How Will JetBlue & Spirit Harmonize Fleets Post-Merger?

How Will JetBlue & Spirit Harmonize Fleets Post-Merger?

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Plans have been announced for JetBlue and Spirit to merge, to form the fifth largest airline in the United States. This deal no doubt faces some regulatory challenges, and both airlines already acknowledge that it could take until the first half of 2024 for this deal to close.

I’d say the merger closing is far from certain at this point. But let’s assume for a moment that the deal does close — what would this look like logistically in terms of the passenger experience?

Spirit planes would adopt JetBlue’s inflight product

JetBlue and Spirit are very different airlines, not only in terms of their business models, but in terms of the passenger experience they offer. Actually, they couldn’t be much more different:

  • JetBlue has personal televisions and power outlets at all seats, and promises the most legroom in economy of any US airline; JetBlue has extra legroom economy seating, and has flat bed Mint business class on select routes
  • Spirit has among the least legroom of any US airline, and doesn’t have personal televisions or power outlets; Spirit has the “Big Front Seat” concept, but doesn’t otherwise have extra legroom economy seating, aside from exit rows

Now, in fairness to both airlines:

  • Both carriers have the A320-family as the core of their fleets, so their aircraft as such are complementary
  • Both airlines offer high-speed Wi-Fi on most planes, so that’s complementary (JetBlue doesn’t charge while Spirit does, but that’s easy enough to change)
The plan is for Spirit planes to be reconfigured with JetBlue interiors

But how would the logistics of that work?

Let’s assume the merger between JetBlue and Spirit does in fact close… then what? Reconfiguring fleets is a process that generally takes many years, no matter how efficiently an airline tries to go about it.

Spirit has a fleet of 180 aircraft, with another 140 planes on order. Those will continue to be delivered to the airline with current interiors until the deal closes, so presumably well over 200 planes would have to be reconfigured.

I would have to imagine it will take several years for Spirit’s entire fleet to be reconfigured. That’s not only because it just takes time, but also because it’s expensive to reconfigure planes, and JetBlue is already paying a ton for this acquisition.

So what’s JetBlue’s post-merger plan for the very inconsistent fleet? JetBlue won’t realistically just be able to operate these planes interchangeably, so I imagine JetBlue will state during booking which type of aircraft a flight would be operated by.

Even so, how will JetBlue differentiate the product and pricing? Will JetBlue just have lower fares on ex-Spirit planes? Will it be marketed as a different class altogether? Will the Big Front Seat continue to just exist as an extra space option on these planes?

Admittedly all airlines face challenges with harmonizing products post-merger. However, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a merger where airlines have so much work to do on this front. I don’t want to say this is an insurmountable task, but… I feel like it kind of is?

I think the only logical approach would be for JetBlue to operate Spirit as a separate brand until planes are reconfigured. Even so, that would be really complicated logistically, in terms of managing route networks, employees, the reconfiguration timeline, etc.

It would likely be years before all Spirit planes have these interiors

Bottom line

JetBlue and Spirit plan to merge. Assuming the merger does close (which is a big “if”), I can’t help but wonder how the two airlines would streamline their fleets. It’s claimed that Spirit planes would adopt JetBlue’s inflight product, but that’s a process that would presumably take many years (and cost hundreds of millions of dollars).

How JetBlue would sell tickets after the merger closes but before the planes are reconfigured is something I can’t quite wrap my head around. And frankly it’s kind of unprecedented as far as airline mergers go.

I think the only logical approach would be to continue to operate Spirit as a separate brand for several years, but that presents its own challenges.

If the JetBlue and Spirit merger closes, how do you see the two airlines merging their inflight products?

Conversations (32)
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  1. David Farris Guest

    There was always one style of merger - after months of prep, stickers would be slapped on overnight and the next day everyone awakens to a new airline.

    WN showed a new merger style with FL. They pulled a few FL planes off line at a time along with their associated crews, transitioned them, repainted, retrained then added to the WN fleet. FL continued to shrink little by little while WN slowly grew.

  2. Ned Guest

    I know I will come off sounding like a snob but all those spirit passengers that always seem to end up on YouTube.... I really don't want to be on the same flight as them.

