Still Recovering from the Setbacks

ALPA MECs Remember

By Sun Country ALPA Master Executive Council

In the days leading up to the 9/11 attacks, hopes were running high at Sun Country. The airline, which started in 1983 flying a single 727 as a largely seasonal charter operator, was steadily transitioning into a year-round scheduled carrier. It had recently started operating Boeing’s 737NG as a planned replacement for its aging and fuel-thirsty 727s and DC-10s.

Then, as for so many operators, everything changed in an instant. Airplanes were parked, and virtually all the airline’s approximately 250 pilots and flight engineers were furloughed on December 7, 2001. The airline suspended operations, maintaining only enough staff to keep its certificate alive. Pilots were devastated by the attacks on their industry and their nation and by the potentially irreparable damage to their beloved profession and livelihood.

An investor group stepped up to help, and in January 2002 Sun Country had just a handful of pilots flying a single 737 in charter service. That investor group saved the airline, something the pilots who went through that turbulent time have always appreciated and never forgotten.

Read more 9/11 memories from ALPA pilots and join us for our 20th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony, in person or webcast.

With a seniority list containing furloughed DC-10 and 727 pilots, management looked to cut training costs by only rehiring those who were already qualified on the 737, then a junior airplane. Sun Country’s pilots, who had joined ALPA in 1996, stood united in opposition to this approach, and eventually, management relented and began bringing pilots back in seniority order and training them as needed.

It was six years before all the pilots who had been furloughed after 9/11, and who wanted to return, got back on property. Pilots who finally returned to the flight deck were then greeted by another setback: the 2008 global financial crisis and the criminal indictment of Tom Petters—who acquired the company in 2006—on charges of running a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Sun Country pilots saw their pay cut in half, and the airline found itself within minutes of going out of business, saved only by an eleventh-hour bankruptcy filing.

The airline slowly clawed its way back and today operates nearly 50 737NGs, had a successful IPO in early 2021, and is now one of the most profitable airlines in the industry.

Despite this upswing, our pilot group still feels the effects of 9/11 on our profession. Our pay is among the lowest in the industry, and our contract, written for a more seasonally focused airline, is outdated. September 11 ultimately left this pilot group several bargaining cycles behind our peers, and we need to seek significant improvements.

We will never forget our brothers and sisters and the lives of so many others that were lost to the deadly attacks of that horrific day. One day changed the course of the future for so many people in so many ways, including the pilots at Sun Country Airlines.

Originally published September 2021

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)