Four more US states have joined the federal antitrust lawsuit against JetBlue Airways’ proposed acquisition of competitor Spirit Airlines.

California, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina were added as plaintiffs in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit on 31 March. The states “join the complaint to protect the benefits of competition in the airline industry on behalf of their residents”, the DOJ says. 

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320

Source: JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320

Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia were listed as plaintiffs in the original lawsuit filed on 7 March in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. An amended lawsuit was filed 31 March. 

A US judge recently set 16 October as the trial date in the federal government’s case against the airline tie-up. A ruling on the case is expected before the end of 2023.

The DOJ argues that the deal would eliminate an ultra-low-cost carrier from the market, limiting the choices of budget-conscious air travellers who mostly fly at their own expense. 

The US Department of Transportation has also taken the unusual step of saying it would challenge the acquisition. 

JetBlue chief executive Robin Hayes has downplayed the implications of his airline swallowing Spirit, quipping during a 7 March television interview that “this is not Pepsi buying Coke”.

“Together, we are going to be 8% to 9% of the market,” he added. 

JetBlue is aiming to close the $3.8 billion deal to acquire South Florida-based Spirit by the first half of 2024 and create a competitor for major US airlines.