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Justice Department sues to block JetBlue’s acquisition of Spirit Airlines


A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320, left, passes a Spirit Airways Airbus A320 because it taxis on the runway, Thursday, July 7, 2022, on the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Worldwide Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Wilfredo Lee | AP

The Justice Division on Tuesday sued to dam JetBlue Airways‘ $3.8 billion proposed takeover of price range provider Spirit Airlines, the Biden administration’s newest try to stop business consolidation.

Spirit Airways agreed to promote itself to JetBlue final summer season after a protracted battle for the provider between JetBlue and Frontier Airlines. New York-based JetBlue’s acquisition of Spirit confronted a high hurdle with regulators from the beginning, and the airline on Monday mentioned it anticipated DOJ motion this week.

JetBlue’s takeover of Spirit would create the fifth-largest airline within the nation and in addition eradicate Florida-based Spirit, with its enterprise mannequin of rock-bottom fares and charges for every little thing from carry-on baggage to seat assignments.

“JetBlue’s plan would eradicate the distinctive competitors that Spirit gives—and about half of all ultra-low-cost airline seats within the business—and depart tens of thousands and thousands of vacationers to face increased fares and fewer choices,” the Justice Division mentioned in its criticism, filed in a Massachusetts courtroom on Tuesday. “Spirit itself put it merely: ‘A JetBlue acquisition of Spirit can have lasting damaging impacts on customers.'”

At a Tuesday press convention, Legal professional Basic Merrick Garland underscored that the merger could be significantly dangerous for “working and center class People who journey for private fairly than enterprise causes and should pay their very own manner.”

The DOJ cited Spirit’s personal inside paperwork that present that when the airline begins flying a route, common fares fall by 17%.

JetBlue has argued the mix would enable it to raised compete with giant airways that dominate the U.S. market. The deal would additionally give JetBlue entry to extra Airbus jetliners and pilots, that are each in short supply as journey demand stays sturdy.

JetBlue plans to transform Spirit’s bright-yellow planes with packed-in seats to JetBlue’s, which embrace seatback screens and extra legroom.

“JetBlue competes laborious in opposition to Spirit, and views it as a severe aggressive menace. However as an alternative of constant that competitors, JetBlue now proposes an acquisition that Spirit describes as ‘a high-cost, high-fare airline shopping for a low-cost, low-fare airline,” the DOJ mentioned.

New York, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., additionally joined the swimsuit.

Merrick Garland, US legal professional normal, speaks throughout a information convention on the Division of Justice in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. The US Justice Division challenged JetBlue Airways Corp.’s $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airways Inc., submitting an antitrust lawsuit in search of to dam the deal. 

Ting Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Photographs

JetBlue and Spirit mentioned in a joint assertion Tuesday that they may “proceed to advance our plan to create a compelling nationwide challenger to the Huge 4 airways.”

“We imagine the DOJ has obtained it mistaken on the legislation right here and misses the purpose that this merger will create a nationwide low-fare, high-quality competitor to the Huge 4 carriers which – due to their very own DOJ-approved mergers – management about 80% of the U.S. market,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes mentioned in an announcement.

Spirit CEO Ted Christie mentioned his airline will “vigorously defend” the merger in opposition to the DOJ’s swimsuit.

“Collectively, we intend to democratize flying for vacationers throughout the nation – a purpose we imagine is worthy of the federal government’s assist,” he mentioned in an announcement.

A JetBlue-Spirit mixture could be the primary main U.S. airline merger since Alaska Airlines’ takeover of Virgin America in 2016. The Justice Division on the time required Alaska to cut back its code share with American Airways to clear the deal.

The Justice Division additionally sued to dam American Airlines’ 2013 merger with US Airways however settled, forcing American to promote dozens of gates and slots at congested airports like Washington Reagan Nationwide Airport.

The Biden administration has vowed a tough line in opposition to offers it considers to be anti-competitive and has sued to dam different mergers, comparable to Penguin Random Home’s failed attempt to buy rival publisher Simon & Schuster. But the administration has didn’t cease a number of offers, comparable to one final 12 months within the sugar business and UnitedHealth’s merger with Change Healthcare.

The administration has additionally taken goal on the airline business after a number of journey disruptions over the previous two years, even after carriers obtained $54 billion in payroll assist to climate the Covid pandemic.

Individually, JetBlue is awaiting a ruling on its Northeast partnership with American Airways, which the Justice Division sued to undo in 2021.

—CNBC’s Rebecca Picciotto contributed to this report.



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