Sun Country Airlines has laid off most of its employees. The layoffs were the latest in a series of moves the company made to limit its losses and to prepare itself for a buyout. The layoffs bring to almost 6,000 the total number of job cuts in the state's airline industry since Sept. 11.
Sun Country is telling nearly all of its remaining 900 employees that they no longer have a job with the airline. The airline will retain six employees, including CEO David Banmiller, to manage the company's next moves.
Spokesperson Tammy Lee says layoffs were the only way the airline could stem its losses, and save itself from total extinction.
"We're not done yet," she insisted. "We're still making every effort to continue flying. While this is a very difficult decision, it was absolutely essential to limit the company's liability and to live another day."
Lee is among those who will lose their jobs, but the company intends to rehire her and at least 40 other employees as consultants to manage the layoffs and operate charter flights.
The airline may hire back more employees if they operate more charter flights.
As recently as a year ago, Sun Country employed 1,500 people. Since Sept. 11, the airline cut 350 workers as a dropoff in air travel forced it to discontinue some scheduled routes.
Last Thursday, the airline announced it would leave the scheduled business altogether.
News that the airline would lay off its remaining employees was a blow to the workers and their unions.
Anne Meyer, vice president of the Teamsters Local 2000, which represents 120 flight attendants at Sun Country, says the layoffs could have been avoided had Sun Country managed its growth better.
"Sometimes people's eyes are a lot bigger. And looking like a kid in a candy store, I guess, is the best way to look at it. And some people just go a little bit too far too fast. Especially in this industry, you have to start out small and be very careful how you proceed forward. I think you look back on it now, if they had just done the right things from the beginning, I think we would be in a much different situation than we are today," according to Meyer.
Sun Country's demise has left the Humphrey Terminal of the Twin Cities International Airport a glittering monument to broken dreams. The $73 million terminal opened in May. Other charter carriers, ATA and Champion, used the terminal, but Sun Country was its anchor tenant.
On Friday, the terminal was virtually empty. The floors glimmered with a fresh coat of wax. The Sun Country ticket counters were vacant. Beneath the counters, brand new computers lay dormant.
A few Sun Country employees were here to pick up their final checks. Friday was payday.
Maurice Duke lost his job as a ticketing agent last Thursday. He worked at Sun Country for a year and a half. "I liked meeting people and everything. But it sort of came as a shock to everyone when they're doing so good. (The company) bought a brand new computer system. And then they get a notice they're in trouble. So what do you do?" he said.
A few passengers for Sun Country's final flights milled around, waiting to depart.
Monroe Madson and his grandson, John, drove down from Bismarck to fly Sun Country to Orlando. The air fare was cheaper than if they'd flown from North Dakota, but word of Sun Country's impending demise had Madson wondering if he got a bargain.
"I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to go. Now that we can go, I'm worried about getting back. They say they'll have some other airline bring us back, or themselves. They don't know," he said.
Madson and his grandson looked out the window and watched workers continue construction on the terminal's new parking ramp.
Vernell Dickerson was heading to work at her job at the terminal's only restaurant. "I used to work five days a week, maybe six, seven. I'm late in my rent. I don't know. It's really bad. If Sun Country really does go, what's going to happen to this new terminal?" Dickerson said.
Sun Country will operate five charter flights on Saturday. The airline plans to decide next week how many more charter flights it will run. Spokesperson Tammy Lee says the airline is in discussions with several investors about a possible buyout.