Shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday, Sun Country Airlines’ inaugural flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota landed at Wilmington International Airport. The nearly full Boeing 737-800 taxied through a ceremonial water salute on its way to the gate.
The fanfare continued as passengers exited the plane, when they were greeted by Sun Country’s mascot, Sunny, as well as ILM officials handing out branded koozies.
Wendy Burt, Sun Country’s senior director of communications, was one of the passengers deboarding the inaugural flight. Burt shared brief remarks to a crowd of ILM officials and nearly 200 people gathered at the Sun Country gate to board the inaugural flight from Wilmington to Minneapolis. These outbound passengers were treated to Mall of America coupons, reusable shopping bags and blueberry cookies from Minnesota’s Kakookies as they waited to board the plane.
Burt identified Wilmington’s coastal amenities as a motivation for Sun Country to add ILM to its network of nearly 100 airports. These kinds of destinations tend to be popular with the airline’s Midwestern customer base, she noted.
“We are always looking to add new destinations, and beaches are very popular with our customers,” Burt said. “And the Southern charm of the Carolinas was also appealing.”
Sun Country, a Minnesota-based low-cost carrier, announced the new service connecting the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) to ILM in November. The airline will offer flights to and from Minneapolis on Thursdays and Sundays through Labor Day. Burt said she anticipates the route will remain a seasonal offering, as that’s when the airline sees a peak in demand for travel. Additionally, many of Sun Country’s 118 routes operate seasonally.
Sun Country’s announcement last fall
came amidst a flurry of new leisure-oriented service at Wilmington’s airport, a trend that began last June when fellow low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines launched its inaugural nonstop service to Baltimore; New Haven, Connecticut; and Orlando, Florida.
Today, Wilmington International Airport offers 17 nonstop destinations, and Thursday’s maiden flights to and from Minneapolis are among five inaugural routes celebrated by airport officials recently. Earlier this week, Delta Air Lines launched its first nonstop route to Boston, and later in June, Avelo will fly its first planes to Florida’s Tampa and West Palm Beach
as well as to Wilmington, Delaware
Airport officials are working to build on the momentum of new service, according to airport director Jeff Bourk; he cited upcoming meetings with several airlines this month to pitch new nonstop service out of Wilmington.
“We’re always meeting with airlines, talking to them about this market and trying to help improve their business case for growing service here in Wilmington,” Bourk said.
Among other evidence, ILM uses cell phone data about area travel patterns to bolster their case to airlines for expanded service. The data often shows unmet potential based on the number of locals traveling to nearby Raleigh-Durham International Airport or Myrtle Beach International Airport for nonstop flights not currently offered from Wilmington. Bourk listed Denver, Colorado; Nashville, Tennessee; and Northeastern destinations like Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Maine, as untapped markets for new nonstop service. The airport’s data also indicates demand for flights to more Florida markets beyond the airport’s current flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, West Palm Beach, and Tampa.
Echoing Burt’s remarks, Bourk said the area’s leisure opportunities strengthen the airport’s pitch to airlines, as does its healthy business climate.
“The community is really the main business case for the airlines to come. Having the downtown area, the island beaches, a strong business market – all those things add up to help us be able to attract airlines here,” Bourk said. “But they have to know about it, and we have to get out there and communicate and let them know that we’re here.”