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JetBlue Expects U.S. Move to Block Merger With Spirit

JetBlue Expects U.S. Move to Block Merger With Spirit

JetBlue Airways said Monday that it saw a “high likelihood” that the Justice Department would sue the company this week over its planned acquisition of Spirit Airlines. The $3.8 billion deal could create a new challenger to the nation’s four dominant carriers, but would add to industry consolidation.

JetBlue said that it had long prepared for such a lawsuit and that its timeline for closing the deal was unchanged, provided it overcomes the expected challenge in court.

“We believe there is a high likelihood of a complaint from D.O.J. this week, and we have always accounted for that in our timeline to close the transaction in the first half of 2024,” the company said.

Critics of the deal say removing Spirit from the market would limit competition and further consolidate an already concentrated industry. While JetBlue is known for affordable fares, Spirit offers even lower prices, charging extra for everything from printing boarding passes at airport kiosks to selecting seats in advance. After the deal, JetBlue would reconfigure Spirit’s densely packed planes, removing seats, increasing legroom and adjusting the economics of each flight.

According to two people familiar with the Justice Department’s plans, a government lawsuit will contend that after removing seats from Spirit planes, the combined airline would not be able to increase revenue per passenger without raising prices.

Buying Spirit would allow JetBlue to accelerate its plans for growth. Today, JetBlue controls more than 5 percent of the U.S. airline market. After the acquisition, it would have a 10 percent share, making it the fifth-largest airline in the country. United Airlines, the fourth-largest carrier, has a 15 percent market share. Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines each have a more than 17 percent share.

“JetBlue’s combination with Spirit allows it to create a compelling national challenger to these dominant airlines,” JetBlue said in a news release on Monday describing some of its arguments in favor of the deal.

The acquisition would benefit consumers and disrupt the industry, it said, allowing JetBlue to bring low fares to new markets and forcing those large airlines to match its lower prices. JetBlue also said it had committed to giving up some of Spirit’s holdings in markets such as Boston, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the combined airline would have an outsize presence.

But the two people familiar with the Justice Department’s…

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