JetBlue Hit With DOJ Antitrust Lawsuit Over Spirit Airlines Merger

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UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include statements from JetBlue and Spirit Airlines.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an antitrust lawsuit against JetBlue on Tuesday to prevent a planned merger with Spirit Airlines, Axios reported.

The $3.8 billion merger deal, which would make JetBlue the nation’s fifth-largest airline, was approved in October after a previous merger between Spirit and Frontier Airlines fell through, according to Axios. The DOJ is challenging the deal because it would “eliminate the unique competition that Spirit provides,” the complaint explains.

“Spirit’s ultra-low-cost business model has increased competition and brought low fares to hundreds of routes across the country, making it possible for more Americans—particularly the most cost conscious—to travel,” the complaint states, noting the merger could mean higher prices because of JetBlue’s plan to remove 10 to 15% of all seats from every Spirit plane.

“Fewer seats means fewer passengers—and higher prices for those who can still afford to make their way onto the plane,” it continues. “This is unlikely to stop business travelers flying on corporate expense accounts, but would put travel out of reach for many cost-conscious travelers.” (RELATED: Man Sues JetBlue Over ‘Lets Go Brandon’ Mask)
Attorney General Merrick Garland said that eliminating the competition between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines “would eliminate Spirit’s unique and disruptive role in the industry and significantly harm consumers” during a Tuesday news conference about the lawsuit.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 10: A JetBlue jet moves along the runway at Laguardia AIrport on November 10, 2022 in the Queens borough of New York City. The airline industry has rebounded this year and is looking forward to a busy holiday season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in an interview on Monday it was his “expectation” that the DOJ would sue this week, the Wall Street Journal reported. “My sense is they came to the table with their minds made up,” he said.

In 2021, the DOJ sued JetBlue and American Airlines after the companies announced a planned consolidation of operations in Boston and New York. A federal court finished hearing arguments for the case in November.

In a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation, Hayes said the DOJ “got it wrong.”

“We believe the DOJ has got it wrong on the law here and misses the point that this merger will create a national low-fare, high-quality competitor to the Big Four carriers which – thanks to their own DOJ-approved mergers – control about 80% of the U.S. market,” he said. “There is too much at stake for the DOJ to prevent us from bringing the JetBlue difference to more customers in more markets.”

Spirit CEO Ted Christie said in a statement that the companies will “vigorously defend” their position that a “combined JetBlue and Spirit will be a game changer for customers nationwide.”

The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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