JetBlue and Spirit Airlines Announce Merger Plan

The Transportation Department said recently that it had received more than twice as many complaints about airline refunds, delays, cancellations and other problems in May than it did in the same month in 2019, even though fewer people were traveling. In April, the department received more than three times as many complaints as it did before the pandemic.

While JetBlue ranks high in customer satisfaction, Spirit has fewer fans. And both airlines have struggled to run smoothly during the recent recovery. About 68 percent of Spirit’s flights and just over 62 percent of JetBlue’s arrived on time this year through May, according to the Transportation Department. Spirit ranked seventh and JetBlue 10th among U.S. carriers in on-time performance over that period. Spirit has improved significantly in that regard in recent months but JetBlue only slightly, according to FlightAware, an aviation data provider.

Some experts have questioned the assertion by the airlines that the deal would benefit consumers, arguing that JetBlue would be unable to keep costs as low as Spirit, which is known in the industry as an ultra-low-cost carrier.

“We have yet to see an airline merger in the United States in the last 30 years that has been good for consumers, good for labor and good even for the cities and regions in which they operate,” said William J. McGee, a senior fellow for aviation and travel at the American Economic Liberties Project, which pushes for stronger antitrust policies and enforcement.

Spirit and JetBlue’s deal could inspire other airlines to merge to stay competitive, said Helane Becker, a managing director and senior analyst at Cowen, an investment bank. “If this transaction were to get done, it may encourage smaller airlines, especially regional airlines, to consider merging,” she said.

JetBlue and Spirit said they would continue to operate independently, with loyalty programs and customer accounts unchanged, until the merger was complete.

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