DOJ sues to block JetBlue from buying Spirit Airlines The Biden administration sued on Tuesday to block the $3.8 billion purchase, saying the deal would reduce competition and drive up air fares for consumers.

DOJ sues to block JetBlue-Spirit merger, saying it will curb competition

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A MART├ŹNEZ, HOST:

The Biden administration is trying to block a merger between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines. The Justice Department has filed an antitrust lawsuit and argues that the $3.8 billion deal would lead to higher fares and fewer choices for air travelers. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Years ago, there used to be a lot more airlines to choose from. Carriers like Continental, Northwest and U.S. Airways are just some of the names gobbled up by bigger airlines in recent years, all with relatively little federal government opposition. But this administration is sounding the alarm about corporate consolidation, and Attorney General Merrick Garland says the latest proposed airline merger between JetBlue and Spirit to create the fifth-largest U.S. airline goes too far.

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MERRICK GARLAND: We allege that, if allowed to proceed, this merger will limit choices and drive up ticket prices for passengers across the country.

SCHAPER: Garland says by acquiring Spirit, JetBlue would eliminate the largest ultra-low-cost carrier in the country, one that competes head to head with JetBlue on dozens of routes.

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GARLAND: Eliminating the competition between JetBlue and Spirit on these and other routes would eliminate Spirit's unique and disruptive role in the industry and significantly harm consumers.

SCHAPER: And Garland says the merger would be especially harmful to those who rely on Spirit's no-frills, cheap fares to be able to afford to fly. Spirit offers super low fares by cramming as many people as possible into their planes and charging hefty extra fees for everything from seat assignments and snacks to both checked luggage and carry-on bags. JetBlue is planning to remove some of Spirit's cramped seats to give passengers more legroom. And while many travelers may welcome that, Garland argues fares will go up, and not just on JetBlue, but on their competitors, too.

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GARLAND: Spirit's own internal documents estimate that when it starts flying a route, average fares fall by 17%. And an internal JetBlue document estimates that when Spirit stops flying a route, average fares go up by 30%.

SCHAPER: JetBlue's response?

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ROBIN HAYES: Clearly, we're disappointed, but we're not surprised.

SCHAPER: JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes, on "CBS Mornings" yesterday, said the merger will benefit consumers by creating a bigger JetBlue to better compete with the big four - American, Delta, United and Southwest - which, combined, control more than 80% of the U.S. market.

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HAYES: This is not Pepsi buying Coke. Together, we're going to be 8 to 9% of the market. You know, you said a fifth-largest airline - a distant fifth.

BILL MCGEE: I don't buy JetBlue's argument, and I don't think any of us should.

SCHAPER: Bill McGee is an airline consumer advocate with the American Economic Liberties Project.

MCGEE: This is all about size. This is about market share. And the idea that JetBlue is the scrappy startup that it once was - it isn't.

SCHAPER: McGee says he's had plenty of issues with Spirit in the past.

MCGEE: Spirit has tight seats. Spirit has - you know, they nickel and dime you with junk fees. Spirit has a lot of problems, but we don't want to see Spirit go away. And if you're flying, even on American, Delta, or United, on a route in which Spirit operates, you're paying less, whether you realize it or not.

SCHAPER: Labor unions are split over the merger with Spirit's flight attendants in favor of it, as they stand to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions. Sara Nelson is president of the Association of Flight Attendants.

SARA NELSON: We have never before enthusiastically supported a merger because we believe this merger is actually the anti-merger.

SCHAPER: But the union representing flight attendants and other workers at JetBlue opposes the deal, calling it a charade that will kill blue-collar jobs.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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