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JetBlue and Spirit: Many questions, unknown answers


JetBlue's victory over Frontier Airlines as a buyer for Spirit Airlines changes the focus from financial details to questions about what it will all mean on the runway and in the air—if the Federal government allows the merger to happen.

That government approval process may itself be quite complicated, with Spirit and JetBlue both heavily focused on the eastern half of the country, and with JetBlue partnered with American Airlines in an alliance that is still facing legal challenges, but which was intended to increase, not decrease competition.

Beyond the legal challenges are the questions of how two such dissimilar airlines can become one. JetBlue is known for its 34" average legroom, free snacks and entertainment and free WiFi; Spirit, at 28", has the tightest seats in America, charges for snacks and much more, and has only just gone widespread with WiFi, but at a price.

Those are some of the reasons JetBlue has been considered one of the most-loved airlines and Spirit one of the least, along with perceived differences in customer service and attitude. In a letter to JetBlue's loyalty members Thursday morning, JetBlue CEO in essence promised that the combined airline will reflect JetBlue's model rather than a mix of the two.

Until the deal closes, obviously they will remain separate airlines, but after the deal is closed, there will be extensive transition moves, including new training for Spirit employees, and certainly reconfiguration of aircraft. Even though they fly the same fleet types, Spirit's planes typically carry about 30 more seats than JetBlue's. Combined, the 'new' JetBlue will be the fifth-largest in the U.S., behind the three legacy carriers and Southwest.

As for the difference in pricing between the airlines: That may not be as big a gap as it seems at first. While Spirit's base price is markedly lower in most cases, the average fare is not as different because of items included in JetBlue but separate on Spirit, and because JetBlue's baggage prices are lower.

And, in a separate question: Now that Frontier has failed in its bid to match its western focus with Spirit's eastern one in a giant ultra-low-cost carrier, what is its future? Can it survive on its own, or build out to a larger scale? Unknown.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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