It’s Time To Break Up JetBlue and American Airlines’ Unholy Alliance
This no-brainer anticompetitive issue could shape the future of air travel in the U.S.
Now that travelers are back up in the air, many in the Northeastern United States are experiencing an unpleasant surprise. People booking JetBlue flights have found themselves on American Airlines planes. And vice versa. Often with little or last-second disclosure
The swaps are a product of an unholy alliance formed in the heart of the pandemic by the two airlines. They’ve agreed to sell each other’s flights. So if you book with one, you may end up on the other. This can leave travelers scrambling to locate terminals, boarding passes, and baggage policies — often at the last moment. And worse, the two airlines selling together will inevitably lead to less competition.
In the U.S. today, four airlines — American, Delta, United, and Southwest — control about 80% of the domestic market, per the Open Markets Institute. Now that JetBlue, one of the remaining upstarts, has joined forces with one of the four, prices are poised to rise and bad customer service is likely to get worse.
Already, the alliance has attracted the U.S. government’s attention, a welcome surprise. In this country, we’re accustomed to big businesses operating with relative impunity, even when they make things concretely worse for everyday people. Yet the Justice Department is now suing to block the airlines’ alliance. Six state attorneys general and the District of Columbia’s are suing as well.
In the fall, Attorney General Merrick Garland pulled no punches. He said the airlines’ partnership “would result in higher fares, fewer choices, and lower quality service if allowed to continue.” His DOJ, he said, is committed “to ensuring economic opportunity and fairness by protecting consumers and competition.”
The airlines protested. Soon-to-be-ex American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told the Washington Post that he’d fight the DOJ. “They’re wrong and we’ll prove it,” he said. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes added, “We’re confident the facts are on our side.” He then asked for patience. Even still, JetBlue felt compelled to rework its website just weeks after the DOJ complaint in an attempt to…