JetBlue Airways (B6, New York JFK) has expressed regret about a decision by four more states to join the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust lawsuit to block the airline's USD3.8 billion merger with fellow budget carrier Spirit Airlines (NK, Fort Lauderdale International) in what would create the nation’s fifth-biggest airline.

This followed an amended complaint filed in the District Court of Massachusetts in Boston on March 31 whereby the attorneys general of California, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina joined the DOJ's civil litigation already supported by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of New York, and the District of Columbia.

"We look forward to litigating this important case alongside our state law enforcement partners to stop JetBlue from eliminating its rival, Spirit," DOJ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Doha Mekki said in a statement.

The DOJ's Antitrust Division filed the lawsuit on March 7, alleging the merger would eliminate Spirit Airlines as the largest and fastest-growing ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC) in the US, resulting in higher fares, less capacity, and harming consumers. As ch-aviation previously reported, it argues that JetBlue’s plan would eliminate about half of all ULCC seats in the United States. Therefore, it said, the proposed merger violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act and should be enjoined. The court hearing in Boston is scheduled to begin on October 16.

The Department of Transport has come out in support of the DOJ in line with US President Joe Biden's executive order for the authorities to take a united stance on defending competitiveness in the country. The DOT has also denied an exemption request filed jointly by JetBlue and Spirit Airlines that would allow them to operate under common ownership, saying this would be premature pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

Asked for comment, JetBlue said: "It’s unfortunate that these states have decided to join the DOJ’s effort to protect the dominant position of the four largest airlines in the US". It added: "The facts show that preserving the status quo is the most anti-competitive step that the federal government and these states can take. In New York Newark, United Airlines controls about 70% of the market, and in Charlotte International, American Airlines controls about 90%. Customers would be better served if JetBlue and Spirit can join together to bring more competition with the low fares and great service that JetBlue is known for. Further, in Newark, JetBlue plans to divest all of Spirit’s assets to allow for another ultra-low-cost carrier to enter that airport."

"We look forward to arguing the merits of this combination in court, and are confident the court will find that consumers will benefit from the increased competitive effect that JetBlue uniquely brings to the routes we fly," it said.