NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin Monday joined the lawsuit previously filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Attorneys General of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and District of Columbia against JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines challenging JetBlue’s proposed acquisition of Spirit.
They allege the purchase would substantially lessen competition in the industry and violate the federal Clayton Act.
Last year, JetBlue won a bidding war to acquire Spirit in a deal worth $3.8 billion. If the deal were to go through, the plaintiffs allege, JetBlue would eliminate a unique disrupter in the airline industry that forced other airlines, like JetBlue, to cut fares and offer deals to keep up. Traveler demand for Spirit’s low unbundled fares and unique model has led to explosive growth; the airline is six times larger today than it was in 2010.
Spirit is described as the largest ultra-low-cost carrier, and its business model has allowed it to offer some of the lowest fares in the industry. Similar to Spirit, JetBlue initially started as a low-cost carrier, but as its market share has grown, it has aligned its practices with larger airlines and has raised fares.
If the acquisition is completed, more than 150 routes would be affected by the elimination of Sprit, and it would allow the combined entity to control 50% to 90% of some markets. At airports operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that number could be approximately 20%. Today, Spirit serves as JetBlue’s only competitor in certain markets.
“Everyone knows how expensive airfare already is, and airlines like Spirit create important competition in the industry by offering passengers a less expensive option when they have to fly,” Platkin said. “JetBlue does not want to buy Spirit to improve its service or to offer lower fares. It wants to eliminate competition, grow its market share, and create monopolies in regions across the country. We will always fight for our consumers — especially when companies try to limit options for customers simply to boost their bottom line or expand their influence over an industry.”
JetBlue controls approximately 5.4% of the overall domestic airline market while Spirit controls 4.9%. However, each airline controls approximately twenty percent of the domestic market not dominated by the “Big Four” airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Southwest Airlines.
If this merger succeeds, the combined entity would control approximately 40% of the remaining market not dominated by the Big Four. The plaintiffs allege there are no possibilities of new carriers entering or expanding enough to offset or deter the acquisition’s anticompetitive effects.
In New Jersey, nearly 24,000 residents are employed by the airline industry that services 23.3 million passengers and over 530,000 flights per year. A vast majority of those flights depart from and arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport. Both JetBlue and Spirit fly in and out of Newark Liberty. In 2022, JetBlue passengers accounted for 6.4% of all passengers at the airport while Spirit accounted for 5.8%. A merger could mean JetBlue controlling more than 12% of passengers in and out of Newark Liberty.
The plaintiffs are seeking to prevent further harm against competition in the airline industry by asking the court to find JetBlue violated the Clayton Act, and to restrain the company from carrying out the acquisition of Spirit in any form.