JetBlue and Spirit Airlines to appeal merger block ruling. JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, confronting significant regulatory and financial challenges, have decided to appeal a federal judge's decision that blocked their proposed merger. This development follows a ruling earlier in the week that put a stop to JetBlue's $3.8 billion acquisition of Spirit, as reported by Fortune.
The airlines took immediate action by filing a notice of appeal with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in accordance with the terms of their merger agreement. The U.S. Justice Department, which has actively opposed the merger on antitrust grounds, has not commented on this latest turn of events.
JetBlue and Spirit, recognized as the sixth and seventh-largest carriers in the nation, have argued that the merger is critical for them to effectively compete against larger airlines. According to Fortune, "JetBlue, which outbid Frontier Airlines, said it needed to acquire Spirit to compete more effectively against even bigger airlines." However, their plan was disrupted when a federal judge in Boston ruled the merger as antitrust law violation, echoing the concerns of the U.S. Justice Department about the potential harm to consumers and higher fares resulting from the elimination of Spirit, a major discount airline.
In a determined response to the ruling, the airlines announced their appeal, though details of their legal strategy were not disclosed. This decision highlights their resolve to pursue the merger despite regulatory challenges.
Alongside the legal battle, Spirit Airlines faces significant financial hurdles. Fortune reports that a strong holiday travel season in December positively impacted Spirit's fourth-quarter revenue. Yet, the airline is confronted with the daunting task of refinancing $1.1 billion in debt due in September 2025.
In a statement cited by Fortune, Spirit mentioned, "Negotiations with Pratt & Whitney over engines that need to be reworked — resulting in the grounding of an average of 26 planes a day throughout 2024 — 'have progressed considerably since October.'" The anticipated compensation from these negotiations is expected to be a crucial liquidity source for the airline in the coming years.
The financial stability of Spirit has been precarious since 2020, with analysts suggesting that bankruptcy could loom if the merger with JetBlue does not proceed. The urgency of their financial situation adds another layer of complexity to their appeal against the antitrust ruling.
Following the appeal announcement, there was notable market activity. Fortune reported, "Shares of Spirit, which fell 62% over three days following the ruling, gained 17% in regular trading Friday, and rose another 13% in after-hours trading." Conversely, JetBlue's shares saw a 2% decrease in extended trading.
The situation remains dynamic, with both airlines exploring options to address their financial challenges, including the looming $1.1 billion debt. As the appeal process unfolds, the future of this potential merger and its impact on the airline industry, particularly in the United States, will be closely monitored by industry experts and consumers alike. The outcome of this appeal could set a significant precedent for future mergers and acquisitions within the airline industry, shaping the competitive landscape for years to come.