A federal judge has blocked JetBlue’s $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit Airlines.
The new ruling, which was issued by US District Court Judge William Young on January 16, 2023, sides with the position of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) that the merger would harm ticket buyers through reduced competition and higher prices.
Spirit Airlines has been in play since February 2022, when Frontier Airlines made its first move for the ultra-low-cost carrier, only to be followed a few weeks later by a counterbid from JetBlue.
In March 2023, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit to stop the merger, alleging that it would hurt the most price-sensitive members of the public.
The rationale behind this argument is that since Spirit Airlines accounts for about half of the available seats in the ultra-low-cost no-frills segment of the market, an integration with the more upmarket JetBlue would likely represent a reduced offering and pricier tickets on many routes.
Both JetBlue and Spirit Airlines have protested this ruling, which, they say, will prevent the emergence of a strengthened alternative to the country’s so-called “big four” airlines (American, Delta, United and Southwest).
Spirit Airlines saw its shares tumble by up to 48% immediately after the judge’s decision was announced, while JetBlue’s grew by 5%.
The two airlines are now said to be considering their next steps in this long-running legal saga.
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