Sky High Sabotage: Major Airlines Are Using TSA To Secretly Shut Down A Competitor

Major U.S. airlines ran to the government to try to quash competition and a better inflight product option for passengers. Their first attempt, with the Department of Transportation, may not be working. But their next play with TSA can be done in secret and stands a better chance.

Dallas-based JSX flies regional jets that usually hold 50 seats with just 30 first class seats. This allows them to:

  • operate from private terminals, instead of the main terminal at airports
  • hire senior captains, often recently-retired from American Airlines and Southwest, as well as co-pilots with fewer hours in the cockpit

They do this by selling seats (part 380) on public charter flights (part 135), rather than as a regularly scheduled airline. It’s a brilliant business model that benefits from long-standing regulations, and provides a unique product to customers – show up at the airport 20 minutes before your flight, walk out to a shared private jet.

Naturally, Southwest Airlines which is based at Dallas Love Field alongside JSX doesn’t like it. And American Airlines, based at Dallas-Fort Worth and which sells its own first class product, doesn’t like it.

The major pilot unions do not like it either, because it allows pilots to keep flying after age 65 and allows a path towards earning a salary while building up the hours needed to fly for a commercial airline. ALPA, in particular, takes great pride in the barriers to entry – both cost and time – that they’ve succeeded in lobbying for, limiting the number of commercial pilots and increasing their bargaining leverage.

This all came to a head when SkyWest proposed using this same business model for ‘SkyWest Charter’ which they intended to use for Essential Air Service routes. Pilot unions opposed this, which meant they had to attack incumbent carriers flying as public charters as well. And major competitors American and Southwest signed on (United and JetBlue are part-owners of JSX).

Opponents succeeded in getting the FAA to consider new rules that would bar the business model. I co-authored a regulator comment which, among other things, pointed out:

  • That data doesn’t support safety concerns
  • That the rules JSX follows are appropriate
  • And that DOT likely lacks the statutory authority to impose new requirements on public charter operators.

49 USC 41104 clearly precludes the Secretary of Transportation from imposing rules on public charters that are more restrictive than those in place on October 1, 1978.

The FAA, still reviewing the unprecedented 60,000 comments they received on this rule, has not yet acted or offered comment on when they might take any action.

However the TSA is expected to suggest rule changes for public charter operations in the coming weeks.

  • The Department of Transportation can address pilot training rules, but not security rules. That’s the province of TSA. Airlines have been pushing for a crackdown on JSX’s ability to operate out of private terminals.

  • TSA is going to share new proposed rules with airlines, but not the public. There will be no public opportunity to comment on “sensitive security information.

The Transportation Security Administration plans to share the proposals with public charter carriers such as Dallas-based JSX and will allow a period for feedback, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the issue is private. The suggested changes, which potentially could threaten the business model, won’t be made public because they’re considered sensitive security information.

So this is another bite at the apple for big airlines to try to put JSX out of business. When speaking internally to employees, American Airlines has explained their lobbying against JSX as a competitive response to the carrier which offers consumers a more compelling product.

And of course American codeshares with public charter carrier Contour, and owns a stake in Brazilian carrier Gol, neither of which operates under pilot rules that the airline claims when in public are necessary for safety.

Currently, JSX passengers have their bags swabbed, their IDs checked against screening databases, and go through screening. This screening is not conducted by TSA however, and there’s no shoe removal or liquid bag restrictions.

Will TSA’s proposed rules do the airlines’ bidding, shutting down a competitor, when their lobbying of the Department of Transportation hasn’t worked thus far? We don’t actually know, because this is all happening in secret. TSA had no concerns over security of public charter operators using private terminals until major airlines and pilot unions began their lobbying campaign.

DOT planned to put JSX out of business at the behest of American, Southwest and ALPA. But that had to be done publicly and more public comments in opposition were filed than DOT has ever received before. The TSA does not have to operate under the same sort of sunlight – we don’t even get to know what they propose.

Update: TSA offers the following statement,

TSA works closely with all its airline stakeholders to ensure the appropriate security procedures are in place to protect the transportation system and facilitate the movement of people and goods. There is an increase in the number of airlines operating public charter flights on a scheduled basis, so TSA is reaching out to the airlines in review of its security program related to these public charter flights.

TSA had not expressed concerns over the long-standing business model of carriers like Contour, and JSX which has been operating for more than 7 years, until American, Southwest and ALPA began their lobbying campaign. There are, in fact, fewer public charter carriers operating today than there were in 2010. And there are no more passengers flying public charters than during the period of 1976 (prior to deregulation) through 1998, as my co-author and I document in our public comment submitted to DOT on proposed rules.

