it wants. It remains to be seen whether any lawyer would be willing to take on a lawsuit seeking damages, given that Sun County unequivocally reserves the right to do so.

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