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JetBlue Abandons Northeast Alliance Battle, Sets Sights on Spirit Airlines Merger

JetBlue will instead focus on its efforts to appeal the antitrust decision against its proposed merger with Spirit Airlines

by Fergus Cole

July 6, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of JetBlue Airways

JetBlue has decided not to challenge the antitrust ruling that prohibited its partnership with American Airlines. Instead, the company will concentrate on revitalizing its plan to merge with ultra-low-cost-carrier, Spirit Airlines.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) first filed a lawsuit against the formation of the Northeast Alliance (NEA) in 2021. The NEA—a strategic partnership and codeshare agreement between JetBlue and American Airlines spanning the northeastern United States—was officially launched in February of that year, but the DOJ sued just months later, claiming that the partnership harmed competition in the U.S. airline industry.

Photo: Courtesy of JetBlue

In May this year, a Massachusetts court ruled in favor of the DOJ, with U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin demanding that American and JetBlue end the Northeast Alliance after ruling that it violates antitrust laws.

And now, JetBlue has confirmed that it won’t be appealing the DOJ’s decision and will instead turn its focus on pushing through a deal to form a merger with fellow low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines. This is despite JetBlue defending the alliance and its benefits to consumers.

“As a direct result of the NEA, customers benefitted from more of JetBlue’s low-fare, high-quality service than ever,” said JetBlue in a statement issued on Wednesday. “We’ve increased capacity, added new routes and destinations, brought down fares, provided JetBlue-American flight connections that are a real alternative to Delta and United, and expanded the value of our loyalty program benefits to customers.”

“Despite our deep conviction in the pre-competitive benefits of the NEA, after much consideration, JetBlue has made the difficult decision not to appeal the court’s determination that the NEA cannot continue as currently crafted and has instead initiated the termination of the NEA, beginning a wind-down process that will take place over the coming months.”

“We will now turn our focus to our proposed combination with Spirit, which is the best and most effective opportunity to truly transform the competitive landscape in the U.S. and bring the JetBlue Effect to more routes and markets across the country.”

American Airlines Plans to Appeal

But while JetBlue has taken a step back from pursuing the Northeast Alliance, American Airlines has said it will go ahead with its appeal against the DOJ’s decision.

Photo: American Airlines gates. Courtesy of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

“We, of course, respect JetBlue’s decision to focus on its other antitrust and regulatory challenges,” said American Airlines. “At the same time, JetBlue’s decision and reasoning confirm our belief that the NEA has been highly pro-competitive and that an erroneous judicial decision disregarding the NEA’s consumer benefits has led to an anti-competitive outcome.”

“American will therefore move forward with an appeal. JetBlue has been a great partner, and we will continue to work with them to ensure our mutual customers can travel seamlessly without disruption to their travel plans.”

Illustration: Courtesy of JetBlue Airways

JetBlue will now turn its attention to its proposed merger with Spirit Airlines, which the DOJ also sued to block in March of this year, claiming it would lead to higher fares and fewer consumer choices. However, JetBlue’s decision to focus on its partnership with Spirt, which would cover its entire networks, makes more economic sense than focusing on a regional alliance with American Airlines.

“With strong momentum, a clear organic plan, and the precompetitive Spirit combination on the horizon, we are ready to be a force for good in the industry on a more national scale and look forward to advancing our planned combination with Spirit,” added JetBlue.