JetBlue and American Airlines

The Case for NEA

Last year, JetBlue and American announced an innovative alliance to increase competition in the Northeast. The Northeast Alliance (NEA) – authorized by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) earlier this year –  is meant to overcome the insurmountable obstacles historically faced by each airline in challenging Delta’s and United’s dominance in the region. In the time since, the Northeast Alliance (NEA) has created a third, full-scale competitor to United and Delta in New York in the form of a virtual network that through codesharing, slot swaps, new international and domestic routes, better schedules, and expanded frequent flier program benefits closes longstanding competitive gaps. In Boston, the alliance likewise is empowering more growth by both carriers, as American expands its global product offering and JetBlue extends it low fares and high-quality product to new markets, and, as a result, provides a more effective competitor to Delta’s efforts to become dominant there.

Delivering Choice and Provoking Competition

By all metrics, the NEA has supercharged competition in the region both directly, by providing more choice and better service for customers, and indirectly by provoking a competitive response from the historically dominant carriers. It is not surprising that other airlines responded to the new, enriched competition. That is what the NEA is intended to accomplish – and consumers are the beneficiaries of the virtuous cycle the NEA has unleashed.

The NEA is a targeted, carefully tailored alliance that allows JetBlue and American to create a better customer proposition, and compete more effectively against United and Delta in Boston and New York. Even within the NEA, JetBlue and American continue to price independently and, in every other part of the country, it is business as usual with each carrier operating entirely independently.

No Evidence of Harm

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) lawsuit is perplexing. After a year of investigating the NEA, the DOJ has presented no evidence the alliance has harmed consumers. Also, the DOJ has not explained its opposition or unwillingness to recognize the significant and demonstrable benefits that the NEA has and will continue to provide to consumers traveling from and to New York and Boston.

The DOJ also did not need to challenge the NEA now. The NEA is not a merger, and the DOJ is not operating under a deadline. The NEA is a contractual collaboration that could be unwound if, unlikely as it seems, it produced anticompetitive effects. JetBlue and American are – and will remain – independent airlines, and their alliance will remain subject to antitrust and all other  laws aimed at protecting consumers and competition. The better course for the DOJ – the course based on giving new competitive innovations a chance and letting markets judge them – would have been to monitor the NEA and hold JetBlue and American accountable for delivering on their promises.

In addition, it’s important to remember that the NEA underwent a review by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) staff aviation experts who routinely analyze the competitive effects of agreements among airlines. The DOT reached an agreement with American and JetBlue allowing the NEA to proceed, subject to clear commitments to growth and  safeguards in place to protect competition. DOT  understood the NEA’s procompetitive potential and gave it a chance to deliver those benefits

Increasing Competition and Consumer Choice with a Virtual Network

The NEA was created to solve the problems JetBlue and American have faced going up against Delta and United, which dominate the Northeast especially in New York – the most important travel market globally. Both Delta and United have a much larger share of slots and other assets needed to compete in New York than either JetBlue or American. Over time they used their advantages to create an insurmountable lead in terms of daily departures, passengers flown, and service to top business markets among other metrics. Delta and United have also been able to tell the New York-based travelers that they will have a better frequent flyer experience on their airlines because of the deeper, broader schedule they fly out of New York.

While JetBlue has built a successful business and beloved brand in Boston, its runway for growth against its primary legacy competitor Delta is limited. JetBlue’s network breadth and depth in key business and international markets is not competitive with Delta, especially for corporate customers. With JetBlue accessing American’s network and large frequent flier customer base, both JetBlue and American become competitive with Delta in Boston.

The NEA changes the dynamic – instantly. It allows both airlines to pool resources, like aircraft, slots, and gates, to offer consumers a broader “virtual” network without merging or diminishing competition in the Northeast corridor or elsewhere. The foundation of the NEA is providing greater customer choice, or value, because the virtual NEA network is now as strong as anything United and Delta have to offer. The New York-based business traveler no longer has to view JetBlue and American as airlines that fly to half as many places as United or Delta, or have far less convenient schedules. The new, third option – the NEA – allows flyers to get to where they need to go, when they need to go, and maximize their frequent flier benefits at the same time.

