One would think that Republican attorneys general would know better than to make common cause with Merrick Garland’s Justice Department. But then we live in the crazy season of politics, and it’s in this atmosphere that Republican attorneys general Mark Brnovich of Arizona and Ashley Moody of Florida have united with the Biden administration to attack the airline industry, in particular, American and Jet Blue.
A bit of background: American Airlines and JetBlue decided to join forces to compete in the northeast, where United and Delta are the big players. Last year, they announced that they would coordinate flights and split revenue at New York City’s JFK and LaGuardia airports, Newark Liberty International airport, and Boston’s Logan International airport.
It made sense as a business decision: American and JetBlue have a tough time fighting against Delta and United because the northeast airports are congested and takeoff and landing slots are constrained. By linking arms, they could serve both their passengers better, and they could expand their northeast footprint.
That makes perfect sense, and it’s why the Trump administration blessed the merger. But then came President Joe Biden, and his Justice Department’s desire to undo this sensible deal.
It has sued these companies, calling their decisions the first step toward the creation of a“modern-day version of a nineteenth-century business trust.” Without explanation or evidence, it claims that American Airlines is going to co-opt JetBlue and that this deal would be bad for consumers.
It’s hard to know which piece of this induces the most head-scratching, but start with this one: two Republican attorneys general, Moody and Brnovich, have signed onto the suit. Conservatives who should know better have decided that Attorney General Merrick Garland is suddenly making a lot of sense.
But, of course, he’s not. This is a meritless lawsuit and is likely to be thrown out. But the fact that the suit exists at all is worrying. It sends a signal that nonsense antitrust suits are back on table. One would expect this of a Democratic administration, eager as they are to do everything they can to make it harder to do business in the United States. But it’s disappointing to see from AGs Moody and Brnovich, who should have supported the Trump administration's position on this airline issue.
Here’s why: JetBlue’s union with American is good for consumers. The small carrier has a habit of forcing others to drive down prices and improve service. Because it would add almost 200 new flights out of Boston and New York, one could imagine Delta and United suddenly having to step up their game—and reduce fares. Moreover, the American-JetBlue deal wasn’t a merger, nor an acquisition. It was simply an agreement to work together in one region. The two airlines would still duke it out in every other part of the country. In other words: How could this possibly be characterized as an antitrust issue?
Here’s the truth: It isn’t one. American and JetBlue are simply the latest and most visible targets of an administration being run by the most liberal parts of its left flank. Rather than embrace this kind of business cooperation as exactly what industry needs from time to time, the Biden administration—and its Republican allies in Moody and Brnovich—have decided to force these companies to spend money and time on a lawsuit no one needed for an antitrust issue that doesn’t exist.
The Biden camp can be forgiven—they don’t know better. Republicans Moody and Brnovich do not, and they should be held to account when their number comes up for reelection.