FAA Under Siege: The Dirty Tactics American Airlines and Southwest Are Using To Keep Air Travel Miserable

The FAA plans new rules that would ban scheduled public charters like JSX and Contour.

  • These carriers have been permitted under FAA rules for over 40 years
  • There were no concerns with their operation until the big pilot union, American Airlines and Southwest started lobbying against them (the pilot union because they want to maintain barriers to entry into their profession to keep wages up, the airlines because JSX is based in Dallas like they are).

Air Travel Could Be Better, And The FAA Wants To Stop It

JSX is now the largest of the scheduled public charters. They’re based in the same city as American and Southwest. And they offer a better product, at a competitive price.

  • Depart from private terminals
  • Strong security without TSA lines
  • Show up 20 minutes before your flight, even with checked bags
  • Every seat is a first class seat
  • Free fastest wifi in the sky with StarLink
  • Free cocktails and snacks

They don’t face the same pilot shortage as other carriers, because as a part 135 public charter carrier they can use recently-retired senior captains from American and Southwest in the left seat of the cockpit, and pilots with fewer than 1,500 hours in the right seat (co-pilots for European airlines flying to the U.S. operate with fewer than 1,500 hours here every day, too). With 90% of planes overnighting at base each day, pilots get better rest in their own beds than they do flying for the majors.

And with no more than 30 seats JSX is allowed to depart from private terminals, bringing private aviation to the masses. They swab every bag, run every passenger against government targeting databases, and screen everyone for weapons. But there’s no TSA. It’s more security than you’ll go through if chartering a plane from… American or Southwest.

This Is Entirely About Protecting Incumbents From Competition

There are no specific concerns about safety at JSX. There are more incidents with pilots at American and Southwest (like American pilots wandering in front of a Delta 737 taking off from JFK, in a narrowly averted disaster, and Southwest pilots nearly plunging into the ocean).

The CEO of American Airlines even tells employees privately that their crusade is about cracking down on a competitor.

And former American Airlines CEO Doug Parker says that he and Southwest Chief Operating Officer Andrew Watterson got together privately with the head of the TSA to get government action against JSX.

The FAA Is Embarrassing Itself, Planning To Regulate And Then Try To Find A Problem

What’s striking about the FAA here is that as part of their planned rulemaking they say they will propose a Safety Risk Management Panel to consider safety issues involved with part 135 carriers like JSX.

  • They propose to ban selling scheduled charter flights
  • Before even convening a panel to consider the safety issues involved
  • In other words, they are doing it all backwards

The FAA plans to propose a ban on a category of aviation, at the behest of incumbent interests, and only as a part of that proposed ban consider the underlying reasons why such a ban might exist. That is bizarre.

It is likely also illegal in the context of a significant regulatory action that threatens a billion dollar industry (JSX alone is half that). The threshold for economic significance in this context is $200 million, and requires that the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB must certify that the proposed rule’s benefits outweighs its costs – yet they will have no idea, since they need the panel that will be proposed by the rule to tell them whether the rule is justified!

The rule will redefine language (“scheduled,” “on demand,” and “supplemental” operations). The law at 49 USC 41104 says that the FAA cannot impose more onerous rules on public charters. So the FAA will presumably say that what’s been public charters for decades no longer are and therefore may be made subject to more onerous rules. Sleight of hand!

The Government Always Protects Big Business

All of this effort is because it is possible for air travel to be better than it is today at not much greater cost.

  • Southwest Airlines was an upstart that major airlines sued to prevent from launching. They were the underdog for most of their existence. Now they use the government to protect themselves from competition.

  • Airlines like American received approximately $10 billion in pandemic-era subsidies. They get anti-trust immunity for international joint ventures. They are given valuable takeoff and landing rights at congested airports which include the right to keep out competitors.

  • Together with ALPA, they erect barriers to entry that keep competition out of the aviation industry. Disruptive business models that allow passengers to go from car to plane in 20 minutes, have more space on board, and friendly staff along the way are a threat. Current business models only work if consumers do not have a choice.

Legendary Silicon Valley investor Bill Gurley (GrubHub, Nextdoor, Open Table, Stitch Fix, Zillow, Nordstrom.com, The Knot and Uber, and played by Kyle Chandler in Showtime’s Super Pumped) gave a talk last year about regulatory capture – that government regulation almost always benefits incumbent businesses. It’s a great talk in its own right, but also perfectly encapsulates what’s happening to upstarts like JSX.

Readers often wonder why I care what happens to JSX. I have no ownership interest in them. I have never been paid a dime by them. They no longer even serve my home airport in Austin, having been chased off the real estate. Whether JSX continues to fly benefits me not at all. It’s simply an outrage that consumers keep getting the short end of the stick in favor of entrenched interests.

