As antitrust scrutiny rises, jetBlue makes bizarre promises (they likely cannot keep)

As the Department of Justice appears increasingly likely to file a lawsuit in the next few months to block to impending jetBlue/Spirit merger (note, I love Merrick Garland because unlike his last six predecessors he actually enforces antitrust laws, so the fact so many Democratic activists don’t like him because of something something Donald Trump, really irks me!) we’re hearing increasing promises about how service levels at the merged airline will benefit Florida with growth at Orlando and Fort Lauderdale. Of course we know fares will go ip

The Orlando Sentinel article linked just reports what JetBlue says, so let me splash some cold, hard, truth on this.

The combined airline if antitrust approval is obtained, likely becomes the number one airline in Orlando, passing current leader Southwest and reaches something approaching critical mass in Fort Lauderdale- giving the merged entity the ability to operate a competitive north/south hub at FLL in competition with American Airlines Miami hub. But, of course jetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes reiterates they’ll divest 5 gates at FLL, an airport which is notoriously congested, in order to get antitrust approval. So it’s odd that jetBlue is floating that they can open new nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale to places like Antigua, Belize, Memphis, Savannah and Cincinnati (none of these cites are currently served by jetBlue) and thus increase connectivity using the FLL hub to other markets. I’m not sure how they achieve this giving up gates, but they must give up gates to allow a new entrant into the market given the potential that a merged airline will have something approaching a monopoly at Fort Lauderdale (but is it really JetBlue or Spirit’s fault that Southwest which as late as the first quarter of 2019 was FLL’s number one carrier, completely tanked in the market after the 737MAX groundings and then Covid?).

In Orlando, they have promised growth, but given the airline’s already established operational problems, and the ultra-competitive nature fare wise of this specific market (Orlando is about the hardest market outside of Las Vegas nationally to create a fare premium), I am dubious. I think given the airline’s potentially dominant position in Boston and strong share of the New York market, as well as what we have already discussed in Fort Lauderdale in addition to absorbing Spirit’s strong network in some important business centers where jetBlue has virtually zero presence, like Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth, I don’t really think Orlando will be a priority. In fact, I think Atlanta in particular could be a huge hit for the merged airline should they gain antitrust approval. But I could be wrong.

One place the airline is representing itself completely truthfully is in its claims that its Orlando training center and Fort Lauderdale corproate center will continue to operate full tilt. And those jobs matter for this state, which needs all the high-end jobs we can get as companies increasingly avoid Florida due to the culture war and other factors we’ve discussed on numerous occasions here at TFS.

How jetBlue handles the antitrust questions is something we will continue to monitor here, because my sense is DOJ may bring the hammer and want more serious concessions than just a divestment of five gates in Fort Lauderdale and a small number of slots in New York airports. It’s going to have to be more than that.

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  1. […] Airways as we discussed on Sunday is likely facing some serious antitrust scrutiny for its proposed merger with Spirit Airlines in the […]


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