Sun Country to Fly 737s to London

Sun Country

Holy head scratcher, Batman. Minneapolis-based Sun Country has decided to go intercontinental this summer with a flight from Minneapolis to London. There are so many odd things about this announcement that I’m just trying to find a good reason for this flight to exist.

Sun Country Goes to Gander

Sun Country will fly once a week on Fridays from Minneapolis to London/Stansted on a 737-800. In case you were wondering, that plane can’t make it nonstop so they’ll be putting down in Gander. I’m sure the locals will be thrilled to see some action again. The plane will then spend the day in London and will fly back on Sunday, presumably so the same crew can bring the plane back after having enough rest. The flight times are pretty rough going out but just fine coming back:

Sun Country 47 Lv Minneapolis 440p Arr Gander 1055p
Sun Country 47 Lv Gander 1155p Arr Stansted 810a (Saturday morning)

Sun Country 48 Lv Stansted 12n Arr Gander 2p
Sun Country 48 Lv Gander 3p Arr Minneapolis 455p

You can forget about getting any sleep on that flight out. On the way back, it’s not much different than what you’ll get elsewhere.

I spoke with Sun Country spokesperson Heidi Bausch and she confirmed that these flights will only serve passengers between Minneapolis and London. No local traffic will be allowed to or from Gander. (Sorry guys; you were probably getting excited.) Also, there will be no customs/immigration pre-clearance in Gander on the way home, so there is no benefit there.

So why the heck would you ever want to take this flight? If it’s cheap. That’s it. Right now, all flights are available for $936.30 roundtrip from Minneapolis. That is a couple hundred bucks or so cheaper than what I’m seeing on other airlines right now, for the most part, so maybe that’ll be the key to success.

But is this really worth running this flight? Listening to others thoughts on this, the best rationale I’ve heard is that there must be some sort of tour company relationship. Sun Country does a lot of tour business, so this could be a sweetheart deal where they get paid a lot to shuttle tour participants over.

If that’s not the case, well, I just don’t get it.

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48 comments on “Sun Country to Fly 737s to London

  1. It seems the early-morning arrival at Stansted is timed for maximum connection potential with EasyJet and Ryanair flights to continental Europe. If you live in the Upper Midwest, as about 7 million people do, where the only nonstop connections to Europe are from MSP via Delta to AMS, LHR, and CDG, the latter only seasonally, (oh yeah, and Reykjavík via Icelandair, if you want to count that), I think this new weekly SY service can find a market.

    If a traveler in Minnesota has a final destination to a rather obscure part of Europe (let’s say, Klagenfurt, Austria, but choose your own from dozens of EasyJet/Ryanair nonstops from Stansted), it now becomes a one-flight-change trip on two budget airlines, rather than the mix-and-match of changing airports in London and/or taking trains and spending more on a legacy, which it was until now. My bet is that this weekly, summer-only SY service finds a market and does well.

  2. Also, changing planes in Gander! For anyone into air travel history, there’s a nostalgic retro pull right there. One can pretend one is on a BOAC DC-7 or Pan American 707 stopping for fuel in Gander. Never mind the lack of glamour on a Sun Country 737-800!

  3. “changing planes” just above — arrgh. Of course not that. You know what I meant, a refueling stop.

  4. Unless this is a test for something bigger later on, it must be tour packages. Only those you can have a Friday departure and Sunday return and get away with a refueling stop in both directions. Business and non tour travelers want to be more flexible on which day to travel and not just be tied to a once a week in each direction.

    Should be fun for the flight crews to have a weekend in London every week, but what a waste of a plane just sitting there. Unless they charter it out to someone else for the weekend to take the Brits to/from weekly holiday trips to the Mediterranean islands.

  5. To someone living in London, US$936 sounds like a lot of money to go to Minneapolis for a flight which isn’t non-stop. There had better be a *lot* of people in Minnesota who want to come here

  6. Add me to the baffled crowd, since at $936, that’s an awfully large premium over taking a discount carrier flight to another hub airport with direct service, or do the IcelandAir thing like I did when I lived in MSP and needed to get to London. Right now, that’s showing as generally (but not always) being cheaper than the proposed Sun Country flight, and less miserable since you can at least get off the plane in Keflavik.