There are more than 4 million private flights each year operating from private terminals, offering convenient air travel to those who can afford it. As soon as 50,000 flights are made accessible to people otherwise stuck as customers of American Airlines and Southwest, they run to the government to stop it even as they themselves market flights from private terminals at a higher price point.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary,

    The rules (FARs) that you keep referencing, that you claim have are “long time,” and “nobody cared until recently” is incredibly misleading, if not an outright lie. The rules you are referring to is part 135, charter operations, which are as you say (long time, not contentious).

    However, JSX most decidedly is NOT a charter operation. And you know it. They are clearly a scheduled airline (which falls under part 121), and only pretending to be a charter in order to evade the stricter rules that every other scheduled airline must follow. Doing this IS exploiting a loophole, and against what was intended by the FARs.

    The reason that “nobody cared until recently,” is because JSX was the first (and to my knowledge, the only) entity exploiting this loophole. And they’ve only been an unfair thorn in the side of WN and AA from fairly recently. That’s why.

  2. I am not sure why those opposed to SWA and to JSX complain so much. In war and business, asymmetry in operations is often the key to winning. SWA is set to fail completely if they become symmetric with what other airlines offer. JSX was built on using the asymmetry in the rules to create a space that they could operate successfully in.

  3. I used to fly American all the time and then shifting to Southwest for lower fares, but the airlines have became a bunch of bullies when someone challenges. i have had so many terrible experiences with airlines these days, I have sworn of flying anywhere. If I can’t reach my destination by train or driving, I don’t travel.

  4. I occasionally fly JSX and it is a superior experience, but a bit more expensive. I can see why major carriers would be freaked by them. They actually make flying almost pleasant compared to the hassle and discomfort of major carriers. They allow middle class flyers to have an experience closer to one only the very rich can afford. They provide real choice in determinig do I want to spend a bit more for extra comfort or go with the lower cost more uncomfortable experience. I believe its called competition and has something to do with capitalism, which clearly the major airlines fear.

  5. I don’t know anything about JSX besides what this article mentions.
    But I do know the majors(AA. Delta, SW, etc)and it’s no pretty.
    Clearly something else is needed

  6. “I believe its called competition and has something to do with capitalism, which clearly the major airlines fear.”

    Look, if you want to fly unregulated PIA, no one’s stopping you.

  7. We need Contour airlines.
    Our 39 year old son recently had his 5th brain surgery. We live in rural West Virginia. My family travels every month to and from Dayton Beach to are main resident. I book this on my AA app. Our only other option would be Pittsburgh. An extra hour drive. Plus the TSA Pittsburgh is rude and not very helpful.

  8. Both are right. Loophole? Perhaps. But why close it? Not because there are safety or security issues present, but because the competition discomforts American Airlines. As to the pilot unions, it is idle to note they look after their members, no the public. Are co-pilots at Lufthansa with 500 hours less safe than ATPs on the right seat of US carriers? Don’t think so. And in any event, the ATP rule was imposed because a pilot WITH ATP HOURS made a mistake in icing conditions. Both the article and the responses are right, but government always will cater to the regulated first.

  9. Part 121 used by airlines is a higher standard of regulation, and yes, safety, than part 135 misused by JSX. The FAA has the responsibility to protect the traveling public and make sure operators are using the correct set of regulations. Yes, operations can still be conducted safely under part 135, but the legal requirements to do so aren’t the same.

  10. @Tim – that just isn’t a fair comparison, I’d be much safer on a one hour JSX flight with a recently-retired American Airlines senior captain in the left seat who spent the previous night at home in his own bed than on a widebody transpacific flight where the pilots have crossed numerous time zones.

  11. We flew on a JSX charter from Burbank to Las Vegas as part of a group going to a meeting in Vegas. Your article says all of JSXs seats are First Class. The seats on the plane we were on were decidedly NOT First Class. They would probably be the same as Business Class on any other airline… cramped and too narrow. They did have a little extra legroom but that’s all.

  12. The people at ALPA and APA tell me JSX pilots are unsafe because they aren’t experienced??? Yet their own pilot group has some real winners listed below: 1) Delta pilot drawing gun on other pilot, 2) Alaska Mushroom Man 3) United drunks 4) Southwest pilot gay rant about SF on hot mic 5) American pilot “Lets go Brandon” tag screams professionalism…..

    But sure, kill JSX for providing a better quality service to the cattle car ride BS that is United States air travel.

