Future Of Sun Country Airlines

Mon Apr 22, 2002 10:38 am

I found an interesting article on Sun Country Airlines that no one has posted yet. Apparently, they are using Laughlin as a hub. That seems like a pretty risky thing to do, but since Don Laughlin has agreed to buy 100 seats of EVERY flight, it's a pretty sweet deal! What do you guys think about the future of Sun Country?

Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

AIRLINE REBOUND: Sun Country betting on Laughlin
Community's founder to buy seats to help carrier recover


MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Sun Country Airlines is staking its rebound in large part on a Minnesota native who built a city in a desert.

Don Laughlin has agreed to buy 100 of 165 seats on every plane Sun Country flies from the Twin Cities to the small town 90 miles south of Las Vegas that bears his name.

As a result, the town has become Sun Country's top destination as it rebuilds scheduled service after financial difficulties forced it to close in December and begin a reorganization in bankruptcy court.

The airline expects to emerge from the bankruptcy proceedings this week. Under the restructuring, investors led by Burnsville attorney Robert Daly will buy the Sun Country name and selected assets now owned by U.S. Bancorp.

While he won't have a stake in the airline, Laughlin will play a key role in its future.

Laughlin resells to travelers the Sun Country seats he buys. They become part of the package that includes a stay at one of his hotels in his town, including his Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino. Since Laughlin started the hotel in 1966, the unincorporated town has grown to 8,000 people and 11 casino-hotels.

The arrangement with Sun Country began earlier this year and the town has found gamblers who fly in and spend $100 to $300 daily in the casinos. The typical Laughlin visitor, often a retiree arriving by bus, spends just $30 a day.

That means Don's Laughlin Riverside Resort can offer a three-day air and hotel package from the Twin Cities for $199, an amount that many hotels in Las Vegas charge for just one night's stay.

Bonnie Meyer, a 49-year-old real estate agent from Minnetonka, is an ideal visitor. She and seven friends heard about the casino deal and were attracted to the town's golf courses. "It's a good, cheap trip," Meyer said after getting off the Sun Country flight in Laughlin last week.

"You can't beat the value here," says Kerry Louks of Duluth, who was on his third trip to Laughlin with his wife, Joyce. "We'd been to Las Vegas several times, and we just like it here a little more. We like the laid-back pace."

Flying to Laughlin makes sense for Sun Country. The carrier used to serve the city when it was a strictly a charter carrier. Now, it's running 15 flights a week to Laughlin from several cities and hopes to build that to 100 during peak times.

"We had a taste of this before and we liked the taste," said Duane Lafleur, the liaison between the airline and Laughlin casinos, who worked for Don Laughlin before coming to the airline. "We knew about their financial troubles, but it seemed like every airline was in trouble at that time, so we weren't scared."

Laughlin's casinos generally sell out on weekends, but they're less busy during the week and in summer. With Sun Country passengers, they aim to fill some of those empty rooms and perhaps displace some of its lowest-margin gamblers, which would allow hotel rates to increase.

"They have to be careful because if the air service goes away, they'll have to court those (low-margin) people again," said John Bowen, a gambling marketing professor at UNLV.

"They should build up the service slowly, but every gaming market in the country would like to have what they're doing," he said.

Take Care,
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Joined: Mon Mar 12, 2001 3:19 pm

RE: Future Of Sun Country Airlines

Mon Apr 22, 2002 10:59 am

I had no idea that Laughlin was from Minnesota. Anyways, this would be really neat if it works. MSP really needs another airline in some capacity to compete with NW.
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