JetBlue, Spirit insist merger won't lead to higher airline fares, as DOJ circles

Justice Department has a little more than a week to decide whether to challenge JetBlue-Spirit merger

JetBlue Airways Corp. and Spirit Airlines, Inc. are reportedly making a last-minute push for a merger ahead of a decision from the Justice Department on whether to sue to block the deal.

The chief executives of the airlines, Robin Hayes and Ted Christie, told Politico on Thursday in a joint interview that the deal would mean lower prices for fliers. 

The pair said they had met with leadership at the Justice Department's antitrust division on Wednesday. The Department of Justice has been investigating the merger since the summer and Politico had previously reported that it was leaning toward challenging the merger, citing individuals with knowledge of the matter.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
JBLU JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP. 7.11 +0.28 +4.10%
SAVE SPIRIT AIRLINES INC. 4.03 -0.08 -1.95%

Citing two people familiar with the situation, Politico said Friday that the department remains unconvinced that removing Spirit from the market would not cause fares to rise.

BIDEN ADMIN. LEANING TOWARD BLOCKING JETBLUE-SPIRIT MERGER: REPORT

A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232 takes off from Los Angeles international Airport on July 30, 2022, in Los Angeles.  (AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images / Getty Images)

The Justice Department has a little more than a week to make a final call. 

The companies' argument is that they must merge to compete with Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. 

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
DAL DELTA AIR LINES INC. 47.85 -0.03 -0.06%
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC. 14.02 +0.13 +0.94%
UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. 51.42 +2.68 +5.50%
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 29.06 +0.28 +0.99%

Hayes, the CEO of JetBlue, said that fares are a "function of capacity," and that Spirit flights would adopt JetBlue's seat configuration – saving customers money because planes would spent more time in the air and less time on the ground. Christie, the CEO of Spirit, said fares on some routes could increase if the merger is OKed, but said merged companies would have decreased fare costs overall.

A Spirit Airlines airplane

A Spirit Airlines airplane taxis toward a runway during a winter storm at Denver International Airport on Feb. 22, 2023, in Denver.  (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images / Getty Images)

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People with knowledge of the issue said Justice Department officials are not convinced that the new company won't be forced to raise prices due to removed seating.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) headquarters

The US Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.  (Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Furthermore, to address concerns, JetBlue has offered to sell off Spirit's operations at Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Boston Logan International Airport and five slots at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

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Politico noted that Hayes has said several times that the companies intend to fight for their deal in court, if necessary.