    1. John S Guest

      Yes, Spirit seems to have more than it’s share of inflight chaos

  3. Anthony Ferendo Guest

    It’s really not hard to comprehend. There will be two brands until the last plane is retrofitted. As far as crews go there will be “fences” until the last tail is JB. Similar to UA and CO merger with 787 / 747 fences.

    Once the final tail is retro to JB then there will be no difference in crews etc and brand…

  4. KB Guest

    Too bad they're not merging with usAAir. All you'd need is yellow paint as everything else is already in place. SERIOUSLY.

  5. KyleDBA Guest

    American spent about 2.5 years to harmonize their A321 fleet (202 of them) - I assume it would take roughly the same for JetBlue to do this to the Spirit fleet. Meanwhile AA also worked to update the B738's (OASIS mod) and A320's (installed power ports). In a shorter period of time (and less expensive) they can do some soft updates like interior finishes - another thing AA did with the US fleet right after...

    American spent about 2.5 years to harmonize their A321 fleet (202 of them) - I assume it would take roughly the same for JetBlue to do this to the Spirit fleet. Meanwhile AA also worked to update the B738's (OASIS mod) and A320's (installed power ports). In a shorter period of time (and less expensive) they can do some soft updates like interior finishes - another thing AA did with the US fleet right after merging before full harmonization took place. The only other wildcard would be changing anything on the B6 side like adding a few rows of the big front seat... that could add more time unless they do updates synchronously and have adequate supplies/suppliers to carry out the work. My assumption is that they may sell a different fare class for Spirit configured planes until they are fully integrated with the B6 configuration- this would limit the ability to swap planes for a while too. In total, once this closes, I predict around 3 years for both paint and interior to be completed. Curious if they will keep the A319's they're inheriting...

    1. ChadMC Guest

      Let's not base a good harmonization on what AA/USAIR did. They left the 320s as is for years (no MCE, no power). They did a somewhat faster harmony with the 321, but it wasn't that quick. The 738s were all fine before and didn't need to be densified. They were great pre-parker, but soon became cattle cars. AA was blasted at how long it took them to move on consistency with the fleet. Five years...

      Let's not base a good harmonization on what AA/USAIR did. They left the 320s as is for years (no MCE, no power). They did a somewhat faster harmony with the 321, but it wasn't that quick. The 738s were all fine before and didn't need to be densified. They were great pre-parker, but soon became cattle cars. AA was blasted at how long it took them to move on consistency with the fleet. Five years later they were still flying an inconsistent fleet (and I have been on many of those through the years).

  6. Little Rory Guest

    Would be great to see B6 adopt big front seats as a “mint jr” product

  7. Justin Guest

    First thing that Jetblue has to do is to convert Spirit's order of 31 A319NEOs into an order of A220s and/or A321NEOs

  8. he Guest

    jetblue launched their a320 refurb program in 2018 and, according to their website, still has 53 planes yet to be reconfigured: https://www.jetblue.com/flying-with-us/our-planes/a320-classic

    If jetblue has been able to do just over half their fleet of 130 a320's in 4 years, i wonder how long it will take to refurb spirit's even larger fleet?

  9. Sam Guest

    Say goodbye to booking Mint with AA miles along with the NE Alliance. Bad for AA as they needed B6 more then B6 needed them at JFK.

  10. Bill Guest

    Both have a ton of new planes coming and all of those can be delivered in the JetBlue configuration. Older planes from both will be retired so no need to deal with those. The rest will be dealt with in the same way that the A320 restyle went for JetBlue. Just have 6 or so each month on the line churned out. It will take a couple years but with the retirements of older planes, and having just gone through the process, it is not rocket science.

    1. Erich Guest

      That raises an interesting question...given the regulatory and other hurdles when do they switch to the JetBlue configuration for new "Spirit" deliveries? Obviously the longer they wait the more aircraft they'll have to reconfigure shortly after delivery, but at the same time if the changeover happens soon and the merger doesn't go through who pays to have them reconfigured to Spirit? Is the breakup fee expected to cover that?

      Bottom line (to use Ben's term)...this...

