JetBlue bids for Spirit, disrupting Frontier’s merger plans

Carriers make up small share of Atlanta airport traffic

JetBlue Airways has made an offer to acquire Spirit Airlines, potentially throwing a wrench into Frontier Airlines’ plans to merge with Spirit.

It’s yet to be seen what the announcement late Tuesday means for the three low-cost carriers.

New York-based JetBlue in a press release called its bid a “superior proposal” that would make for a better low-fare challenger to the ‘Big Four’ airlines: American, United, Delta and Southwest. JetBlue’s offer values Spirit at $3.6 billion, about $700 million more than the original value of Frontier’s bid.

Spirit said it would evaluate JetBlue’s proposal.

Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue are relatively small players at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but each has sought to carve out a following in Atlanta in recent years.

In 2021, Spirit carried about 3% of passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson, Frontier controlled 2% of the market and JetBlue had less than 1%.

The Atlanta airport is dominated by Delta and its partners, which control more than 80% of the market. Southwest Airlines is in the No. 2 position with nearly 9%.

Even though Spirit controlled less than 3% of the market, that still makes it the third-largest carrier in Atlanta.

American Airlines carried 2.4% of the passengers in Atlanta, while United Airlines carried 1.4%.

Denver-based Frontier and Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit are known for their budget model, charging extra for large carry-on bags as well as checked luggage, and also charging for in-flight beverages.

Combined ShapeCaption
Frontier, based in Denver, previously announced a $2.9 billion merger plan with Spirit. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Frontier, based in Denver, previously announced a $2.9 billion merger plan with Spirit. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Combined ShapeCaption
Frontier, based in Denver, previously announced a $2.9 billion merger plan with Spirit. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

JetBlue offers a different low-cost carrier model, with free snacks and drinks and more amenities.

When Frontier and Spirit announced their merger in February, they said the combined airline would “compete even more aggressively,” especially against the Big Four.

However, some Democratic lawmakers have raised antitrust concerns, saying they think the deal could reduce competition.

Frontier on Tuesday claimed a JetBlue-Spirit combination “would reduce competition and limit options for consumers” because of the two carriers’ “significant East Coast overlap.”

Frontier added that its proposed transaction with Spirit is “in the best interest of consumers and shareholders.”