  13. JSX’s model isn’t exploding a loophole, it’s good business. If AA and WN didn’t fail so profoundly, JSX and the ilk wouldn’t be able to exist. Yet,they thrive.

  14. It is not in the passenger’s interest to kill off such a good airline. I guess it’s back to long wait times, surly service and terrible onboard product to enjoy again. Kidding!

  15. I loathe American Airlines and Southwest. They squeezed Braniff International out of business many years ago.

  16. Just think how p-d off they will be when somebody figures out how to make trasnsporter technology from Star Trek a reality. Think about it, kids. It will drive their business right in to the ground. That should bring a smile to your faces.
    Another big problem is companies that build the planes take away space for the seats so they can cram more people on like sardines. The airlines use these planes as another excuse to make us very irritable and annoyed. Add to that the in-fighting most of the big carriers have going on and it makes a good excuse for saying forget it! I’ll drive!
    If you wish to protest seat sizes, complain to the airplane builders. For everything else plane related it will either be the airport or the airline that you need to contact.
    By the way: Chicago, you have the worst airport I have ever had the misfortune to be in. The Cat Bench is beautiful. The rest? Update your paint, update the broken furniture, make a few spots for little kids to burn off their energy before a flight, and would it kill you to put some restrooms closer to the gates?! A mile and a half?! Reslly?! And lets not even discuss food/water sources!
    I deliberately plan so I never have to go through there again. I got bumped once. I happily waited until a connecting flight would go through Denver or Vegas, called to let my carpark know I would be 9 hours late, then found a quiet corner.
    Have great vacations and business trips this summer, everyone. :):)

  17. And people wonder why there are som many altercations on flights, let’s talk about it! You put 160 or more people in a 14×16 seat x3, we are so freaking cramped even first class has shrunk to no thank you room, you can’t breathe the air until they start the plane because of the circulating air is barely zero and finally you get some oxygen from the ac they give us when they decide to, you are told when you can and can not use the bathroom, that’s 3 bathrooms for 160 or more people and your seatbelt has to be fastened at all times even on the tarmac, like that seatbelt is going to save us from a fire or jet that hits us while on the land, shut the ef up!!! I’m all for JSX and I have thought about expanding JSX with my own airline but with more flights !!! I hate commercial airlines and there greedy controlling slap in our face ways !!

  18. Interesting article and comments. Signing up to receive notifications of new posts. Thanks

  19. I don’t think America and South west has much to worry about. I just checked a few flights and the cost is over $500 more for a ticket than the majors.

  20. Who remembers Braniff Airlines? I knew their company president. He had the same problem at that time with AA. He was based in Dallas. AA made all sorts of bad faith efforts to run him out of business and did. It is business after all. It is competition, but you would hope the government (as well as the people’s courts) would stay neutral in these battles…no fair putting your foot on the scales. (I also live in Austin so no dog in this fight as they no longer serve Austin.)

  21. JSX meets and exceeds the safety, security, operation, maintenance, SMS, training, and audit standards of the FAA, TSA, and codeshare airline partners, and all Part 380 regulations, in addition to voluntary compliance with current Part 121 operation standards. We have robust ASAP and FOQA programs with a comprehensive SOP to guide our daily flying.

    Our Joyful, Simple, Xperience has won the APEX best world regional carrier award every year from 2019 to 2024. Our customers love what we do every day for them. I have no doubt that our customers, partner airlines United and JetBlue, APEX, GAMA, HAI, IFSA, NASAO, NATA, Mercatus, and NBAA will comment to support JSX on the proposed NPRM.

    I want to keep our retired airline captains who are mentors to our younger aviators, and help ensure operation safety and maturity. I am impressed with the desire, skill, knowledge of new hire pilots who arrive and PIC type rating qualify on the EMB135/145, but with less than the arbitrary 1500 hour requirement mandated by Part 121. I would match them up with any other airline pilot.

    Book a flight with us … jsx.com

    You can read 75000+ comments from the previous FAA docket, a copy of JSX’s filing and of key supporters at …


  22. I remember Legend Airlines flying out Love Field back in the late 1990’s, I believe. Awesome service. Loved them. But, AA buried them into the ground, too, with lawsuits.
    So much for capitalism and competition. Bullies.

  23. TUP – Tupelo, MS only has Contour. If they cease to exist/operate our only option is an hour and a half drive to Memphis.

  24. Follow the money. Track campaign contributions to relevant decision-makers & candidates for Congress. AA, SW & related industry associations (unions) back up their campaigns with $$$. If someone produced such research it will stimulate press scrutiny & public pressure. A good place to start would be with JDX lobbying team who may already be researching.

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