The government’s antitrust lawsuit against American Airlines and JetBlue begins Tuesday and the outcome could determine how closely the Biden administration examines other airline deals, including JetBlue’s pending attempt to buy Spirit Airlines.
The DOJ and six states are suing American and JetBlue to break up their partnership in the Northeast, namely New York and Boston.
It is a significant test of the administration’s opposition to mergers — even though the American-JetBlue partnership is not a full merger. The government argues that the alliance will reduce competition and lead to higher fares.
The Trump administration approved the alliance, but the DOJ began taking a closer look shortly after President Joe Biden took office.
American and JetBlue will argue that the partnership has already been in effect for about 18 months and has allowed each airline to offer new routes that would not be economical for either on its own. They say there is no evidence that the deal is hurting consumers.
Current and former airline CEOs are among the possible witnesses identified by prosecutors and lawyers for the airlines. Delta Air Lines is attempting to keep two of its most senior executives from being called to testify, saying they are too busy in Atlanta to attend the trial in federal court in Boston.
US District Court Judge Leo Sorokin has set aside nearly three weeks for the trial. There will be no jury. Sorokin could take weeks or even months to issue a decision, which is likely to be appealed by the losing side.
When the DOJ filed the lawsuit a year ago, Attorney General Merrick Garland called the American-JetBlue alliance “an unprecedented maneuver” that would lead to higher fares, fewer choices, and poor service for travelers.