As a longtime champion of consumers and working people, I’m a skeptic when it comes to corporate mergers. Far too many have put profits over people. However, there is one merger that stands to be different: JetBlue’s acquisition of Spirit Airlines, which will be good for Florida consumers and good for Florida workers. My conclusion on the matter is in no small part based on the agreement made between JetBlue and the state of Florida in March, and it is perhaps one of the few things on which Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and I can agree.
Under the settlement agreement, JetBlue will bring at least 2,000 new jobs to Florida while protecting workers’ rights to collective bargaining and seniority, as well as ensuring a policy of “no furloughs.” That is exactly why the major unions representing JetBlue’s pilots and inflight crew members, as well as Spirit’s team members, have come out in support of the deal. As Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, has said, the JetBlue-Spirit merger “attempts to correct past antitrust failures, and instead drives competition to the highest standards for workers and consumers.”
JetBlue has also promised to expand its workforce development program, Gateways, which is targeted at both veterans and underserved communities, and provides pathways to high-skilled jobs in the aviation industry, creating more opportunities for Florida’s young people and workers. Far too often, the needs of workers are relegated to an afterthought or simply ignored in a merger. In this case, the agreement ensures they are front and center.
Florida’s consumers, as well as the tourists and visitors who are the lifeblood of the Florida economy, will also benefit with access to more low-cost flight options. JetBlue has committed to adding hundreds of new daily flights to Florida, increasing the current combined seat capacity by more than 50% in Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and other airports in Florida, and expanding service to nearly 50 new routes not currently serviced by either airline. More low-cost options mean greater convenience and affordability for Florida consumers and travelers.
To many, the idea that combining two airlines can actually increase competition sounds counterintuitive. Fundamentally, that view underpins the U.S. Department of Justice’s opposition to the merger on antitrust grounds. But, when the “Big Four” airlines — American, Delta, Southwest and United — have a stranglehold on 80% of all flights in the U.S., allowing a low-cost carrier like JetBlue to expand and build scale is a win, not a loss, for consumers. The Department of Justice should not be fighting to cement the status quo in air travel, where the largest airlines can charge high prices and offer poor service, and travelers have no other choice because four major players dominate the skies.
This is not the first time two rivals coming together has fostered greater competition and challenged the dominant players in an industry. We saw a similar result with the T-Mobile/Sprint merger. While AT&T and Verizon largely dominated mobile service in the U.S., T-Mobile and Sprint were able to merge in a deal that promised better rates for customers, 5G access nationwide, new jobs and billion-dollar investments in communities. The result was lower-cost options becoming more widely available and reliable, and expanding the market, not shrinking it at a time when consumers needed more options.
JetBlue has demonstrated the effect of lowering overall airfares and improving service in the markets it enters. That, along with the upfront divestitures it has made — including in Fort Lauderdale — to allow other ultra-low-cost airlines to grow even as Spirit is absorbed into JetBlue, lays the groundwork for an airline industry that is more competitive, less dominated by the Big Four, and more responsive to the needs of consumers and communities.
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Ultimately, that determination will be made by the judge in the ongoing Department of Justice antitrust case. If the merger is approved, my hope is that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has also sought to block the deal, will respect the outcome of that trial, and allow JetBlue to deliver on its commitments and promised benefits to consumers and workers in Florida and across the country.
Sean Shaw is the founder and president of People Over Profits, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and the former Insurance Consumer Advocate of the state of Florida.