The DOJ complains about the loss of JetBlue-American competition, but that ignores the fact that within the NYC and Boston airline markets, both JetBlue and American primarily compete with Delta, United, and other low-cost carriers – not each other. Under normal, pre-pandemic conditions:

  • Of 99 NYC city-pair markets they served, JetBlue and American competed only on 20, and all but five of those had more than four competitors.
  • Of 67 Boston city-pair markets they served, JetBlue and American competed only on 12.
  • JetBlue and Delta or United were two of the top three carriers by share in 51 city-pair markets in NYC and Boston as opposed to only 12 for JetBlue and American.

In short, JetBlue and American are uniquely positioned to collaborate and grow each other without any significant threat to competition – and each has what the other needs to become stronger rivals to Delta and United.

NEA Provides Immediate Consumer Benefits

In just a few months, JetBlue and American are making good on the promise to add new routes and services and offer more codesharing and connectivity. Since February 2021, the NEA has delivered:

New Routes and Services

  • 58 new routes out of JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Newark.
  • Increased frequencies on more than 130 routes since February 2021.
  • 18 new international routes launched or planned by 2022.
  • 6 new summer routes between JFK and Latin America and the Caribbean.

New Codesharing and Connectivity

  • Codesharing on 175 routes, including from New York (JFK) to Tel Aviv-Yafo and from New York (JFK) to Athens.
  • Retimed flights to expand schedule options and create better connections for international flying.

Integrated Offering

  • American and JetBlue frequent flyer program members are accruing miles on both airlines.
  • Expanded lie-flat products for customers.
  • Reciprocal benefits, including priority check-in, priority security, priority baggage, priority boarding, and up to two free checked bags, are available for frequent flyer members with status when traveling on either airline.
  • Redemption of miles on either airline is coming soon.

Airports and IT Investments

  • $50 million in capital investments to implement co-location and a new busing line to dramatically reduce transfer times, saving passengers 30 to 35 minutes.
  • JetBlue and American plan to invest $7.5 million in IT improvements to further streamline the customer experience.

New and/or Incremental Aircraft

  • American is removing smaller regional aircraft at NEA airports in favor of larger aircraft, which decreases noise and carbon emissions.
  • JetBlue is delaying retirement of 30 E190 aircraft to support the opportunities for growth fueled by the NEA.

Through the improved network and increased flying, the NEA is estimated to generate more than $800 million in consumer benefits annually. In addition, with growth from the NEA, JetBlue plans to hire 1,800 new crewmembers, while American will hire approximately 28 full-time employees and 15 part-time employees.

NEA Means More of JetBlue’s Low Fares, Great Service in the Northeast

JetBlue’s value proposition – that no one should have to choose between a low fare and a great experience when they travel – sets it apart. The NEA does not change its business model, and JetBlue has no intention of abandoning its low-fare structure and award-winning experience. In fact, the NEA empowers JetBlue to bring more of these benefits to more consumers. The NEA is above all about growth, and that is already bringing JetBlue’s much-loved experience and low fares to more routes, enabled by American’s slot portfolio and customer base.

And when JetBlue gets stronger in the Northeast, it gets stronger everywhere. The NEA enables JetBlue to grow its overall network even faster than it otherwise would have; for example, the opportunities unlocked by the NEA are a large part of why JetBlue delayed the retirement of its 30 E190 aircraft.

The NEA is based on a simple concept of providing greater customer value through a kind of virtual network in the Northeast – one than can match United and Delta. That concept has nothing but upside for JetBlue and travelers.

NEA Provokes Competitive Response

The NEA was designed to increase competition in the Northeast – and it’s already doing just that. As the NEA has improved the travel options for customers on JetBlue and American, other airlines are responding to this enhanced competition by stepping up their own products and services in the Northeast corridor, delivering clear wins for consumers across the board.

