Spirit Airlines Doubles Down In Opposition To American-JetBlue Partnership

The American-JetBlue partnership has continued in earnest. American Airlines has launched new routes out of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and JetBlue has been expanding its portfolio out of JFK, LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). However, Spirit Airlines is continuing its opposition to this alliance and is doubling down on pushing the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to complete a review of the alliance.

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Spirit Airlines is not too happy with the American-JetBlue alliance. Photo: Getty Images

Spirit continues its push for a review

Since January, Spirit Airlines has been pushing the DOT to conduct a more thorough review of the JetBlue-American partnership. The airline has gone into significant detail on its concerns with the alliance. Spirit has concerns that the American-JetBlue alliance leads to the suppression of competition, higher airfares for customers, and harm consumers in four of the most competition-constrained domestic markets.

In addition, Spirit has filed complaints in the past over the two airlines making changes to Ecuador services. Eastern Airlines signed onto those complaints. JetBlue and American fought back, and both airlines eventually won that fight.

The airline is pushing for an on-the-record hearing on the alliance. American and JetBlue are in the middle of continuing their deep partnership, which covers four airports. American and JetBlue have tried to argue for dismissing Spirit’s concerns by showing the two airlines growing capacity and improving travel in the northeastern United States.

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Spirit Airlines continues to push the DOT to open a more in-depth review of the NEA. Photo: Getty Images

Bringing up the Alaska-Virgin merger

Spirit Airlines turns to the DOT’s response to the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merger in the latest filing. According to Spirit, looking at the 2016 Alaska-Virgin Consent Decree instituted by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), it alleges that American and JetBlue would be “violating every restriction on coordination DOJ found relevant to include in 2016.” The four restrictions Spirit cited were, using the 2016 Consent Decree as an analogy for the Northeast Alliance (NEA):

  1. American Airlines would not be able to market any JetBlue flight serving an Alaska/JetBlue overlap route or permit JetBlue to market any American flight serving an Alaska/JetBlue overlap route.
    • Spirit alleges American markets 90 daily JetBlue flights and JetBlue markets 92 daily American flights serving an Alaska/JetBlue overlap route.
  2. American Airlines would not be able to market any JetBlue flight serving an American/JetBlue overlap route or permit JetBlue to market any American flight serving an American/JetBlue overlap route.
    • Spirit alleges American markets 90 daily JetBlue flights serving an American/JetBlue overlap route and JetBlue markets 92 daily American flights serving an American/JetBlue overlap route.
  3. American Airlines would not be able to market any JetBlue flight that originates or terminates at any key American Airlines airport or permit JetBlue to market any American flight that originates or terminates at any key JetBlue airport.
    • Spirit alleges every JetBlue-marketed flight is an American flight serving a key JetBlue Airport. 39 daily American-marketed flights are JetBlue flights serving a key American airport
  4. American Airlines would not be able to market any JetBlue flight or permit JetBlue to market any American flight serving any route between Los Angeles (LAX) and a key American airport or a key JetBlue airport.
    • Spirit alleges that JetBlue markets two daily flights between LAX and a key American airport and American markets 12 daily flights between LAX and a key JetBlue airport
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American Airlines benefits from the NEA by becoming more relevant to New Yorkers. Photo: Getty Images

There is no denying that JetBlue and American Airlines were major competitors in the past. However, now Spirit alleges that 70% of JetBlue’s network, or more, is eligible for codesharing under the NEA.

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The NEA in 2021

When the NEA was announced in 2020, American Airlines and JetBlue were in the middle of the worst crisis the airline industry had seen. There was no clear end for the crisis, nor was there any playbook for coming out of the crisis.

American Airlines was, pre-crisis, getting weak in New York City. It had a sizable presence, but it was facing growing and intensifying competition, limitations on slots, and had to make cuts to its network. The airline has shifted focus in New York, but each new tactic did not support the goal of making the airline more relevant in the area to travelers.

Spirit Airlines Doubles Down In Opposition To American-JetBlue Partnership
JetBlue has also grown immensely in the wake of the partnership. Photo: Getty Images

On the other hand, JetBlue was known as a Northeastern airline with global ambitions but no way to access it. Though not very close partnerships, the carrier had partnerships and was planning on hopping across the Atlantic using Airbus A321LR and, in the future, Airbus A321XLR flying. However, the airline did not have a reliable way of marketing long-haul international flying. Even with adding new flights to Europe, it was using mostly smaller aircraft with limited capacity.

Now, with the world rebounding, American and JetBlue’s alliance is starting to prove pretty powerful. In 2020, it was very unclear how the pace of the recovery would unfold and what would come of the alliance. Now, with the two airlines focused on becoming a might in New York, airlines like Spirit, Southwest, and industry players are starting to raise some concerns.

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The Spirit vs. American-JetBlue feud continues. Photo: Getty Images

There is good reason for these airlines to highlight concerns over the NEA. It is historically difficult to enter the New York and Boston areas. Spirit has been maximizing its position in LaGuardia, pushing for more opportunities in Newark, and turning to area airports near Boston to grow its presence in the historically legacy-carrier-dominated markets.

With JetBlue and American teaming up, Spirit has concerns about operating and growing in the lucrative market. While Spirit has petitioned the DOT, the agency has yet to formally announce any decision on a further review of the NEA.

Do you think there should be a further review of the NEA? Let us know in the comments!

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