An antitrust lawsuit to block the USD3.8 billion merger between rivalling budget carriers JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines has been scheduled to start on October 16, 2023, at the United States District Court of Massachusetts in Boston.

The date was set by US District Court Judge William G. Young during a virtual hearing.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the suit on March 7 claiming the proposed deal would be uncompetitive and violate Section 7 of the Clayton Act and therefore should be enjoined. It sought a late October or November trial date, while the airlines requested September 11, Bloomberg Law reported.

According to Reuters, JetBlue's counsel had pushed for an earlier date saying the airline wanted time to pursue any appeals before a July 2024 deadline to close the merger. October was the soonest the judge's schedule allowed. The non-jury trial will run for 20 days, and the schedule could allow a ruling before January 2024.

As ch-aviation previously reported, the DOJ is suing alongside the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, New York state, and the District of Columbia. It claims that if allowed, the merger would eliminate Spirit as a competitor and about half of all ultra-low-cost airline seats in the US industry, thereby leaving tens of millions of travellers to face higher fares and fewer options.

Meanwhile, a ruling is still pending in the DOJ's separate antitrust case in Boston against the Northeast Alliance (NEA) of American Airlines and JetBlue. It was heard in September 2022, but the DOJ said it wanted time before the Spirit case goes to trial to see how JetBlue's business strategies change once it is decided, Reuters said.