WestJet Skips Bid on Washington Flights as U.S. Airlines Rush In

Jan 15, 2014 12:43 pm ET

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- WestJet Airlines Ltd., Canada’s second-biggest carrier, ruled out joining U.S. peers in bidding for flight rights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport being sold by American Airlines Group Inc.

While Chief Executive Officer Gregg Saretsky told Bloomberg News last month that Calgary-based WestJet was “exploring” an offer, the discount airline has since shelved the project, said Robert Palmer, a spokesman. He declined to say what drove the carrier’s strategy.

“We are not bidding at this time,” Palmer said in an e- mailed response to questions yesterday. “We are watching the situation carefully but are not bidding. We are still interested and will continue to monitor the situation.”

WestJet’s decision removes a potential low-fare suitor as American divests 104 takeoff and landing slots under the antitrust-lawsuit settlement clearing the US Airways Group Inc. merger. Southwest Airlines Co., JetBlue Airways Corp. and Virgin America Inc. have all said they’re interested in buying flight rights from American, now the largest U.S. carrier.

“The process is confidential and ongoing,” Matt Miller, a spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American, said in an e- mail.

Saretsky has ventured into the U.S. before, winning eight slot pairs at New York’s LaGuardia in a 2011 sale linked to an asset swap there and at Reagan involving US Airways and Delta Air Lines Inc. WestJet doesn’t fly to Reagan, though it can book fliers on American planes there under a marketing agreement.

Airlines prize slots at Reagan and LaGuardia because access to those airports -- along with New York’s Kennedy and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty -- is limited by the U.S. government. All four facilities are popular with business travelers who typically buy the most-expensive tickets.

Southwest and Virgin gained slots last month at LaGuardia under American’s settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.

--With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas. Editors: Ed Dufner, James Callan