After asking a judge to dismiss an antitrust lawsuit on Monday morning, JetBlue, American Airlines, and the US Justice Department have tentatively agreed on a September 2022 trial date. The lawsuit revolves around the so-called Northeast Alliance recently formed by the two airlines.
The trial date agreement comes hours after airlines ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit
According to Reuters, JetBlue and American Airlines asked Judge Leo Sorokin of the US District Court in Boston to throw out the lawsuit against the alliance. The Northeast Alliance results from a July 2020 agreement between the two airlines to coordinate schedules and consolidate operations in Boston and New York.
In September 2021, US Attorney General Merrick Garland called the agreement an “unprecedented maneuver to further consolidate the industry.” The AG said it would lead to higher fares, fewer choices, and lower quality service.
In the same month, the Justice Department launched its lawsuit against the alliance on the basis it would eliminate competition in New York and Boston and harms air travelers nationwide.
On Monday, when asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, the airlines said the lawsuit was defective as it did not address allegations of anti-competitive behavior.
“The Northeast Alliance has been underway for nine months, yet plaintiffs do not allege that it has caused a single higher price, any reduction in quality, or the slightest reduction in output,” the application said.
The airlines say the alliance offer passengers the benefits of a “broader and deeper network at these airports—more flights and seats to more places—so that each airline can become more competitive with the dominant carriers in the Northeast.”
The Justice Department has 21 days to respond to Monday’s motion, so no ruling was immediately forthcoming. But within hours, the airlines and Justice Department had agreed on a September 2022 trial date.
Controversial airline alliance has its fans & its detractors
The Northeast Alliance has been controversial from the get-go. The airlines argue it offers a raft of benefits for passengers, not least breaking up the stranglehold United Airlines and Delta have on the Northeast.
Allegedly because of the alliance, JetBlue and American plan to operate over 500 flights a day out of JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia this winter.
“When all is said and done, the Northeast Alliance will account for roughly 70% of the JetBlue network,” JetBlue’s CEO Joanna Geraghty recently said.
The two airlines say 58 new routes have begun out of the Northeast since the alliance started and frequencies improved on a further 130 routes.
But it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops. Just weeks ago, American Airlines axed 18 routes out of its New York Airports, leaving many of those routes to JetBlue.
“This sweeping partnership is unprecedented among domestic airlines and amounts to a de facto merger between American and JetBlue in Boston and New York City,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Powers in September.
The two airlines say they talked to the US Transportation Department before the alliance began. JetBlue and American note the alliance got the green light on the basis they would meet growth targets and surrender some takeoff and landing slots in New York.
Meanwhile, the proposed September 2022 trial date will need the court’s approval.