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A Minnesota Air Battle Begins
By Mark Zdechlik
June 1, 1999
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For 16 years, Sun County Airlines has been flying in and out of the Twin Cities as a charter airline. Sun Country is now beginning scheduled service with flights to 16 destinations, 11 of them non-stops from the Twin Cities. Market watchers say travelers will find bargains galore as Northwest responds to its new competition.

NORTHWEST AIRLINES HAS ALREADY BEGUN MATCHING Sun Country Airline's fares and promotions. But Sun Country spokeswoman, Lori Barginni says she's confident there's room in the Twin Cities for two airlines. And she says, so far, Sun Country's bookings are strong. "What typically happens when a low-fare carrier comes into a market, the market grows," she says. "You're not necessarily taking away, you are expanding the market. So we're looking at it as we are the difference between people staying home or not going."

Sun Country will offer daily service to Boston, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and seven other major cities; and more-limited service to other destinations. As Sun Country battles Northwest for customers, the editor of based Best Fares magazine, Tom Parsons, says ticket buyers will have loads of great deals to choose from. Take Minneapolis to Orlando which has been less than $100 dollars round trip. "Northwest is going to do everything they can to run every competitor out of that city," says Parson. "You better believe they're going to fight Sun Country dollar for dollar. As long as you keep watching your local Sunday newspaper, you may actually get some real good affordable trips, especially for the kick-off of Summer 1999."

Northwest says it will compete aggressively but fairly with Sun Country. What's unclear is how federal officials, who recently brought suit against American Airlines for alleged anti-competitive practices at its hub, will define "fair" competition as Northwest protects its market from Sun Country.

Sources have told Minnesota Public Radio, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Justice Department, with help from the Minnesota Attorney General's Office, are closely watching Northwest's response to Sun County's new schedule.

Sun Country is getting a make over as it moves to scheduled service. The Metropolitan Airports Commission is pumping $500 000 into short-term improvements at the Humphrey charter terminal. Just days before the scheduled service launch, painters plastered worn walls inside the charter terminal, as passengers passed through a nearby security check point.

Airport spokeswoman Wendy Burt says the paint job is just one of several improvements intended to make the Humphrey terminal a nicer place until a new facility is ready for business. Construction of the new terminal will begin in the few months, with completion expected in two years.

Although much smaller than Northwest Airlines, the owners of Sun Country Airlines, the LaMaccia family, have considerable assets; among them is a Milwaukee-based travel business with more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Still, in airline industry battles, "David" seldom wins out over "Goliath." But Best-Fares editor, Tom Parsons says it's too early to predict Sun Country's demise.

Take for example Pro Air. Two year ago, it took on Northwest in Detroit as a start up with two 737s flying to four cities. Not only has Pro Air survived, it now has four planes and routes to eight cities. Parsons says Sun Country has the advantage of already having strong name recognition.