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How JetBlue’s takeover of Spirit could change air travel

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Passengers wait in line on the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Orlando International Airport.

Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | Getty Images

Spirit Airlines relented this week and agreed to sell itself to JetBlue Airways for $3.8 billion, hours after breaking off a merger agreement with Frontier Airlines that didn’t win enough shareholder support.

The brand new deal would mean big changes for travelers if it passes regulatory hurdles.

JetBlue has earned a popularity for passenger comforts like relatively generous legroom, seatback screens, live television, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks like Cheez-Its and Stellar vegan butter pretzel braids. It also offers business class, with lie-flat seats.

Spirit, against this, has grow to be a punchline for its bare-bones service. The cabins in its brilliant yellow planes are more cramped, and passengers must pay extra for “optional services” like carry-on luggage and getting to select a seat.

“It’s historic. That is the primary time anyone wanted Spirit Airlines,” quipped “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert in regards to the deal on Thursday.

Still, Spirit has expanded rapidly and profitably by offering low cost tickets to vacation hotspots that may sometimes run lower than a visit to the films or a couple of burgers. The airline’s “Big Front Seat,” nevertheless, does offer 36 inches of legroom for a surcharge of as much as $250.

Because the two distinct airlines push ahead with their plans to mix, here’s what passengers can expect:

What are JetBlue’s plans for Spirit?

JetBlue desires to get greater, and Spirit has the planes and pilots to assist it try this. The Latest York-based carrier plans to retrofit Spirit’s planes in JetBlue’s style, ripping out the packed-in seats for a roomier layout with more amenities.

Combined, the airlines would grow to be the country’s fifth-largest carrier, behind American, Delta, United and Southwest. Each have an enormous presence in Florida and every has expanded into Central and South America in addition to the Caribbean in recent times. JetBlue last yr began flying to London.

The 2 carriers will proceed to operate as separate airlines until after the deal closes, which is subject to regulatory approval. Afterward, passengers could be confused in the event that they’re flying in Spirit planes that have not been retrofitted yet.

JetBlue has some experience with such situations through its alliance with American within the Northeast, which allows the carriers to sell seats on each others’ planes. Last yr, JetBlue revamped its website to raised highlight the differences in onboard features like business class seats or free Wi-Fi.

Despite comedians’ digs, Spirit has improved its reliability in recent times — and is faring higher than JetBlue by some measures.

JetBlue got here in last amongst 10 airlines in on-time arrivals this yr through May, while Spirit ranked seventh, in response to the Transportation Department’s latest available data.

To this point this yr, a 3rd of JetBlue’s flights were delayed and 4% have been canceled, in response to flight tracker FlightAware. By comparison, barely greater than 1 / 4 of Spirit’s flights have arrived late and a pair of.7% have been canceled.

JetBlue’s CEO Robin Hayes says improving reliability is a priority. The carrier has scaled back growth plans, saying it didn’t wish to overextend its crews and other resources.

“A much bigger JetBlue that’s late will not be a greater JetBlue,” said Henry Harteveldt, a former airline executive and founding father of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel-industry consulting firm.

Is that this the tip of low cost fares?

The Biden administration has vowed to take a tricky stance on each consolidation and inflation, so the disappearance of an ultra low-cost airline could possibly be a tough sell.

“Spirit won’t be a chic experience, but they’re low cost,” said William Kovacic, a professor on the George Washington School of Law and a former chair of the Federal Trade Commission. “In the event that they disappear as an independent enterprise … is that going to remove a source of downward pressure on price?”

But JetBlue’s Hayes says the airline must grow quickly and higher compete with big airlines that control greater than three-quarters of the U.S. market. Hayes argues a much bigger JetBlue would mean more relatively lower fares to more destinations.

Like a number of the airline giants, JetBlue has already added certain low fares that mimic carriers like Spirit. Those tickets also don’t include seat assignments or other perks that were once standard with a coach fare.

But JetBlue’s business model of offering more comforts costs greater than Spirit’s, meaning it likely won’t offer as most of the all-time low fares that Spirit does.

Frontier Airlines, meanwhile, is already saying it’s joyful to tackle a much bigger share of the ultra-low-cost market after its Spirit deal fell apart. Shortly after the airlines announced the tip of their agreement, Frontier projected it will grow 30% next yr and commenced a fare sale with 1 million seats going for $19 apiece.

The airline will grow to be the most important discount carrier within the U.S. if Spirit is ultimately acquired. Others include Allegiant and Sun Country.

“That just gives us an enormous amount of respiration room for growth,” said Frontier CEO Barry Biffle. “That is why that is such a windfall for our employees and our shareholders.”

When is that this happening?

Not immediately. JetBlue and Spirit expect the deal won’t get regulatory approval until late 2023 or early 2024, then close in the primary half of 2024.

Integrating airlines is a lengthy and expensive process. For instance, United and Continental flight attendants didn’t even fly together until eight years after those airlines merged in 2010.

Retrofitting planes can take years too, and JetBlue would not have the option to start out that process with Spirit’s fleet until a minimum of 2025. However the airline notes it recently outfitted greater than 100 of its Airbus planes with latest interiors.

“We have got a whole lot of recent experience in the way to do it,” said Hayes.

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