MIAMI – American Airlines (AA) and JetBlue (B6) move ahead with their planned partnership at northeastern U.S. airports following a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust lawsuit filed this week in opposition to the deal.

The DOJ, together with attorneys general in six states and the District of Columbia, have sued in the District of Massachusetts to block what JetBlue and American Airlines have termed their Northeast Alliance (NEA).

In July 2020, the two airlines agreed to sell each other’s flights and link loyalty programs at airports in New York (JFK, LGA and EWR) and Boston (BOS).

“The civil antitrust complaint alleges that this extensive combination, which they call the Northeast Alliance, will not only eliminate important competition in these cities, but will also harm air travelers across the country by significantly diminishing JetBlue’s incentive to compete with American elsewhere, further consolidating an already highly concentrated industry,” the DOJ said in a news release

“Millions of consumers across America rely on air travel every day for work, to visit family, or to take vacations. Fair competition is essential to ensuring they can fly affordably and safely,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

“In an industry where just four airlines control more than 80% of domestic air travel, American Airlines’ ‘alliance’ with JetBlue is, in fact, an unprecedented maneuver to further consolidate the industry. It would result in higher fares, fewer choices, and lower quality service if allowed to continue. The complaint filed today demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to ensuring economic opportunity and fairness by protecting consumers and competition.”

jetBlue N789JB Airbus A320-232. Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

Airline Response: Lawsuit “Misguided”

In media statements, American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said the Justice Department’s lawsuit was “misguided.” He argued the Northeast Alliance would increase, rather than hurt, competition because both Delta and United have a strong presence at New York-area airports.

“Ironically, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit seeks to take away consumer choice and inhibit competition, not encourage it,” Parker said. “This is not a merger: American and JetBlue are — and will remain — independent airlines. We look forward to vigorously rebutting the DOJ’s claims and proving the many benefits the Northeast Alliance brings to consumers.”

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes struck a similar tone in a memo to the airline’s employees, saying that JetBlue’s “commitment to competition and low fares remains as strong as ever.”

“This is not at all like a merger with American — we have two different business models and are not working together on pricing,” Hayes said. “It’s also important that you have the full picture on benefits the NEA is already delivering, and I want to reassure you that the DOJ’s action will not affect our plans to continue implementing the NEA.”

Featured image: American Airlines Airbus 321-200 N929AA. Photo: Andrew Henderson/Airways