Top Media Stories:

  • The Points Guy: Delta goes head-to-head with American and JetBlue with 4 new Boston and New York routes – “Delta Air Lines announced a significant expansion in both Boston and New York, including four new routes and ungauged service, along with expanded VIP departure services and more. The move comes just months after the launch of the nascent Northeast Alliance between American Airlines and JetBlue that’s largely focused on boosting connectivity and adding new service to — you guessed it — Boston and New York.”
  • Simple Flying: Spirit Airlines Grows New England Presence Amid Intensifying Competition – “With the American-JetBlue alliance and Delta’s growing Boston and New York footprints, Spirit Airlines does not want to be left in the dust.”
  • The Points Guy: United returns to New York JFK after more than a five year hiatus with inaugural flagship routes – “As travel continues to pick up alongside COVID-19 vaccination rates, United will face fierce competition on the high-demand routes. American Airlines flies its Airbus A321T between New York and the two California cities — featuring both first class and business class cabins — while JetBlue features its lauded Mint business class cabin on JFK-LAX flights. Delta flies 757 and 767s outfitted with Delta One on the transcon routes out of JFK.”
DOT Review

The NEA is not exempt from antitrust laws designed to protect competition, and American and JetBlue are not seeking antitrust immunity or permission to merge. Before the NEA was implemented, JetBlue and American submitted the full scope of their agreement to the DOT for a top to bottom review by aviation and policy experts. After an exhaustive months-long review, the DOT reached an agreement with American and JetBlue allowing the NEA to proceed, subject to commitments from both carriers, including:

  • Divesting seven slots pairs at JFK and six at DCA, which allow for even more competition at these airports.
  • Prohibiting the airlines formally from discussions around pricing or revenue management strategies, or any attempt to influence each other’s competitive behavior.
  • Forbidding scheduling or capacity decisions for any route outside the scope of the alliance.
  • Adhering to strict reporting requirements on market capacity, as well as slot and gate utilization.
  • Demonstrating that the NEA is generating substantial procompetitive growth, and if it isn’t, the DOT can take away valuable slot rights.

These safeguards further ensure that the NEA delivers the consumer benefits it promises without harm to consumers. Importantly, the alliance is promising growth even after the divestiture of slots at JFK and DCA that will allow another low-cost carrier to enter or expand its presence at these constrained airports – yet another win for consumers.

Next Steps

We are confident in the NEA’s benefits to consumers, and we are confident that the DOJ’s lawsuit will not deter or obstruct the NEA’s momentum of delivering benefits to consumers. In the months ahead, the airlines will:

  • Launch new routes and markets that have been announced.
  • Expand codeshare options.
  • Continue to make IT investments that will enhance the experience.
  • Launch new loyalty program enhancements in the coming months.
  • Invest in a seamless airport experience, including connections between the two airlines.
  • Continue to work together to provide re-accommodation options when customers travel plans are unexpectedly interrupted.
What They're Saying

The Points Guy: Delta boosts transatlantic network with more flights, premium economy cabins

November 8, 2021

“Headlining Delta’s big European expansion is a 90% increase in additional transatlantic capacity next summer, compared to summer 2021. Relative to 2019, that number drops to somewhere between 85% and 90%. In total, the airline will operate up to 73 daily flights to 25 destinations from 10 U.S. gateways.”

Simple Flying: JetBlue Prepares For A Big Future At LaGuardia

October 30, 2021

“Starting Sunday, October 31st, JetBlue will be offering flights from two terminals at LaGuardia as it grows to 35 daily flights… By summer 2022, JetBlue will be serving 16 nonstop destinations from LaGuardia. This will bring the airline to its largest network from LGA ever. Previously, JetBlue only offered a limited array of flights to its top destinations, namely in Florida, to serve New York origination and destination customers.”

Business Insider: United is expanding its transatlantic network with additional daily flights and one new route to London in 2022

October 28, 2021

“United announced on Thursday that it is increasing the number of flights to London and introducing an all-new route from Boston, fueling the competition with the American-JetBlue Northeast alliance. Beginning next year, the airline will operate 22 daily flights from the US to London, including five new daily flights from Boston, set to launch on March 26, according to the carrier.”