    1. I actually really dislike increasing use of regional jets on domestic flights because of the feeling of claustrophobia, so I find it odd to defend this point, but airlines use narrowbody flights *internationally* a fair amount already. If you look at this SY flight as two trips of 4 and 4.5 hours (with the deplaning breather in Gander), it’s really no different from (and actually better than), to use just one example, USAirways flying an A319 for the 4h 45min between Boston and Aruba.

    2. @frank: Narrowbodies across the Atlantic have been commonplace for years. Continental, I believe, has stretched the limits of 757 service from CLE and EWR to continental Europe for a long time. AA flies 7-5s between ORD and DUB, LGW, and perhaps one or two other TATL destinations. Most of US’s PHL-DUB service is on narrowbody equipment, as well.

      I would say that, within the next 10-15 years, it will become more likely than not that, when you fly between the eastern half of the US and Western Europe, you’ll be flying a narrowbody aircraft (unless 787s start dominating that market).

  7. I know that Air Canada has a seasonal flight from YYT (St. John’s, NL) to LHR using an A320 that left around midnight Newfoundland time. So, this flight is doable.

    I wonder why they picked Gander over St. John’s since St. John’s has customs and they could drop off or pick up passengers at YYT?

  8. It has been suggested around MSP that Sun Country is doing this to build ETOPS experience (they just got ETOPS certified). Possible reasons that have been floated are an ETOPS track record for chasing certain military charter business oportunities, as well as other tour operations.

    1. I think that would’ve been the case a few years ago, but nowadays a carrier can get ETOPS 180 certification from the FAA without any experience flying a certain aircraft/engine combination. So I don’t think that’s a huge factor here, but thats just my guess.

  9. As a MSP flyer I have flown plenty on SunCountry (all leisure) and do like their product. Their crew has always been a nice change from the surly disenchanted types you find on the legacy carriers. You also can upgrade to F for a reasonable fee, unlike legacies.

    I’ve also flown MSP to LHR several time on Iceland Air w/stop at KEF. This SY service has little difference unless you spend a weekend layover in Iceland (which I would highly reccomend BTW) Also, Iceland Air does that route on 757 narrowbodies, and the comfort factor between a 737 and 757 isn’t any different.

    Not so sure this is charter business service. My guess is they have idle equipment and are testing the demand for this route. There are plenty of locals that have abandoned Delta after NW was absorbed (myself included to a degree). Just not so sure there are enough people in MN to make this profitable. If the price is right this would be perfect service for student backpackers or leisure vacations. I have no idea the long term thoughts but years ago SY had DC-10’s in their fleet. Maybe a they have plans for a future with bigger aircraft.

  10. Hey, these bucket run operators do pretty well out of MSP unless Icelandair puts
    a Lucky Fare back together out of MSP this summer; SunCountry will fill those 37’s to the gills

  11. Surely, Garrison Keillor has some material for his radio show. About the time one of those Norwegian bachelor farmers took the plunge and flew to Europe, winter of course, not non-stop, didn’t want to make too much fuss, and being from Minnesota, dreaming of all that sun in Gander, up there off the left in Greenland and Iceland, and then sunny, ‘ole London. On something called “Sun” Country no less!

    Lake Wobegon will never be same!

  12. I used to work for SY and have been in the travel biz in MSP for more than 25 years……this makes little to no sense to me. I wrote just that in my article this morning They are grasping and trying to find ways to make $, which they haven’t done in recent years. This one is crazy tho. Who would take this when u can fly DL nonstop on a wide-body to LHR? Or to AMS? Or CDG? No thanks. Very odd indeed.

    1. Who would want to do this? Well, let’s break down the number of seats available: 162. You think SY won’t be able to find 162 x 2 … 324 people per week for the summer only who might see the benefit of saving a few to several hundred dollars because their final destination isn’t London (or Minneapolis) and could care less about the size or width of the plane? College students headed to the middle of Europe for a few or more weeks probably aren’t parsing the width of the plane, the stop in Gander, or the length of the trip. They just want to save some money, and realizing they can hook up with EasyJet at Stansted makes this a no-brainer for a certain segment of the market with a final dest beyond London.

      Likewise, in the other direction— Sun Country shares MSP’s smaller terminal with Southwest, so a British leisure traveler on a tight budget headed to the middle of the USA can do the whole thing without the legacies. In general, Delta isn’t going to make the trip for anywhere near $936 this summer (I’m sure someone can find an exception, but it’s just that).

