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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Comments

  1. Regulations should encourage new airlines to startup and bring more competition to the domestic airspace. That is better for customers.

  2. A great read on what is happening to JSX. I booked my wife on a JSX round-trip flight. It was easy on and easy off. She has some memory issues so to walk through a large airport would provide some difficulty. The staff at JSX escorted her and her luggage to and from the plane while I could see her off at the gate. My wife’s flight experience was exceptional. We have traveled for many years and flown on many different carriers and JSX beats them all. We are only troubled by the fact that JSX currently has a limited service area.

  3. I agree 100% with this article. If AA or WN delivered a better product then they wouldn’t be loosing customers. I for one will go out of my way not fly AA on international flights when possible. This is not a TSA issue, because with FastTrack you can get through security in most cases in less than 5 minutes.

  4. BOTH parties are bought and paid for. When will Americans wake up and stop endorsing this duopoly at the polls every other November? As long as the sheeple vote Democan or Republicrat NOTHING will change.

  5. It’s really not about the airline industry. This is simply the way our current government works. It could be the justice department, the FBI or any number of entities that operate at the behest of the powerful.

  6. Great article, Gary. AA tried to do the same thing to QATAR and Emirates (who fly to most AA hubs): whip up FAA and public opposition. AA failed in that endeavor !! And I hope that AA will fail in getting JSX banned, too. When will AA realize that “It’s your lousy service and attitude, stupid”? Meanwhile, 100% of my trips to Asia this year are on QATAR (mostly) or Emirates (a few) or EVA (a few). Such nice experiences with each.
    EdSparks58 (soon to be known as “Ex-Executive Platinum after about 25 years …)

  7. I do not agree with the article. Either all passengers go thru security or none. The plans that flew into the world trade center could have been flow from a private terminal. So Gary only the rich get the special treatment and the rest go thru TSA. Shut them all down or have no security for anyone..
    I want security for everyone. Shut down all private if nessasry.

  8. @Scott

    Democrats when GOP government does something bad: “Republicans are evil!”

    Democrats when Dem government does something bad: “The system is broken!”

  9. Southwest hates transparency and competition, which is why they refused access to Google Flights for so many years.

  10. Kind of funny to read an article like this. Someone comes in and brings a better product at a cheaper price.
    We have two camps. One is “unfair competition” the other is “afraid of competition”.
    Normally, I thought we liked it when someone brings in a better product at a lower cost.
    So we’re happy for JSX.
    Cool.
    How many of those people are happy we just put 100% tariffs on EV manufacturers (at least from certain countries)?
    I personally want to see sub $10k EVs in this country.
    But if we’re going to defend our tariffs to keep them out, then we should defend the FAA for protecting the big boys, because the argument is the same.

  11. respond to Terry:
    I disagree with you. All private aviation is unscreened by TSA or anyone else. Secondary airports, like my North Las Vegas (KVGT), allow me to enter the terminal, leave the terminal to the ramp without anyone knowing who I am and fly my plane. A large jet, if privately owned, can entirely bypass security, in fact, unless they privately arrange and pay for it, cannot have security at airports without TSA. Private plane owners are not necessarily the rich, and you can be far from rich to use JSX.
    I agree that WN and AA are trying to game the system, exactly what was done to Herb Kelleher when WN was intra-state only and he was trying to expand.

  12. Amazing how American kept Southwest from flying outside of Texas and surrounding states for decades, and Southwest cried like babies about the Wright Amendment, and now SW is onboard stifling competition. Southwest is terrible now and American isn’t much better, they should both be scared of a better product.

  13. well said, Gary.

    but, honestly, what are you doing about it besides writing in your blog? Is there a public comment period any more?

    And how large is JSX’s operation? flights/day
    yes, AA and WN want no competition but what is the size comparison?

  14. @Tim Dunn – I filed a public comment with FAA over their notice of intent to offer a rulemaking. Mine may have been the longest and most substantive of all ~ 57,000 received, published by a university research center as well. FAA says they’ll offer a notice of proposed rulemaking by end of year, at which point a new public comment period would open.

    Order of magnitude JSX is ~ 130 flights per day total if memory serves (I did not check this).

  15. AA has to seek government help to eliminate competition that would force them to improve their dysfunctional operational issues. With that one has to find a catalyst and in this case security is where they hope to get traction. Instead of looking for crutches why not address the issues and set yourself up for long term success. Signing a contract with the FAs would be a good start.

