A small airline’s ‘stroke of genius’ decision to carry Amazon packages possibly saved it from the disaster afflicting other passenger carriers

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Sun Country Airlines CEO Jude Bricker. Sun Country Airlines
  • Sun Country Airlines CEO Jude Bricker recently partnered with Amazon to begin cargo flying under the Amazon Air brand.
  • The partnership was announced in December, just a month before the novel coronavirus was widely known.
  • As the demand for passenger flying sank and cargo flying grew, Bricker’s decision appeared to come at a perfect time and may prove to be the airline’s saving grace.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jude Bricker took over as chief executive at Sun Country Airlines in 2017 and during his tenure, he’s overseen some monumental shifts at the airline. The past few years have seen the former full-service Minnesota leisure airline transform into a nationwide low-cost carrier, expanding as far as Hawaii while completely restructuring the customer experience.

The transition to low-cost spearheaded by the former Allegiant Air executive was intended to be the company’s way forward after being purchased by Apollo Global Management. A lesser-known decision with an unlikely ally announced in December 2019, however, ended up proving to be more impactful on Sun Country’s future as the subsequent months would see its core business decimated by the virus.

Just a few months before the airline industry collapsed, Sun Country and Amazon had entered into a partnership that would see the former fly under the Amazon Air brand, transporting packages around the country on behalf of the e-commerce giant. Amazon started its own air cargo operations in 2016 as its business expanded with the introduction of Amazon Prime.

Amazon doesn’t directly operate the blue, white, and grey freighters with “Prime” emblazoned across the side. Instead, it relies on subcontractors like Atlas Air, Southern Air, and now, Sun Country Air.

Bricker told Business Insider just how the decision is helping Sun Country, one of the smallest of America’s major airlines, survive the pandemic.


Newly transitioned low-cost carrier Sun Country Airlines announced a partnership with Amazon Air for cargo operations in December 2019, greatly expanded the cargo division of the historically passenger-focused airline.

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A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. Sun Country Airlines

Source: Sun Country Airlines


While most passenger airlines fly independent cargo in the underbelly of their aircraft, very few in the US have a dedicated cargo fleet. The practice is more common with foreign airlines as cargo flying is highly lucrative.

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Cargo loading on to a Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. Amanda Macias/Business Insider

Alaska Airlines is the only other US passenger airline in the US to operate dedicated cargo planes alongside its passenger fleet.

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An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER Bruce Bennett/Getty

The move diversified Sun Country’s business even more, with the airline also maintaining a charter division that primarily transported sports teams and casino patrons. The airline flew the US women’s national soccer team from Newark to Los Angeles after their return from the Women’s World Cup in Lyon, France to attend the ESPYs.

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A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

While Amazon Air already had an extensive fleet of wide-body jets in its line-up that consisted primarily of the Boeing 767 family…

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An Amazon Air Boeing 767-300F. Stephen Brashear / Stringer / Getty Images

It sought to expand with a smaller, narrow-body freighter, the Boeing 737-800BCF.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty

While Amazon owns the aircraft, they’re sub-leased to various contractors including cargo giant Atlas Air.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 767-300F. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Southern Air also currently operates five 737s for Amazon and Sun Country, an all-Boeing 737 operator, was later chosen by the aviation wing of the e-retailer to operate an additional 10.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Sinéad Baker/Business Insider

Source: Air Cargo News


As the passenger and cargo variants of the 737 have identical cockpit setups, Sun Country pilots would have to go through minimal additional training before flying the Amazon-branded planes.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Sinéad Baker/Business Insider

Instead of a passenger cabin, the 737 freighters would dual-level cargo holds. Here’s the main hold for larger containers.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Sinéad Baker/Business Insider

Freight is loaded through an oversized cargo door on the aircraft’s main level.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Sinéad Baker/Business Insider

It was a match made in heaven and it soon became clear that the move was going to benefit Sun Country in ways that Bricker never could’ve predicted when he inked the deal.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Industry analyst Henry Harteveldt later described the decision by Sun Country as a “stroke of genius” in a discussion with Business Insider at the onset of the pandemic’s effect on the US aviation industry.

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An Amazon Air aircraft. Mark Makela/Reuters

Sun Country only began flying for Amazon in early May with one plane as it awaits the remaining aircraft but is already anticipating cargo flying to be a large part of its business moving forward while the passenger segment recovers.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/Reuters

Source: FlightAware and Planespotters.net


“And at the end of [2019], we expected it to be about a third of what we did, quickly becoming a smaller and smaller portion of what we did as we continue to ramp [up the] passenger service segment,” Bricker explained. “Probably in July, it’s going to be a much more substantial part of our flying and we’re trying to meet the demand there with adding the aeroplanes as quickly as we can. That will support that segment of our business.”

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

As one of the smaller US airlines in the midst of a pandemic, Sun Country would have been extremely vulnerable to the sudden loss of passenger traffic had it not had the newly-expanded cargo segment to fall back on in the short-term.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Bricker admitted that passenger traffic will likely not return to 2019 levels until the end of 2021 at the earliest but believes that his airline, as a primarily domestic carrier, will be able to recover quicker than others.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Read More:

Why an airline CEO thinks Hawaii is poised for a major tourism boom after the pandemic, but his won’t be part of it


For now, all Bricker can do is await the rest of his new blue, white, and grey Boeing 737 freighters so he can launch another new chapter for Minnesota’s hometown airline.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty


The start of Sun Country’s cargo operation comes just when demand for the service is at an all-time high.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 737-800BCF. Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty

Source: Sun Country Airlines


The loss of airliners on most routes has restricted cargo availability, resulting in increased transit times and a premium on cargo flying.

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An Amazon Air Boeing 767-300F Mark Makela/Reuters

Read More:

Big airlines are flying ‘ghost planes’ stuffed with packages now that the demand for passenger flights has cratered


The big four US airlines – American, Delta, Southwest, and United- have all begun flying cargo-only flights to bring in some revenue as passenger sales have plummeted.

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Cargo loading on to an American Airlines aircraft. Tom Pennington/Getty

Read More:

Inside the massive effort by US airlines to transport medical supplies and mail on cargo-only flights using passenger jets


Some airlines, like Air Canada, have gone as far as to clear out passenger cabins to fly freight on its largest jets.

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A cargo-converted Air Canada Boeing 777-300ER. Air Canada

Read More:

Air Canada is ripping seats out of aircraft across its fleet to turn them into cargo planes. See inside the new Boeing 777 and Dash 8-400 temporary conversions.


For Sun Country, there’s no better time for it to enter the cargo realm than now.

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A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. Sun Country Airlines