      That raises an interesting question...given the regulatory and other hurdles when do they switch to the JetBlue configuration for new "Spirit" deliveries? Obviously the longer they wait the more aircraft they'll have to reconfigure shortly after delivery, but at the same time if the changeover happens soon and the merger doesn't go through who pays to have them reconfigured to Spirit? Is the breakup fee expected to cover that?

      Bottom line (to use Ben's term)...this seems like just another reason this merger makes zero sense!

  11. RAD Guest

    Until the deal closes, JetBlue cannot influence any operational decisions of Spirit as they are still competing airlines. There will be a dedicated merger integration team and armies of consultants on both sides.
    Once the deal closes, I expect JetBlue to operate Spirit as an independent brand for a few years and slowly convert Spirit's planes and routes to the JetBlue operations. Another major part of this is the backend systems integration that will...

    Until the deal closes, JetBlue cannot influence any operational decisions of Spirit as they are still competing airlines. There will be a dedicated merger integration team and armies of consultants on both sides.
    Once the deal closes, I expect JetBlue to operate Spirit as an independent brand for a few years and slowly convert Spirit's planes and routes to the JetBlue operations. Another major part of this is the backend systems integration that will need to consolidate the reservation, loyalty, financial, and employee systems. The overall integration will probably take 3 to 5 years post close.

  12. ExitRow Guest

    I've been thru several consolidations and implementation of new software packages.

    For this to work, you need representatives from each department (both B6 and NK) plus a VP who are "solely devoted" to the consolidation. No one can be a part time rep. The purpose of the VP is to run interference (ie: office politics) to keep the plan focused. Usually the practices, policies, procedures, and the software platforms of the acquiring company dominate...

    I've been thru several consolidations and implementation of new software packages.

    For this to work, you need representatives from each department (both B6 and NK) plus a VP who are "solely devoted" to the consolidation. No one can be a part time rep. The purpose of the VP is to run interference (ie: office politics) to keep the plan focused. Usually the practices, policies, procedures, and the software platforms of the acquiring company dominate in the end. JetBlue should be developing a master plan even before regulatory approval so they can hit the ground running with no time wasted. GOALS AND TIMELINES NEED TO BE CLEARLY STATED AND COMMUNICATED TO ALL. Some will lose their jobs, but this is the nature of the beast. There is no wiggle room if B6 wants this done right.

    Mr Hayes has just spent $3.8B, the stock holders want to see something for their investment.

    1. Eskimo Guest

      You mean a VP that will become redundant once the merger is complete but will exit with a huge 8 figure package. I think Ted Christie will be the fall guy and no he's not going to be just VP.

    2. ExitRow Guest

      It doesn't matter if the implementation VP stays or goes. Just as long as he/she has the gumption to ride shotgun. I golden parachute at the end of a successful implementation is FAR CHEAPER than an implementation that bogs down, sucks up resources, and alienates customers.

      CEO Hayes has no time to waste. The clock is ticking.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      FAR CHEAPER, probably true.
      But shareholders would always question why the golden parachute for DOING THEIR JOB.

      There is also a wildcard. Since B6 NK wasn't really expected, one person didn't really came up on most people's radar yet.
      Ben Baldanza could play some significant role pre and post merger.

  13. Chris P Bacon Guest

    It's really not that difficult. JetBlue will negotiate and agreement with the unions that allow the airlines to remain separate for a defined period of time. Spirit will continue to run as Spirit, just as AirTran did following their purchase by Southwest. The fees will pay for the merger, just as it did for Southwest. The cabins will be converted to JetBlue standard while operating as Spirit, and aircraft repainted as JetBlue, with an "operated...

    It's really not that difficult. JetBlue will negotiate and agreement with the unions that allow the airlines to remain separate for a defined period of time. Spirit will continue to run as Spirit, just as AirTran did following their purchase by Southwest. The fees will pay for the merger, just as it did for Southwest. The cabins will be converted to JetBlue standard while operating as Spirit, and aircraft repainted as JetBlue, with an "operated by Spirit" decal by the boarding door. Once approvals have been granted by the feds, a hard cutover date will be announced, and Spirit ticket sales will cease after that date, similar to what happened in the US/AA merger. The announced date will come, and Spirit will simply cease to exist. For anyone on the airline side of a merger (like me), this isn't going to be the hard part of the merger. There are plenty of best practices to draw on.