  16. Thanks Gary, let everyone know when the public comment period opens. And please provide a link directly to it, as it is easy to get lost in the system. (Some instructions on how to do this would be helpful as not everyone is familiar with the procedure involved.)

  17. The FAA doing this reminds me of the Whiskey Rebellion where the federal government picked winners and losers, favoring the incumbents.

  18. I’ve been wandering why something like this wasn’t offer as opposed to the torture of the Big Guys. I worked for an FBO for many years wondering why we didn’t offer such a service.

  19. @Terry — I agree. In Gary’s world, everything that he doesn’t like is a “dirty trick.” But if USA airline execs did NOT complain about a start up exploiting a gov’t security loophole, their shareholders should fire them. As far as “merits” go, there are no saints or sinners here. I don’t blame the start-up from trying to exploit the loophole. But much of the existing security apparatus is stupid. Like I’ve been flying for decades: should I really be subject to periodic, random “additional screening”? That’s silly. My general belief is that EVERY airline should be subject to the same security rules, even if they don’t make much sense, and loopholes should be closed.

  20. thanks, Gary, I know you made a comment and hope you will enlist your readers to do so in the coming NPRM.

    maybe by that point, AA will be on strike or bankruptcy and everyone in Texas will be clamoring for any seats that anyone can fly.

  21. What’s even more ludicrous is that AA and WN didn’t say a word when JSX was headquartered in California.

    Hey Terry! Did you even read the article? Security at JSX is as good if not better than at the major airlines and airports. Same TSA “no fly” lists, same “x-ray” detector, and also each and every piece of luggage gets swabbed for explosives. Do you think every piece of luggage at AA gets swabbed? It doesn’t.

    It’s not being rich or poor. It’s about being fair.

  22. I figured Gary was due for another intentionally misleading article about JSX. Right on schedule. You keep blasting that WN and AA “don’t like competition,” when you know as well as I do that it’s “competition that plays by different, more lax rules,” that WN and AA don’t like. JSX is a no-kidding scheduled airline, PRETENDING to be a charter outfit, in order to evade the increased scrutiny being a scheduled airline brings.

    Yet somehow, you keep “forgetting” to mention any of this in any of your articles, instead pretending the dispute is something else. I’ve caught you in misleading characterizations, and even outright lies (regarding FARS) in this regard.

    Do you have a financial interest in JSX, Gary? Do you just like to fly them? Why do you shill for them with your intentional misleading crap?

    You know, if you present a balanced article, pointing out the ACTUAL arguments, you might have more credibility, and maybe people would take you more seriously.

  23. Isn’t it Capitalism to encourage competition and thus fuel great products? Sorry, not sorry but what AA and SW are doing here is basically Marxism.

  24. @Terry: Please do not post without reading the article. It clearly states that all passengers and bags go through security. It might be DIFFERENT security than you go through but it is not less safe. The security YOU go through is the one that didn’t prevent 9/11.

  25. You are advocating for FBO’s to become home to seat-selling charters of 30 or less. And why again are their rules different than for any other commercial carrier? These aren’t Gulfstreams or Lears, and you’re not Bezos or Musk. Now get back to the main airport with the rest of the riff-raff.

  26. @Sean: Please do not post without reading the article. It clearly states that the author has no financial stake in JSX whatsoever.

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

    Maybe the new rules are misguided, but your own prior reporting that you link to does not support that provocative statement about a “ban.” In your previous article, you showed that: “based on a statement from a spokesperson for JSX, they seem to think they can work within the framework that the FAA is planning.”

    Also, in the previous article you included the important points that not only does the rule making process normally take 2 to 3 years, but furthermore the DOT has vowed to move extra slowly here, and include a grace/transition period of several years for impacted carriers to adapt to new rules.

    Those points run contrary to the alarming framing of this article, which predictably incited “Both Sides Are The Same” commentary from e.g. @Scott and @Mantis. I’m not holding my breath, but those posters might want to educate themselves on, for example, the “Midnight” rulemakings of the prior Administration, which cynically differed in all of these respects, and others.

  28. @Sean Murphy – it helps if you’d actually read the article. “Do you have a financial interest in JSX, Gary? Do you just like to fly them? Why do you shill for them with your intentional misleading crap?”

    I do not have any financial interest in JSX. I would love to fly them but they do not currently serve my home airport. I write this because corporate cronyism and regulatory capture are genuinely sad artifacts of modern life and it offends me.

