ORLANDO, Fla. — Flying in and out of Orlando could get a lot more expensive if a billion-dollar airline merger gains approval from the United States government.
Thursday morning, JetBlue Airways executives announced their intent to buy ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines, combining MCO’s 2nd and 6th largest carriers into a fleet big enough to rival America’s “big four” of Delta, American, United and Southwest.
The new 5th largest carrier in the nation would maintain its focus on pressuring its competitors to bring down their prices while maintaining JetBlue’s high level of service, executives said.
“Combining with Spirit will give JetBlue an even larger platform to deliver on our mission to inspire humanity,” JetBlue Board Chairman Peter Boneparth said.
As part of their release, officials promised to “increase relevancy” to Orlando amid a combined network of more than 450 aircraft flying 1,700 daily routes.
However, some industry analysts questioned how much the merger would benefit consumers. While Spirit has long been considered America’s most hated airline due to its less comfortable airplanes and inefficient customer service, it constantly beat almost every other competitor in the biggest consideration for its customers: price.
The analysts believe the loss of the bare-bones operation will lead to higher fares, since less pressure will be put on traditional carriers and those that focus on the in-between tier, such as Southwest and JetBlue.
WFTV dug through flight prices for the weekend of September 17th, seeking out round trip tickets on a Saturday to Sunday hop from Orlando to various other cities.
With the exception of some routes where Frontier beat Spirit’s price, the yellow aviator offered customers the best deal and nonstop options – as long as they didn’t try to bring a bag onboard.
That held true for every route where Spirit and JetBlue acted as direct competitors. Flights to Boston ran as low as $159, while JetBlue’s tickets started at $267 – with one stop in New York. Flying to Newark? The difference was $80. Hartford, CT saw a $63 difference, while Salt Lake City customers faced a $54 gap between the two lowest cost flights offered.
The concerns carry over into other routes, with decisions over which parts of Spirit’s itinerary will be kept and dropped, as well as what the flights will be priced at, still up in the air.
“I think [our country] needs more airlines and needs more corporations and smaller corporations instead of [a few] controlling everything,” Jim Fowler, flying on Spirit to Ohio, said.
The Justice Department, which has the power to block mergers that threaten competition, declined to comment in response to WFTV’s questions. The airlines counter they’ll control just 9% of the market if the acquisition is completed.
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