JetBlue, Spirit, Seek DOT Exemption From Serving Large Hubs

Credit: Rob Finlayson

JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines want to halt flying to a host of large hub airports, after the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) modified its criteria for smaller carriers seeking relief from service obligations associated with the CARES Act.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires carriers receiving federal aid to maintain minimum service levels to “all points” in their domestic networks to the extent “reasonable and practicable.”

The DOT previously denied requests from New York-based JetBlue and South Florida-based Spirit to suspend service to dozens of markets, reasoning that neither persuaded it to “strike a different balance” between the connectivity needs of communities and the economic needs of airlines.

The two airlines are hoping this time will be different. 

In their latest submissions, both argued that modified criteria in recent DOT decisions granting waivers to Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines and Hyannis-based Cape Air were inconsistent with their own treatment by the department. 

In the Sun Country and Cape Air cases, the DOT expanded its exemption criteria for smaller carriers—defined as those with a less than 10% share of domestic capacity—to allow reductions below CARES Act minimum levels at large hub airports, as classified by the FAA.

Because both JetBlue and Spirit fit the DOT definition of small carriers, the companies now want permission to halt service to sixteen and six large hub airports, respectively. 

JetBlue wants to temporarily pull out of Atlanta (ATL); Charlotte, North Carolina (CLT); Chicago O’Hare (ORD); Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW); Denver (DEN); Detroit (DTW); Houston (IAH); Las Vegas (LAS); Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP); Nashville, Tennessee (BNA); Philadelphia (PHL); Phoenix (PHX); Portland, Oregon (PDX); San Diego (SAN); Seattle (SEA); and Tampa, Florida (TPA).

Spirit wants to cease flying to CLT, DEN, MSP, PHX, PDX and SEA.

Spirit said the DOT’s revised criteria “recognized that requiring smaller air carriers to fly empty aircraft to cities/hubs that have substantial service by much larger carriers imposes an undue and unnecessary burden on such air carriers.”

JetBlue said the airports for which it seeks exemption “have abundant service from other carriers,” adding that a waiver to reduce service would “relieve JetBlue of undue economic and operational burden.”


Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.