Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg calling on him to prevent JetBlue from purchasing Spirit Airlines in order "to protect competition in the domestic air travel market."
"I write to ask the Department of Transportation (DOT) to use its full statutory authority to address consolidation in the airline industry and to express my serious concerns about the proposed merger between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines announced in July," Warren wrote in a letter dated Sept. 15.
"DOT has significant and historically underutilized authorities to protect competition in the domestic air travel market to ensure any route transfers are 'consistent with the public interest,' and I urge you to consider utilizing these authorities as you continue your commendable consumer-protection efforts."
Warren added: "Title 49 explicitly grants DOT the authority to block any transfer of a route-operating certificate if such a transfer would not be 'consistent with the public interest.' Among the factors the Secretary of Transportation is required to consider when making this assessment is the effect of the transfer on 'competition in the domestic airline industry.' DOT, however, has historically interpreted its authorities … as only authorizing it to block international route transfers. This reading of the statute is incorrect."
According to Warren, the department has the authority under U.S. Title 49 to block "the transfer of any 'certificate issued under section 41102' – whether the relevant routes are domestic or international."
JetBlue responded to Warren's letter in a statement to Seeking Alpha, saying: "Our proposed combination with Spirit addresses Senator Warren's longstanding concern about the lack of competition in the U.S. airline industry by bringing JetBlue's disruptive combination of low fares and great service to more people in more places. With just 5% of the market."
The statement continued: "We are disappointed that Senator Warren would suggest circumventing a well-established process that would ensure a full and in-depth review of our proposal, and we look forward to continued engagement with both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation on the significant benefits this combination will provide to the traveling public."
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