      SY only has a max of 324 seats to fill per week, after all.

  13. Why the 1 hour wait? Is that how only it takes to refuel an aircraft? Surely there is alot of time built in.

  14. thanks, Brett, for covering this. i’ve been waiting to read your opinion since i first read the announcement elsewhere. i was hoping for some nerdy facts, too, like is anyone else flying transatlantic from Stansted? does anyone else fly 737s transatlantic? it’s kooky for sure, but will be interesting to observe.

    1. The history of transatlantic flights from Stansted is quite interesting in itself, most notably the sags of the now-defunct MAXjet and Eos Airlines. (In that sense, this “kooky” SY move fits into the quirky pattern.) Until SY’s announcement, though, there were no current transatlantic flights. Long-haul, though, yes: Air Asia X does a nonstop to Kuala Lumpur as of last year, also there are some flights to North Africa. (I hope Brett will correct me if I’m wrong about any of that, but I think it’s up to date. Oh, and of course this doesn’t count cargo, which is huge to the States from Stansted: Fed Ex, etc etc.)

      However, you can fly nonstop from Stansted to places even a European geography nerd like me have never heard of: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Monastir, Memmingen, Pau . . . It’s pretty incredible.

    2. Geeky facts? Look no further! There have been several attempts at Stansted transatlantic service in the past, but none have stuck. I believe Continental tried it from Newark before 9/11 but then swiftly killed it. MAXjet and eos both tried the premium cabin-only service over the Atlantic, and American moved in with a flight of its own to counter them. But MAXjet and eos both tanked and American pulled out.

      As for 737s, I believe Privatair is still flying 737s over the ocean in an all business class configuration for Lufthansa, Swiss, and KLM. They also fly Airbus narrowbodies, so I’m not sure if any 737s are on that route now. As far as coach flying goes, I don’t believe there are any routes now. You used to be able to fly a 737-400 from Halifax to Iceland and then on to Europe, but they’re all 757s now.

      As was mentioned above, Air Canada sometimes flies an Airbus narrowbody over to London from the east coast of Canada.

      1. The last time I looked, PrivatAir still flew A319s in C business config for certain transatlantic Lufthansa and Swiss (er, SWISS) flights. (DUS-EWR & ZUR-EWR?)

        1. Relatively few realize just how much closer Gander and St. Johns are to Europe than even Boston, let along New York or Chicago. Boston is nearly 1000 miles further from London than is Gander or St. Johns. Gander Stanstead is 2371 miles, about the same as a US domestic Transcon.

          While it is in theory possible to fly a 737-800 non-stop MSP-STN, the payload hit is huge. You might be able to carry 40 passengers.

          I believe that is roughly what Privatair does with a BBJ on the Atlantic, and the BBJ probably has AUX tanks (pretty common on BBJ’s). The BBJ is basicaly a 737-700 with a number of 737-800 parts to it can have a higher MGTOW than the -700 to carry more fuel.

          For the St. Johns -London Service, AC actually uses an A319, which is a slightly shrunken A320, with the same fuel carriage (can you say 747SP?). The A319 has longer ‘legs’ than the A320.

          As for pricing, as others have pointed out, Icelandic tends to be less expensive, and that’s generally a daily service from most of the US cities Icelandic serves. I have no doubt SY will adjust the price based upon actualy demand. I cannot see paying Sun Country more than I would pay Icelandic.

          1. I was surprised when I was in St. John’s and that I was closer to Europe than the west coast. In fact, IIRC Moscow and San Francisco are about the same distance from St. John’s.

            As for Gander, I don’t remember anything nice about that town. The only restaurant that I could find that was open on July 1 was a McDonalds. But, then again it would be like trying to find something open on July 4th here.

  15. I did Mexicana MEX-EZE (Buenos Aires,) flight a few years back on a 757 with a fuel stop in Panama City. The 767 normally used on that route was down for servicing or upgrades.

    Forunately my partner and I had row to ourselves, making it pleasant enough, but I can’t imagine the bathroom line on a 737 when folks take 5-10 minutes to freshen up after an overnight flight…

    If I recall correctly the late night PTY fuel stop was about 34-45 minutes.