    There is nothing “misleading.” JSX conforms to long-standing regulations, was approved by the FAA and neither FAA nor TSA had issue with them until lobbying by ALPA, American and Southwest began – in American’s case even ADMITTEDLY for their own self-serving reasons.

  29. “Security” is just the sacred cow being offered up here. As Gary points out, security isn’t ignored. Sure, it’s unfair competition because a part 135 carrier doesn’t have to meet all the same requirements that a part 121 carrier does. That significantly lowers their cost structure which allows them to fly places the majors won’t or provide a level of service they can’t. And of course the unions are on board because these pilots aren’t represented by them and are almost certainly working for less (since they may have aged out of the majors or don’t yet meet the flight house requirements). But these operators have existed for years.
    I think the biggest difference now is that JSX is embarrassing AA and WN. It’s no secret that flying AA and WN gets less pleasant every year (I am a multi-million miler on AA), but JSX is really rubbing their noses in it!

  30. Excellent article! Thank you! Like you Gary, I too share a personal offense over the major airline industry and what it has become (broadly speaking). I appreciate your passion and your efforts to elicit awareness and change.

  31. Part of the FAA mandate is to oversee safety and promote air travel.

    It’s the second part of the mandate that the FAA cites for allowing lap children.

    The FAA says that if it required children under age 2 to purchase a seat, more families would drive, where the risk of an accident is greater.

    It seems to me that if the FAA caves to the majors, JSX has a good argument in court.

    If the choice of an air charter is eliminated, some people might drive, go the private jet route (Net Jet pilots think their operation does not have safety as it’s No. 1 focus), or maybe learn to fly and fly themselves. Think JFK, Jr.

  32. In the ’90s I flew round trip from Detroit to Las Vegas aboard ATA’s L-1011 “Big Ed”.

  33. In regard to Southwest dirty tactics I saw an article in USA Today yesterday about a one day $53 sale throughout USA and International flights. The link went to the SW Airlines site, but I found no mention of it, or flights on sale. I called the airline and the representative said “I don’t know why they did that. It was misleading and should have said from $53. Most flights are the regular price”. It was a bait and switch tactic and the burden was put on customer service reps to deal with customers who found out it was a sneaky trick.

  34. Remember when one of the FAAs main tasks was the promotion of expanding air travel in the United States?

  35. The FAA is a horribly managed and run bureaucracy. I am normally the last to cut them any slack. However, the FAA is seeking one level of safety. Scheduled airlines should run under the same rules. I have flown for multiple carriers under both 135 and 121. JSX, Skywest, whoever else, should be operating under 121. That may mean some changes need to be made to Part 121. Why should these airlines be able to skirt tougher regulations because they have fewer seats? Is it less of a tragedy if 30 people die in a crash vs 35? One level of safety. That goes for cargo operations too, with a few exceptions, they should operate under the same rules.

  36. @Neil – “the FAA is seeking one level of safety.”

    1. But different approaches to safety make more sense for different missions. It is very different to pilot 1-2 hour regional jet flights and spend the night at home, versus fly long haul across numerous time zones and spend time away. In many ways the JSX model is far safer, because pilot rest is one of the most important factors in safety. Regulating widebody long haul travel with hundreds of passengers and huge implications for pilot rest SHOULD BE different than 30 passenger planes doing short distance flights. 90% of JSX flights return to base with pilots sleeping in their own beds at night.

    2. This ‘one level of safety’ involves standards that are bad for safety. ALPA successfully lobbied for 1,500 hour co-pilots for US airlines (while foreign carriers operate in the US without this requirement every day, and US airlines are no less safe in European skies). However this is just a cost and time barrier to entry into the profession. Touch and gos in clear air do nothing to train co-pilots in commercial scenarios. In fact the reverse is true. In the quest to build up hours (any hours! even tethered hot air balloon time would count!) pilots develop bad habits that airlines have to train out of them.

    3. Given TSA’s track record based on their own reports, JSX’s approved twelve-five standard security program is likely better security, even though they are less of a target than an American Airlines or United widebody.

    The correct approach to safety should be mission-specific. And by the way both major airlines and pilot unions argue against perfect safety, for instance union opposition to extending cockpit voice recorder times.

  37. More competition brings better service. If start-ups can survive they would change the industry to have it based on service. But as the industry stands price is the major reason for Ning travel. Consumers need to think about service not price for anything to change as well.

