By Keith Laing
Southwest and JetBlue airlines have acquired the right to operate nearly 40 new flights at Washington, D.C.'s Ronald Reagan National Airport that US Airways and American Airlines were forced to give up to win approval for their merger.
The landing rights at Reagan National were a part of a settlement between the airlines and the Department of Justice.
The Justice Department agreed to drop its attempt to block the proposed merger if the airlines relinquished 52 pairs of departing and arriving flights at the D.C. airport, which is popular with members of Congress.
Southwest was awarded 27 of the D.C. flights, and JetBlue received 12 of them, the airlines announced on Thursday.
Both airlines said their increased presence would reduce prices at the airport that is closest to Washington, D.C., proper.
"Consumers who appreciate the value and reliability that Southwest and our people deliver are the real winners in this deal," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. "With Southwest's all-Boeing 737 fleet, we will provide Reagan travelers with more choices, lower fares, and great Customer Service. Reagan has long been a convenient but high-fare airport. Southwest plans to change that by bringing much needed competition to the nation's capital."
JetBlue also said it would have an impact on the price of plane tickets at the D.C. airport.
"The JetBlue Experience is about serving the under-served with affordable, award-winning and nonstop service, to places people want to visit, not through spokes in a wheel," JetBlue Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Associate General Counsel Rob Land said in a statement.
"JetBlue has already had a major impact at Reagan National in just a few short years with its everyday low fares, such as in the key business market to Boston, where since our entry in 2010, average fares have been reduced 31% and traffic has nearly doubled, soaring 93 percent," Land continued.
JetBlue said it would operate the new flights to destinations it does not currently fly to from Washington's Reagan Airport.
"For more than a decade, JetBlue worked tirelessly to gain access to DCA, a high-fare market perfectly made for our everyday low fare business model," Land said.
Since reaching its deal with US Air and American Airlines in December, the Justice Department has argued that shifting landing rights at Reagan and LaGuardia Airport to low-cost airlines like Southwest and JetBlue would reduce the possibility of passengers paying more for airline tickets as a result of the US Air-American merger.
Consumer advocacy groups had opposed the airlines' merger, as well as other piece of a larger consolidation in the industry, on the grounds that they would reduce competition and increase charges for flights.