    1. Reminds me of a time when I was connecting from ACY to what should have been a nonstop PHL-SFO US 757 flight when a 737-300 was substituted. The gate agents at PHL insisted that the plane was not going to make a fuel stop enroute, but immediately upon boarding, the flight deck informed us that we would be refueling. This was when US still had a fairly substantial presence at MCI, so that’s where we stopped at a a remote part of the apron for about 40 min. It reinforced my thought that if I was going to fly ACY-SFO, I might as well connect through PIT (back when you could) since US regularly flew 737s from PIT to the west coast.

  16. It’s interesting that Cranky and this site have been completely silent on the 16 hour Virgin American debacle after ranting about how the new 3 hour limit is horrible.

    1. I’m not sure why that’s “interesting” – I like to take my time on stories instead of rushing into them. That will run tomorrow and I’m sure it will get a lively discussion going. But in case you were curious, the 3 hour rule had nothing to do with anything here. Thirty five minutes after that plane landed, stairs were rolled up and people were allowed to get off.

  17. Let’s hope it is a fuel stop AND a lav tank unload in Gander. Reports of the ETOPS 757 TATL operations include plenty of issues with lav tanks overflowing, 737-8 should have the same issues.

  18. Excuse me, but does anyone, SY included, really think that DL and Icelandair and KL are really going to sit around and watch SY siphon away biz from them when the biz sucks to begin with? Not gonna happen. The dollar is in the toilet vs the Euro making Europe prohibitively expensive to begin with, so transatlantic biz will be down year over year. That’s why many carriers are flying smaller aircraft. CO flies 757s across the pond, DL has downsized from an A330 to a 767. If SY is willing to sit an aircraft from Saturday to Sunday, a weekend!, when it could be flying to California, Florida, almost anywhere else, tells me that they don’t have a clue what to do with it. Bad move and no, there aren’t enough people willing to sit in a middle seat for more than 10 hours on a 737 just to get to Stansted. The connection thing is ridiculous too. Ain’t happening.

    1. You make some good points, but YES, some people will sit in a middle seat for 9 hours on a 737. We here are all so attuned to the nuances of aircraft types and seat assignments, but lots of people just go on expedia and, boom, pick the cheapest flight to their destination without any other consideration. And no, I’m not sure DL will match fares with SY on this route. Maybe they will, we’ll see. I do agree that it’s an odd for SY to make, and the Gander stop is positively 1954 and weird, but it does have some potential. I don’t buy that most people care if it’s a 737 or not, or even know the difference.

      1. Maybe somebody should start IL-62 “heritage” flights with stops at Gander AND Shannon (or Gander and Luxembourg, depending on the destination).

  19. These are the kinds of stories I love, Cranky. Keep ’em coming, when you can. Not sure exactly why (perhaps due to their historical significance and heavy traffic), but TATL routes are the most interesting of all, IMHO.

  20. Gander and St. John’s both have Canada Customs. What neither has is U.S. Customs.

    Gander gets a fair bit of traffic like this still today, but you mostly don’t hear about it because its diversions, charters, military or private.

    1. reminds me of years ago when I worked at TWA, during bad winter weather we would have more returning transatlantic jets on the ground in Gander or Goose Bay refueling and/or waiting for JFK to open then anywhere else…

    2. Gander is preferable for high Takeoff weights. The runway at St. Johns is only about 8500 feet, and that isn’t enough for most long haul aircraft operating at MGTOW. Gander’s runway is 10,200 feet, and that is long enough for most long haul aircraft operating at MGTOW.

      Depending upon the engines SY has on the 737-800, St. Johns runway may not be long eough. An MGTOW departure with B24 engines on a standard day requires a 9000 (8500 with winglets) foot runway according to the Boeing Charts. B26 engines reduce that requirement about 1000 feet.

  21. We are family of seven who has been in Europe for the past year. This is an excellent deal to get us home to Minnesota. We will save at least $1K. The flight lass less air time than most other options, and is likely more reliable than going through O’Hare. Does anyone know if they will allow us to get up and walk around at the stopover? We have been very happy with Sun Country in the past.

      1. We are firming up our flight plans (haven’t made the reservation yet), and I called to ask if we can walk around in Gander and they read this to me (not direct quote but as close as I can remember): “Time permitting, passengers will be allowed to walk around, shop, etc… in a secured area in Gander, but deboarding is not mandatory during refueling.”

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