How JetBlue’s Spirit takeover could change air travel

Passengers wait in line at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Orlando International Airport.

Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | beautiful pictures

Spirit Airlines satisfied this week and agree to sell itself arrive JetBlue Airways for $3.8 billion, hours later Destroy a merger agreement with Frontier Airlines without gaining enough shareholder support.

The new deal will mean big changes for travelers if it overcomes regulatory hurdles.

JetBlue has earned a reputation for passenger comfort such as relatively spacious legroom, reclining screens, live TV, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks like Cheez-Its vegan biscuits and Stellar. It also provides business classwith flat seats.

Spirit, on the other hand, has become a breakthrough for its basic service. Cabins on the airline’s bright yellow planes are more cramped, and passengers have to pay extra for “optional services” like hand luggage and seat selection.

“It’s history. This is the first time someone wanted Spirit Airlines,” “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert quipped about the deal Thursday.

However, Spirit has expanded rapidly and profitably by offering cheap tickets to resort destinations that can sometimes run for less than a movie trip or a couple of burgers. However, the airline’s “Large Front Seats” offer 36-inch legroom for an extra charge of up to $250.

As two different airlines push for combined plans, here’s what passengers can expect:

What plans does JetBlue have for Spirit?

JetBlue want to be biggerand Spirit has planes and pilot to help it do that. The New York-based airline plans to retrofit Spirit’s planes in the style of JetBlue, removing the packed seats for a larger space with more amenities.

Combined, the airlines will become the country’s fifth largest carrier, after American, Delta, United and Southwest. Both have a large presence in Florida and have expanded into Central and South America as well as the Caribbean in recent years. Last year’s JetBlue started fly to London.

The two carriers will continue to operate as separate airlines until the deal closes, subject to regulatory approval. Passengers can then be confused if they are flying on Spirit planes that have not been retrofitted.

JetBlue has some experience with such situations through its alliance with the Americans in the Northeast, which allows carriers to sell each other’s airplane seats. Last year, JetBlue fix its website to further highlight the differences in onboard features such as business class seats or free Wi-Fi.

Despite the comedians’ digging, Spirit has improved its reliability in recent years – and is outperforming JetBlue by some measures.

JetBlue was last among the 10 airlines in terms of punctuality for the year to May, while Spirit ranked seventh, according to the latest data available from the Department of Transportation.

So far this year, a third of JetBlue flights have been delayed and 4% canceled, according to flight tracker FlightAware. By comparison, more than a quarter of Spirit’s flights were late, and 2.7% were cancelled.

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes says that improving reliability is a top priority. The carrier has shrink growth plans, saying they don’t want to overuse their team and other resources.

“A bigger JetBlue that arrives late is not a better JetBlue,” said Henry Harteveldt, former airline executive and founder of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry consulting firm.

Is this the end of cheap fares?

The Biden administration has vowed to take a tough stance on both consolidation and inflation, so the disappearance of an ultra-low-cost airline could be a blow. sell hard.

“Spirits may not be an elegant experience, but they are very cheap,” said William Kovacic, a professor at the George Washington School of Law and former chair of the Federal Trade Commission. “If they disappear as an independent business… will that remove the source of downward pressure?”

But JetBlue’s Hayes says the airline needs to grow quickly and better compete with the major airlines that control more than three-quarters of the US market. Hayes argues that a larger JetBlue will mean relatively lower fares to more destinations.

Like some giant airlines, JetBlue added certain low fare imitate carriers like Spirit. Those tickets also don’t come with seat assignments or other perks that used to be standard with coach fares.

But JetBlue’s more comfortable business model costs more than Spirit, meaning it probably won’t offer as many low fares as Spirit.

Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines said it was happy to capture a larger share of the ultra-low cost market after its Spirit deal fell through. Shortly after the airlines announced the end of their deal, Frontier predicted it would grow 30% next year and begin selling tickets with 1 million seats for $19 a piece.

The airline will become the largest discount carrier in the US if Spirit is eventually acquired. Others include Loyal and Land of the sun.

Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said: “That just gives us a big room to grow. “That’s why this is a big windfall for our employees and shareholders.”

When did this happen?

Not immediately. JetBlue and Spirit hope the deal won’t receive regulatory approval until late 2023 or early 2024, then ending in the first half of 2024.

The integration of airlines is a lengthy and expensive process. For example, the flight attendants of United and Continental didn’t even fly together until eight years after these airlines merged in 2010.

Retrofitting the aircraft could also take years, and JetBlue won’t be able to begin that process with Spirit’s fleet until at least 2025. But the airline notes that it has recently retrofitted more than 100 its Airbus plane with new interior.

“We’ve had a lot of recent experience with how to do that,” says Hayes.

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