Anti-competitive or pro-consumer? American and JetBlue conflict with DOJ in antitrust lawsuit

Are airfares decrease when JetBlue and American Airways compete? Or is an airline alliance extra aggressive with Delta, United and Southwest, placing extra pricing stress on main airways?

That is the query on the coronary heart of the Justice Division Antitrust Motion in opposition to JetBlue and American on their “Northeast Alliance” partnership.

The The antitrust trial started on Tuesday, the DOJ and the 2 airways making opening statements and testimony from JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes in response to questions from the DOJ. Each side glued to acquainted speaking factorsthe DOJ suggesting that the airline alliance would get rid of competitors and result in larger fares, and the 2 carriers saying that by combining they’ll present stronger competitors in opposition to United and Delta entrenched in New York markets and Boston.

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DOJ lawyer William Jones, in his opening assertion, prompt the alliance would price customers $700 million a yr in larger charges, saying the alliance was “a merger in all however title” and that the 2 might act as “one airline at vacationers’ expense.” Jones cited inside messages from American Airways executives earlier than the alliance that prompt the airline noticed JetBlue as a aggressive risk placing stress on fares .

The federal government additional argued that there have been different options that might have helped JetBlue and American compete within the Northeast except there was an alliance – whether or not that be excluding Boston from the alliance, the place American is much less deprived than in New York because of an absence of slot restrictions; American selecting to promote or lease slots to JetBlue; or a codeshare that might exclude all routes on which the airways overlapped earlier than the beginning of the alliance.

Airline attorneys, nevertheless, argued that within the 18 months for the reason that NEA was created, the upper fares the Justice Division had warned about had not materialized, customers had entry to raised decisions and the aggressive panorama formed by earlier mergers has left them unable to compete within the Northeast market alone.

The alliance creates a single stronger and “related competitor out of two weak ones,” mentioned Richard Schwed, a Shearman & Sterling lawyer representing JetBlue, in his introduction, including that the alliance has delivered “quick and tangible advantages to customers “. “

Schwed cited 50 new nonstop routes which were added to or from New York or Boston for the reason that formation of the alliance, 90 nonstop routes with elevated capability, 17 new worldwide routes lined by the alliance and a rise of greater than 17% in whole capability on the routes lined by the alliance.

Accomplice progress: American provides 6 new routes as a part of Northeast Alliance’s mixture with JetBlue

Dan Wall, a Latham & Watkins lawyer representing American Airways, additionally argued that the case the DOJ plans to current wouldn’t meet the burden of proof required for an antitrust motion.

“This case got here to courtroom with none direct proof of adversarial results,” Wall mentioned.

Wall additionally argued that the Division of Transportation, which oversees airline mergers and alliances, has taken a “wait-and-see” method to the alliance and has to this point discovered no issues.

A JetBlue flight leaves Boston in March 2022.

The upcoming merger between JetBlue and its ultra-low-cost competitor Spirit, was cited by the federal government for instance of additional anti-competitive motion, with Jones claiming that with such a merger, “American can co-opt two disruptive opponents for the value of 1”. The airways’ attorneys refuted this, saying the settlement was separate and irrelevant to the NEA, and that “if it has any relevance, it’s additional proof of JetBlue’s independence from screw of American”.

Throughout Hayes’ testimony, the JetBlue chief mentioned talks between the airways started in late 2019 and accelerated as COVID-19 took maintain within the first and second quarters of 2020. The alliance mentioned was introduced in July.

Hayes additionally argued that JetBlue was incentivized to proceed to extend capability and provide aggressive fares and merchandise, regardless of the alliance’s supposed “metal-neutral” nature, by the potential income it might earn by recruiting passengers on board to affix and take part in its loyalty program quite than in america, refuting authorities accusations that the revenue-sharing mannequin utilized by airways discouraged competitors.

Throughout the alliance, Hayes mentioned, “I’d a lot quite somebody fly in a JetBlue aircraft.”

The trial, which is predicted to last as long as three weeks, is predicted to see testimony from American Airways CEO Robert Isom, former CEO Doug Parker and chief enterprise officer Vasu Raja, in addition to different testimony from Hayes, the CEO of JetBlue. Different stakeholders, together with community planners for airways and former government Scott Laurence, who designed the alliance on JetBlue’s aspect. A choice by U.S. District Decide Leo Sorokin might take weeks or months.

TPG is reporting from the US District Courtroom in Boston, so keep tuned for the most recent on the NEA lawsuit.