JetBlue, Spirit ending US$3.8B merger

JetBlue and Spirit Airlines are ending their proposed US$3.8 billion combination after a court ruling blocked their merger.

JetBlue said Monday that even though both companies still believe in the benefits of a combination, they felt they were unlikely to meet the required closing conditions before the July 24 deadline and mutually agreed that terminating the deal was the best decision for both.

“We are proud of the work we did with Spirit to lay out a vision to challenge the status quo, but given the hurdles to closing that remain, we decided together that both airlines’ interests are better served by moving forward independently,” JetBlue CEO Joanna Geraghty said in a statement.

“We are disappointed we cannot move forward with a deal that would save hundreds of millions for consumers and create a real challenger to the dominant `Big 4′ U.S. airlines. However, we remain confident in our future as a successful independent airline,” Spirit CEO Ted Christie said in a statement.

JetBlue will pay Spirit a US$69 million termination fee.

The Justice Department sued to block the merger last year, saying it would reduce competition and drive up fares, especially for travelers who depend on low-fare Spirit.

In January, a federal district judge in Boston sided with the government and blocked the deal, saying it violated antitrust law.

The airlines had appealed the ruling. The appeal hearing had been set for June.

New York-based JetBlue had argued that the merger would help it compete more effectively against bigger airlines. But there were continuing losses and other problems at Spirit, which is based in Miramar, Florida. Last week JetBlue had previously warned that it might terminate the agreement.

Shares of JetBlue Airways Corp. rose more than 5% before the market open, while Spirit’s stock slipped more than 13%.

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