United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), a noted critic of airline operations, is stepping up her scrutiny of the industry.
Warren has sent a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asking that the regulatory agency block the JetBlue Airways acquisition of Spirit Airlines. The two domestic carriers agreed to a $3.8 billion deal in July that would make JetBlue the country’s fifth-largest airline.
Like any merger it is subject to regulatory approval, something that initially concerned Spirit management given the Department of Justice lawsuit against JetBlue and American over their Northeast Alliance.
Warren said blocking the JetBlue/Spirit merger would be in the “best public interest.”
“DOT has the statutory authority to block mergers that it determines are inconsistent with the public interest at the agency level without having to go to court – a significant advantage over DOJ – and you have an enormous opportunity to protect consumers nationwide by using this authority aggressively,” Warren wrote in her letter to Buttigieg. “…Going forward, DOT should instead use its full statutory authority to promulgate rules clarifying that the approval of operating certificate modifications and transfers must be consistent with the public interest, promulgate rules defining standards for how DOT will assess impacts on the public interest, including bright lines for the competition considerations required by statute and when a transfer is presumptively illegal, and disapprove any transfers inconsistent with the public interest, effectively blocking anticompetitive or harmful mergers. These actions would allow DOT to ensure that M&A activity in the airline industry is not stifling competition.”
The DOT did not immediately respond to Warren’s letter. Neither airline has yet to comment, either.
Warren said “there is ample evidence that yet another huge airline merger would likely harm American consumers.”