Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Friday, September 17, urged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to investigate a partnership between American Airlines and JetBlue Airways, warning that it could saddle passengers with higher airfares.
The two carriers launched a strategic partnership in July 2020 to create more routes in the Northeast and allow customers to book tickets and earn rewards with either airline, reported The Hill.
The agreement drew scrutiny from the Justice Department as antitrust officials expressed concern that it could decrease competition at airports in New York and Boston.
“Antitrust enforcers have traditionally been highly suspicious of agreements that lead rivals to cooperate instead of compete. And they should be especially suspicious when major airlines agree not to compete in an already highly consolidated industry, with major implications for lower-cost carriers,” Blumenthal wrote in a letter to Buttigieg.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) approved the partnership in the final days of the Trump administration, but under President Biden, the agency has fielded requests from rival carriers to investigate the partnership.
In his letter to Buttigieg, Blumenthal, the chairman of Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on consumer protection, noted that Biden’s July executive order to crack down on anticompetitive practices specifically names the airline industry as being too heavily concentrated. Biden’s order directed the DOT to require airlines to refund baggage fees when a flight is delayed and clearly disclose cancellation fees.
A JetBlue spokesperson said that the partnership “does quite the opposite” of what Blumenthal suggested, stating that it allowed the airline to expand its number of flights at New York airports and “create a third competitor” to Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in the Northeast.
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