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Sun Country marks its 40th anniversary

Sun Country Airlines on Friday (Jan. 20) celebrated its 40th anniversary with a Las Vegas flight gate event at MSP Airport's Terminal 2, giving a nod to its first-ever flight in 1983 originating from Sioux Falls, S.D., and landing in Las Vegas.

The Twin Cities-based airline was created in 1982 by several former employees from Braniff Airlines, which had declared bankruptcy that year following the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978.

Sun Country began with just one airplane and a couple dozen employees who did a little bit of everything to keep the airline running. Its founding CEO, Jim Olsen, was also a pilot and flight attendants cleaned the cabin after flights and prepared meals and snacks.

A Facebook post commemorating the anniversary elicited hundreds of comments from former employees and travelers, including this one: "I've never had a bad flight with Sun Country Airlines! The flight attendants are top notch! Thank you for everything you do!"

What began as a charter airline to ferry travelers from the Upper Midwest to sunny southern destinations has evolved considerably since those early days.

Today, Sun Country operates 98 routes serving 78 airports across the United States, Mexico, Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean using a business model it describes as a "new breed of hybrid low-cost air carrier."

It still operates a charter service (flying sports teams like Minnesota United) in addition to two other business segments: cargo (flying packages around the country for Amazon) and traditional passenger service.

That diversification served it well during the air traffic slowdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Sun Country has repeatedly added more routes in recent years with 15 new spring and summer destinations in 2023.

Sun Country's passenger market share at MSP grew to nearly 11 percent in 2022 (10.77 percent) – up from 7.5 percent in 2019. Behind Delta Air Lines, Sun Country is the second largest carrier at MSP.

MSP currently has 75 competitive flights where more than one airline serves a destination (including several flights by Sun Country), which helps keep fares lower for travelers.

Watch this 40-year-old news clip announcing the new airline.