JetBlue says it will become a ‘national challenger’ with Spirit merger

JetBlue sees its planned merger with Spirit Airlines as the best way to become a true national competitor against the likes of Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and even its Northeast partner American Airlines.

“JetBlue just wants to compete,” JetBlue’s chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty said Tuesday. “We want to be a national challenger brand.”

Still, she acknowledged the merger could take longer than those engineered by JetBlue’s peers during the past two decades. The U.S. Department of Justice is already questioning JetBlue’s partnership with American in the Northeast. Plus, some regulators are wondering how past mergers have helped consumers, especially after a summer of record airfares and operational meltdowns.

Speaking at the Skift Global Forum in New York, Geraghty noted JetBlue has a history of “disrupting” the industry. She added that JetBlue will make a case to the government that its growth into a true national carrier will break up markets currently dominated by the nation’s four largest airlines. American, Delta, Southwest and United currently carry more than 80% of all domestic passengers.

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JetBlue’s route network is concentrated in New York, Boston, Florida and the Caribbean. Geraghty noted there are plenty of states JetBlue currently skips that she would love the carrier to serve.

“We are often asked about the Midwest and many of the states we fly over,” she said. “Spirit is going to allow us to fly there.”

Questions circulated about whether regulators will force JetBlue to choose between its partnership with American or the purchase of Spirit. “We think you can do both,” Geraghty said.

Spirit is particularly strong in Latin America, something that JetBlue is excited about. During the pandemic, JetBlue added a new nonstop between Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Cancun International Airport (CUN), and the airline sees benefits of combining those networks.

As for more growth, Geraghty doesn’t expect JetBlue to return to Mexico City, a destination it exited in 2020.

However, she does see JetBlue expanding more in Europe. The airline on Tuesday launched service from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR). Plus, last month JetBlue added service from BOS to London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW).

As for what destinations are coming next, Geraghty said “maybe continental Europe,” in a truly noncommittal, airline sort of way.