Spirit Airlines Board unanimously determined JetBlue proposal does not constitute a ‘Superior Proposal’

0
7

May 2, 2022

Robin Hayes
Chief Executive Officer
JetBlue Airways Corporation
27-01 Queens Plaza North
Long Island City, NY  11101

Dear Mr. Hayes:

We have reviewed JetBlue’s updated proposal dated April 29, 2022, with Spirit’s Board of Directors and its legal and financial advisors. Our Board has unanimously determined that JetBlue’s proposal does not constitute a “Superior Proposal” under Spirit’s existing merger agreement with Frontier.

As you know, a “Superior Proposal” under the Frontier agreement must, among other requirements, be “reasonably capable of being consummated.” Spirit’s Board believes JetBlue’s proposal falls short of that standard. Our conclusion is based on careful analysis of the competitive implications of a combination of JetBlue, which analysis has been informed by extensive discussions between our respective antitrust advisors and economic consultants over the past four weeks. During that period, Spirit has also discussed projections with your financial advisers and provided voluminous documentary due diligence material through a secure virtual data room.

We believe a combination of JetBlue and Spirit has a low probability of receiving antitrust clearance so long as JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance (NEA) with American Airlines remains in existence. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), along with Attorneys General in six states and the District of Columbia, have sued to block the NEA, alleging that the alliance “will not only eliminate important competition in [Boston and New York City], but will also harm air travelers across the country by significantly diminishing JetBlue’s incentive to compete with American elsewhere, further consolidating an already highly concentrated industry.”1 As you know, Spirit and many other airline and air travel constituencies have publicly opposed the NEA on grounds that it is anticompetitive. We struggle to understand how JetBlue can believe DOJ, or a court, will be persuaded that JetBlue should be allowed to form an anticompetitive alliance that aligns its interests with a legacy carrier and then undertake an acquisition that will eliminate the largest ULCC carrier.

We further believe that your divestiture proposal is unlikely to resolve DOJ’s concerns about a combination of Spirit and JetBlue if the NEA continues in existence. DOJ clearly views the NEA as having a broader national effect and Spirit believes DOJ will not place great weight on your proposed remedy, especially because there are reasons to doubt the efficacy of similar divestitures as a remedy in past airline mergers.

Moreover, in evaluating a JetBlue-Spirit combination, Spirit believes DOJ—and a court—will be very concerned that a higher-cost/higher fare airline would be eliminating a lower-cost/lower fare airline in a combination that would remove about half of the ULCC capacity in the United States. In addition, the conversion of Spirit aircraft to JetBlue configuration will result in significantly diminished capacity on former Spirit routes, also resulting in higher prices for consumers. Finally, we are skeptical about your claims regarding the so-called “JetBlue Effect.”  After receiving the summary output of your economic model from your advisers, Spirit’s economic consultants identified reasons to doubt that such an effect would significantly exceed any similar “ULCC effect.”

In contrast, Spirit believes that merging with Frontier will enable the combined ULCC business to achieve scale, improve operational reliability, have increased relevance to consumers, and do an even better job of delivering ultra-low fares to more consumers and competing more effectively against the Big 4 carriers, as well as against JetBlue.  We believe that is a clear, pro-consumer narrative that will resonate more successfully with DOJ than a combination with JetBlue, which would eliminate the largest ULCC and remove significant low-cost/low-fare capacity.

Spirit took note of the fact that the JetBlue proposal allocates most of the very substantial deal completion risk to Spirit stockholders. To reduce that risk and achieve a more appropriate balance of the risk between our companies, in our April 25 response Spirit proposed a strong covenant requiring JetBlue to take any action required to obtain regulatory clearance, which specifically included abandoning the NEA at closing.  We also proposed a substantial reverse termination fee intended to partially compensate Spirit if the transaction failed to win antitrust clearance. On that score, in the event of a failure or abandonment of a JetBlue-Spirit combination, even a high reverse termination fee will not fully compensate Spirit stockholders for the likely significant business erosion Spirit will face during what will be a protracted approval process.

Spirit does not consider JetBlue’s April 29 response to be appropriately responsive to Spirit’s concerns. Indeed, that response makes clear that JetBlue is unwilling to terminate the NEA – or to agree to any other remedies that might materially decrease the expected benefits to JetBlue from the NEA – to obtain clearance for an acquisition of Spirit. The transaction you describe in your April 29 response not only fails to meet the required standard under the Frontier merger agreement but, by prioritizing the NEA over the steps we believe would be necessary to have any realistic likelihood of obtaining antitrust clearance, it imposes on our stockholders a degree of risk that no responsible board would accept.  Given this substantial completion risk, we believe JetBlue’s economic offer is illusory, and Spirit’s board has not found it necessary to consider it.

Very truly yours,

H. McIntyre Gardner                     
Chairman of the Board

Edward M. Christie, III
Chief Executive Officer

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here