Sun Country: The Twin Cities’ Airline
When you go to book air travel, chances are you think of the “big names”: Southwest Airlines, Delta, or perhaps United. In fact, previously Minnesota-based airlines like Northwest, North Central, and Republic have all merged into Delta.
Enter Sun Country, the only remaining Minnesota-based airline celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Not only has this airline been able to evolve and succeed over the past four decades, they also employ a significant number of LGBTQ people and stand by their inclusive policies.
“I think we’ve tried to create an environment at all levels of the organization where everybody knows that our doors are open, everyone is welcome here,” says Brian Davis, the Chief Marketing Officer at Sun Country. “Your identity is welcome here, bring your full self to work.”
Where it Began: With The Crew
Sun Country started from the crew’s point of view. Crew members who originally worked for Braniff airlines got together after Braniff went bankrupt. They believed there was a need and an opportunity for an airline based in Minnesota to focus on serving that community.
“They were, I guess we’ll say, scrappy beginnings,” says Davis. “I’d say that with a lot of pride.”
At first, crew members didn’t even have their own uniforms; they wore their previous airline uniforms with the logos covered up. They launched Sun Country with a single charter from Sioux Falls to Las Vegas.
Of course, Sun Country’s offerings have evolved in the last 40 years and now include casino junkets, US military flights, cargo flights, and more.
“I think the common thread to what has made Sun Country so strong and the reason why we’re still here today is our willingness to be nimble and to change and to morph as the needs change,” says Davis. He’s right.
Current Flights and Changing Needs
Sun Country has a unique understanding of their customers’ needs. For example, they know many Twin Cities residents want to fly somewhere warm in the cold winter months from January to March.
In the warmer months, the focus shifts from taking Minnesota residents south to becoming a more East-West network. Sun Country begins to offer more San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York flights. Omaha will be added as a destination this year.
“There’s lots of families who have a cousin in Omaha who’s going to fly up here and join them at their lake house or their cabin for the weekend,” says Davis. “So, the route map is constantly changing and that’s by design.”
With half a dozen other previously Minnesota-based airlines getting absorbed into the bigger name companies, Sun Country stands out as remaining proud of its roots.
“The overwhelming majority of our employees live in the Twin Cities and the same thing is true of our customers,” says Davis. “So, maybe more than any other airline, we mean it when we say we are your neighbors, we are your friends.”
It’s a responsibility Sun Country takes seriously. In the beginning, they used the tagline, “Minnesota’s Hometown Airline.” While they loved the line, they felt they needed to show the community they meant it, rather than just saying they did.
So they demonstrated their Minnesota pride in a few subtle ways. The first was to add thin blue lines to the back half of their livery. These lines are actually a map of Lake Minnetonka.
Most people wouldn’t recognize it as such, but to Sun Country, it was a way to show their employees their commitment to their hometown.
They also remain grateful to their local partners. “Whether it’s serving Fulton Beer, serving Prairie gin and vodka, Dot’s Pretzels, Wiley Wallaby licorice, Caribou Coffee,” says Davis, “It’s a way of showing the community that we’re proud of our hometown, we’re proud of all that it has to offer.”
Plus, for their 40th anniversary, they’re offering free Minnesota-based movies and television you can watch in-flight. Things like Grumpy Old Men I and II, all three Mighty Ducks films, The Miracle on Ice, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show are all available as a way for Sun Country to show their gratitude for their Minnesota history.
“Airlines were one of the first to recognize partnerships before marriage was even legal, and to extend the travel benefits to significant others of our LGBTQ employee groups,” says Davis.
In air travel, it can be difficult to create an inclusive and welcoming culture. Not all the employees get to work in the same building, for example, and enjoy coffee chats or walk breaks.
As an openly gay man himself with a husband and kids, Davis is proud of Sun Country especially. “Building that culture takes work and takes effort but has been a steady commitment, I would say, to create an environment where everyone’s welcome.”
A Bright Future
Sun Country is not only opening a new Omaha route, but is in fact adding 15 more routes in the coming summer.
Whether you’d like to get away to a tropical climate in winter, have a cousin visit in summer, or pop over to the West Coast for a few days, Sun Country has you covered.
Sun Country also still provides a free drink to passengers – something most airlines stopped doing a decade or more ago – and boasts traditional legacy airline seats. You fly in comfort and affordability.
“Among airlines, we are the Swiss Army knife,” says Davis. “Our ability to be whatever our customer needs us to be is how we stand out among US carriers. It’s what has allowed us to grow and thrive.”