American Airlines CEO says he doesn’t know if JetBlue partner has flat seats

It can be difficult to keep track of all the different airline products and services out there – even if you are the CEO of the largest airline in the world.

It’s a bit awkward, though, when it’s one of the main competitors. or partner. or both.

Robert Isom, CEO of American Airlines, said Monday that he wasn’t familiar with JetBlue’s Mint product details, so much so that he wasn’t sure if the product featured flat seating.

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Isom made the remarks during her testimony in an antitrust trial over the Northeast alliance between American and JetBlue in US District Court in Boston on Monday. The Department of Justice claimed that the alliance amounted to anti-competitive measures that would lead to higher prices, while the two airlines argued that the alliance was the only way they could compete effectively against Delta and United in the Northeast.

“I’ve never flown the Mint product, and I don’t know if the Mint was lying,” Isom said, explaining that while he was aware that JetBlue “has a first-class domestic product, I can’t talk to everyone about the amenities they include.”

Isom further explained that he was making a distinction between domestic first class, which the United States offers on most domestic routes, and “international business class” and flagship products.

The flat products were discussed during a broader questioning by Department of Justice lawyers about competition and company between American and JetBlue on transcontinental routes — specifically, between Boston and New York and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco in California.

Based on the interrogation, the DOJ appears to argue that because American and JetBlue both deliver a premium product that isn’t flat on those transcontinental routes, the NEA is eliminating competition.

“With the NEA in place, you don’t have to worry about JetBlue coming after America for your privileged customers, do you?” DOJ attorney Bill Jones asked Isom.

American operates a subset of Airbus A321 aircraft on this route, dubbed the A321T, which includes 20 business class seats and 10 first class seats, all flat, in the configuration otherwise used on long-haul flights.

While it is not uncommon for CEOs in any industry to leave the nitty-gritty of things to their teams to fully understand and manage, the transcontinental market is of great importance to US airlines, where price premiums are often driven by high volume and high value business travelers. .

While there are many domestic routes from New York and Boston area airports that have been excluded from the alliance, those excellent intercontinental routes are not among them.

Nor was it the first time that the president of American Airlines admitted his lack of knowledge of an important and convenient product on board.

Former CEO Doug Parker faced criticism in 2018 when he admitted he did not fly in the airline’s new “Project Oasis” cabin, which has been the subject of heavy criticism from passengers for cramped seats, small toilets and a lack of seat power. The airline eventually changed the final cabin layout, although the bus seats remained cramped.

From the trial: American Airlines forgot they had landing slots at JFK. Then I lost some of them.

Monday saw testimony from Isom and current Vice President of American Airlines Scott Lawrence, who, in a previous position at JetBlue, was widely seen as the driving force behind the alliance.

Much of the testimony focused on the intentions and mechanisms behind the alliance, with little surprise.

Boston, which is not restricted in the same way as New York’s airports, was the subject of questioning earlier on Monday.

“The Northeast Alliance has created an opportunity for us to be a viable competitor in Boston as long as we can be,” Isom said in court.

The trial, which began on Tuesday, September 27, is scheduled to last up to three weeks. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes and American Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Vasu Raja are among those testifying, and former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is expected to testify this week.

TPG is reporting on the experience in Boston, so stay tuned for the latest.

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