The Points Guy: Delta grows New York hubs with 100 added flights, challenging American and JetBlue

October 19, 2021

“This latest announcement from Delta, however, would seem to weaken the DOJ’s case. By responding to the competition with a strongly worded press release about being New York’s No. 1 carrier, Delta could be feeling some pressure as the incumbent. And it’s not just Tuesday’s announcement that weakens the DOJ’s case. Earlier this month, Delta issued a similar press release for a Boston expansion, headlined by five new high-profile routes from the city.”

The Points Guy: American, JetBlue unveil reciprocal award redemptions and elite benefits

October 13, 2021

“This latest enhancement builds on the already existing reciprocal mileage earning offering for all American AAdvantage members and JetBlue TrueBlue members, which first launched in May… Starting in November, American’s loyalty members will be able to redeem AAdvantage miles for JetBlue-operated flights.”

Business Insider: Delta announced 7 new routes from Boston, challenging JetBlue and American Airlines’ Northeast alliance

October 4, 2021

“Delta Air Lines announced seven new routes out of Boston Logan International Airport on Sunday, going head-to-head with the strong JetBlue-American Northeast Alliance. Delta is targeting Boston in its latest network expansion, revealing two new international routes, Tel Aviv and Athens, and five new domestic routes, Baltimore; Denver; San Diego; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dallas, Texas, out of its transatlantic hub. According to the airline, the added service will boost its capacity out of Boston by more than 20% compared to pre-pandemic operations.”

Bloomberg: Delta to Ramp Up Boston Service, Add New International Routes

October 3, 2021

“Delta Air Lines Inc. will increase service from Boston, adding two international destinations and boosting capacity about 24% over its previous peak, to better compete against an American Airlines Group Inc.-JetBlue Airways Corp. alliance that unifies the airport’s top two carriers.”

View from the Wing: Delta Airlines Launching New Flights That Prove American-JetBlue Partnership Increases Competition

October 2, 2021

“American’s new New York – Tel Aviv and Athens routes are both served by Delta. Now Delta is retaliating against that new service by adding the same destinations from Boston. Is Delta doing anything here other than proving that the American Airlines-JetBlue partnership spurs competition in the Northeast?”

The Points Guy: Delta targets Boston for major expansion, challenging AA and JetBlue with 5 new high-profile routes

October 2, 2021

“Delta Air Lines just got very serious about protecting its Boston hub from its competitors. Over the weekend, the airline scheduled a massive service expansion in the city, with two new long-haul routes, three new domestic destinations, increased frequencies, modernized planes and much more. The network updates were first seen in Cirium timetables, and later confirmed to TPG by the airline.”

Wall Street Journal: Biden Flies Blind on Antitrust

October 1, 2021

“The DOJ lawsuit is likely to fail under the prevailing consumer benefit standard. But other businesses are now on notice that antitrust will be wielded as a regulatory weapon no matter the evidence.”

Cranky Flier: How Competitive are New York and Boston for Air Travel?

September 28, 2021

“Even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) seems to think that Newark shouldn’t count as an alternative to JFK and LaGuardia for domestic travel, I think that’s absurd. So everything I look at here will take those three airports into account. (Islip, Stewart, and Westchester are rounding errors and not worth thinking about.)”

Cranky Flier: DOJ Has Few Good Arguments, Odd Timing As It Sues to Block American, JetBlue Alliance

September 23, 2021

“The long-rumored court action is finally here. Months ago, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) was considering challenging the American and JetBlue so-called Northeast Alliance (NEA). Then last week, the rumors picked up steam. A Friday letter from Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT) to DOT condemning the approval process was just an appetizer before the lawsuit filed by DOJ in a Massachusetts court Tuesday. Though there are some valid concerns in the lawsuit, most seem to have already been addressed by DOT. And more importantly, I can help but wonder… why now?”

View from the Wing: Justice Dept To Sue Over American-JetBlue Partnership, Helping Competitors Not Customers

September 21, 2021

“The American Airlines-JetBlue partnership is good for consumers however lobbyists for other airlines may get a new pound of flesh. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Department of Justice is going to sue American Airlines and JetBlue over their Northeast Alliance which the government already approved.”