  14. Icarus Guest

    Could they still not operate as two separate brands aka KLM Air France ?

    Jet Blue has a superior business product with a pretty good food offering.

    Imagine Spirit trans Atlantic. Isn’t it like Ryanair merging with Swiss ?

    1. Chris P Bacon Guest

      They cannot. The pilot contract scope agreement requires one brand and one seniority list. They'll have to remain separate until the certificate merges, but they must move the combined airline to one certificate.

    2. Bob Guest

      KLM and Air France are two separate airlines with two certificates although they belong to the same holding.
      And of course you do not see an AF pilot working inside a KLM aircraft.
      But you can buy an AF flight being operated by a KL aircraft and crew.
      At least, once the purchase is accepted, I was about to say you can use or hire a spirit pilot to help JetBlue.
      Interesting point, Chris P Bacon, it may not be that easy as you explain.

    3. 320Driver Guest

      Chris P Bacon is 100% correct. Both airlines must remain operationally separate until a joint collective bargaining agreement has been reached and the seniority lists have been combined.

      Bob, the scenario you’re painting would be a violation of the scope section of the CBA. It can’t happen.

  15. InceptionCat Guest

    They’ll probably remove a few rows of seats from Spirit planes to increase legroom and probably integrate the big front seat in most of the A320 JetBlue fleet. Personal IFE would be installed slowly by slowly.

  16. Ricport New Member

    I would imagine B6 would follow the same path as WN did when they bought AirTran. They'll sell/lease unneeded assets and establish a timeline for retrofitting. As a FLL flyer, I'm just hoping they'll keep most, if not all of NK's routes, so I'll have better nonstop options than God-awful WN.

  17. George Romey Guest

    I could see B6 go for the Big Front Seat in all of it's Non Mint planes. I would assume the Spirit planes would be retrofit with IFE.

    1. Anonymous Guest

      Hopefully they redesign the (by that time former) Big Front Seats to not have a godawful jellybean headrest and install some upgraded services

  18. James Guest

    Like with the AA-TWA merger in the early aughts, I could see the two airlines being run as separate brands for a while.

  19. Francisco C Guest

    With American Airlines and JetBlue partnership, did American Airlines have a role in this purchase? With JetBlue buying spirit, is this a way to influence AA’s competition in South Florida?

  20. Ladakn99 Member

    My best guess is that Spirit will continue to operate in some sense or fashion post-acquisition with their hardware. Routes will be cut slowly and steadily, with Spirit disappearing first from the west coast/midwest (I'm thinking of NK's LAX routes to ORD/CMH/CLE)and Latin America last, specifically to destinations where B6 doesn't currently operate (so FLL-PTY/CLO/GUA).

    This is all assuming DOJ says yes, and I have my doubts...

  21. Bagoly Guest

    The *sensible* thing would be to keep the two brands going (but not competing on the same route) so the customer experience remains different, and move a route at a time from the Spirit brand to the JetBlue brand as aircraft are reconfigured.
    Back offices can be merged much quicker which is presumably where most cost-savings are.

    But I can't remember an airline management sensible enough to do that?

  22. DT New Member

    Slowly and surely... they'll probably operate Spirit as a separate entity as long as they can, and siphon off planes for reconfiguration while they pare down Spirit's route network and grow JetBlue's. It will certainly take years but at least B6 has a path forward now that they have a pipeline of pilots and planes.

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Little Rory Guest

Would be great to see B6 adopt big front seats as a “mint jr” product

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ExitRow Guest

It doesn't matter if the implementation VP stays or goes. Just as long as he/she has the gumption to ride shotgun. I golden parachute at the end of a successful implementation is FAR CHEAPER than an implementation that bogs down, sucks up resources, and alienates customers. CEO Hayes has no time to waste. The clock is ticking.

1
Bill Guest

Both have a ton of new planes coming and all of those can be delivered in the JetBlue configuration. Older planes from both will be retired so no need to deal with those. The rest will be dealt with in the same way that the A320 restyle went for JetBlue. Just have 6 or so each month on the line churned out. It will take a couple years but with the retirements of older planes, and having just gone through the process, it is not rocket science.

1
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