JetBlue-Spirit deal to combine two competitors at Hartsfield-Jackson

A JetBlue airliner lands past a Spirit Airlines jet on taxi way at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport on Monday, April 25, 2022. (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
A JetBlue airliner lands past a Spirit Airlines jet on taxi way at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport on Monday, April 25, 2022. (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

New company will be the nation’s fifth-largest airline with 9% of the market

JetBlue Airways’ $3.8 billion deal to buy Spirit Airlines would combine two carriers that have carved out a small presence at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport over the years.

Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit, an ultra low-cost carrier, handles about 2.5% of the passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson as the third-largest independent carrier at the Atlanta airport, according to traffic data for the first six months of the year.

ExploreSpirit Airlines to open Atlanta crew base

New York-based JetBlue, which has been flying to Atlanta for the last five years, carries 0.45% of the passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Both Spirit and JetBlue are significantly smaller than Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which with its partner carriers controls more than 80% of the market at Hartsfield-Jackson. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the No. 2 carrier with 7.9% of the Atlanta market.

While Spirit is known for low fares and extra fees for large carry-on bags, checked bags and in-flight beverages, JetBlue is known for its service with free amenities and said it would bring its service to all aircraft of the combined carrier.

However, if the deal announced Thursday gains regulatory approval, industry experts expect fares will go up.

ExploreOn Delta's home turf, JetBlue struggles to carve out space

The combined airline would be based in New York and led by JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes.

“We believe we can uniquely be a solution to the lack of competition in the U.S. airline industry and the continued dominance of the Big Four,” Hayes said in a written statement. “By enabling JetBlue to grow faster, we can go head-to-head with the legacies in more places to lower fares and improve service for everyone. Even combined with Spirit, JetBlue will still be significantly smaller than the Big Four, but we’ll be much better positioned to bring the proven JetBlue Effect to many more routes and locations.”

Nationally, the merger of Spirit and JetBlue would create the nation’s fifth-largest airline with 9% of the market, behind American, United, Delta and Southwest.

The agreement between JetBlue and Spirit comes after several tumultuous months that started in February when Spirit originally announced plans to merger with Denver-based ultra low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines.

ExploreFrontier Airlines to open Atlanta crew base

JetBlue made a competing offer for Spirit in April, offering more money to shareholders. That sparked a bidding war that ended Wednesday when Spirit and Frontier announced they would abandon their proposed merger.