  38. I’m just now learning about this mode of travel, and other than JSX (listed in the article) I have no idea how to find a similar service that operates near me (Chicago) and that has service to Dubin, Ireland– is there a place one can go go find this kind of carrier?

  39. These big carriers remind me of 1970-80’s big US auto manufacturers.
    They generally had no clue what the word ‘quality’ even meant, nor how to attain it.
    We all know the story…
    So today?
    By waiting so long to respond to consumer demands, they allowed foreign competition to gain a very strong foothold in their own backyard. I see more Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, even Volvo’s etc…(and each of their own affilated brands) when I drive around, than American cars. Simple fact.

    These large air carriers, trying to legislate and force us to like them, are mistaking convenience for loyalty. Eventually they’ll end up stripping off this perceived convenience they boast about…
    and lose more and more customers.
    Or they will have to change.
    Wouldn’t be the first airline to go down. (pun intended)
    Learn from the past folks.
    True Competition is healthy and is the one real thing that makes capitalism work for our good.
    Don’t kill it.

  40. I work for AA and can’t disagree with comments about JSX offering a better product. AA is being run by low cost carrier management and they are trying to turn AA into the next NW, Frontier or Spirit. I’ve been there 34 years and have seen what AA was and now is. The pilots only care about themselves they will fly anything and anyone as long they are getting their paycheck. These people don’t realize how great AA was. We were a business persons airline, domestically and internationally, before business travel was as big as it is today. Robert has done a great job trying to get rid of our business customers. Of which has blown up in his face. So if you are going to do this you can’t whine when someone else offers a better product, that you no longer do, for those people that want it. Robert doesn’t realize what business travelers want. That is not his level of expertise. He knows how to work with people that are going to Cancun or Punta Cana for vacation.

  41. Those of you like “Terry” who commented on the security of TSA vs the method used by JSX evidently did not read the article or understand it. The security methods used by JSX are far superior to TSA. I support JSX! Unions have run up prices in America. JSX does not use Union pilots. They also employ pilots who have retired from the Major Airlines. The experience of the pilots is immeasurable. Safety is foremost and service by far beats the Big Boys. And THIS is why American and Southwest are pulling strings to get a government entity to put them out of business. I guess free ENTERPRISE no longer exists in America! Our citizens deserve the right to choose who they fly with based on the experience they choose to have before, during, and after the flight.

  42. Gary, I looked at your profile on the “About” section of this website. I see no pilot qualifications, no aviation safety background. I respect your opinion, but you don’t have an argument here, I doubt your are qualified to give an intelligent statement about aviation safety.

    1. If you know what the rest and duty rules are for 121 vs 135, you would know this statement is wrong. 135 is far more fatiguing, and that statement is based on experience, not some off the cuff blog post. And now you’re comparing JSX flights to “wide body long haul”. Long haul flights have different rest rules than domestic flights, all within 121. But you knew that, right?

    2. Please tell the families of Colgan Air 3407 crew and passengers are bad for safety. I doubt you can back up your statements with facts. The truth is, airline flying is safer with the newer rest rules and experience requirements that were a result of that crash.

    3. On your third point, I made no statement about it, because I am not in the field of aviation security, yet you felt the need to preach to me about it. I have no opinion on the security side of this argument.

  43. Alpa fights Age 67 pilots and sub 1500 hr pilots to create a false shortage. Then they fly safely for a competitive service and the complaining starts again eliminating consumer choice and ending careers of pilots who are a vast pool of knowledge and experience

  44. I fly to Spain quite a lot, I refuse to fly any American Carrier, and instead I fly Iberia, pretty FEMALE stewardesses, , no men “identifying as female” and “transitioning” no limp wristed gay men with lisps, DEI has ruined America

  45. JKT and Gary,

    Of course I read the article. My comment to Gary was sarcasm, because with every JSX article Gary writes, he gets more and more gushy (no to mention more over the-top misleading) about JSX; you’d THINK Gary was getting a buck for every passenger boarding a JSX plane. Too bad there’s not a sarcasm emoji.

  46. Gary,
    To address the “misleading” part, that you deny doing, I’m talking about where you frame this as “good-old, American capitalist competition,” when you know that’s not true. It’s not competition on equal footing; it’s competition where one party has more favorable and easier rules to follow. Do you think that’s fair “American competition”? Really? And strangely, you keep “forgetting” to mention any of that in any of your articles. THAT’S why I (and others who know the truth) say you’re clearly biased, and disingenuous in your articles.

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