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, 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. […] At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s probably no one I’d rather entrust myself to on a two hour flight than Lt. Col. Gregory. Yet he’s who American Airlines, Southwest and ALPA wanted grounded claiming ‘safety’ rather than self-interest. Dallas-based JSX competes head-on for customers those airlines want not to have better options, while the major pilot unions want to limit who’s allowed to fly in order to create scarcity. Not yet having success lobbying the FAA, they’ve gone to TSA to clamp down on the competition. […]


  1. Ok. I get it. Either you’re scheduled or you’re not.
    But Nobody wants to be molested and have nude pictures of them taken by the TSA. And nobody wants to have a TSA agent see something in their luggage that they take a fancy to and then tell them “no, you can’t take that on the airplane.” Nobody in their right mind wants to have a pilot at the controls who has been forced to take the illegal, experimental, Covid heart attack clot shot either. And no one wants to be taken hostage in a cattle car on the ramp for 3 hours or more when they need to go to the bathroom. And quite frankly, nobody wants to be on an airliner that has doors and windows blowing out and taking passengers for a skydive at the same time. If you call that safe, then let’s run a separate system for the majors than the people who still have some dignity.
    They can separate the security systems at the airport and when they encounter it, that will be the queue to those who still respect life that they are now entering the dangerous territory of major airlines.
    I use to be an airline pilot and I won’t even get on an airliner anymore.

  2. Nigel, you don’t care about individual rights? oh brother. No TSA.

    JSX was forced out of PHX recently too, moved to Scottsdale SCF. IF, I need to fly I will highly consider JSX over any other air carrier. I already have to avoid any 737 MAX aircraft.

  3. Nicer aircraft, lower fares, quicker service, more convenient terminals, no lost bags, bigger seats, more personalized service, Hmmm.
    Makes one wonder how a bigger, profit hungry, overpriced, cattle car experience would complain.

  4. People… “level the playing field”? “Safety “? Are we really this ignorant?

    I’m an American AADVANTAGE Plat Pro flyer and I fly JSX every chance I get if traveling leisure.

    It’s simply a better experience and a better product. That’s it. That’s why the majors are screaming about this rule and that loophole. The majors suck and can’t compete with a JSX’s convenient, efficient, pleasant experience. They put out a better product plain and simple.

    That’s why AA and SWA are trying to destroy their business. It’s not about “an even playing field” or “loopholes” or “public safety”. They don’t give a rip about any of that… If JSX put out a product as piss poor as the majors AA and SWA wouldn’t know they’re even there.

    In 2024 if you had to describe major airlines and air travel it does not echo as the gleam of steel but rather resembles a mushy overripe melon. From check in to the seats & aircraft to onboarding & deplaning to baggage claim. Quality gap. End to end…crap experience.

    Ah- those vintage TWA and Pan Am clips of the flying public, on board service, with new jet age aircraft… long gone folks. It’s a cattle call with every passenger packing their entire household into the overhead bin and what seems a weekly YouTube of some ticketing gate brawl or crackpot passenger creating havoc and chaos onboard.

    JSX puts out a great product with a brilliant business model that absolutely smokes the majors.

    Yeah… “passenger screening”… joke. We’ve all shaken our heads observing the hoard of blue shirts giving the security treatment to grandma and gramps and other obviuous non-threats.

    The majors are out to find a way to destroy the very appeal that is JSX instead of innovating and improving their own product. The jsx security screening is every bit as thorough and robust as what you have at any airport. Better even. airport “security checkpoints” have never filled me with any level of confidence.

    American and SWA are so far from JSX they have to resort to not improving air travel but eliminating a company that offers superior products to their own.

  5. It’s a shame that a great company who gives a choice in flying is under attack. JSX is not going to put the big airlines out of business. I remember when southwest first started they faced
    same situation. America is founded freedom to offer new ways and ideas.

  6. Heaven forbid anyone should come along and make flying anything less than the descent into Purgatory it has become since 9/11.

  7. To level the playing field, force the opponents to charge the same airfare as JSX. See how the majors like that.

  8. Don’t forget how TSA is allowing thousands of illegals, being flown across the US without proper Photo ID.. They , our so called government allows this while average Joe has to produce a valid ID to get on a commercial flight! We are all being mocked, carry on….

  9. If the major airlines had any brains, they would embrace some of the changes that JSX brings to its customers. Make the flying experience enjoyable again.
    Provide wider seats and more leg room between seats. Treat passengers with the respect they deserve. Maybe provide meals on long domestic flights. I always liked airline food. Fly to some smaller regional airports instead of just the major hubs.
    My hope is that JSX provides a kick in the ass to the Majors to change their act!

  10. JSX is amazing and so convenient…plus you can buy a seat for your dog. Get with it major airlines and do better rather than kicking and screaming like a bunch of babies!

  11. I fly JSX regularly to visit my elderly parents in another state. I can get there about 20 minutes prior to take off, go thru a quick reasonable screening process (no TSA gestapo treatment),, convenient parking, and a quick hassle free comfortable flight, a quick exit from the plane when it lands and be at my parents house in ten minutes. Why would I want to park at a giant airport, walk a mile to check in, go thru very invasive TSA screening and harassment, then take trams to then walk another mile to my gate…only to find out my flight is delayed. I have a ton of miles with American Airlines…I think I’ll file a complaint with them. I already filed one with the DOT to not take my JSX away from me. The DOT, according to the article, got more letters on this issue than any ever received opposed to shutting down JSX.

  12. I despise flying so much that I opt to drive whenever possible.
    I used to drive 1000 mile trips that took 2 days to avoid the “airport experience”.
    Yesterday I finished a 4 day trip of just over 2200 miles.
    I will admit that that one was a bit too much, but a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was driving an econobox and had a teenage stepdaughter as my passenger.
    Instead of thinking “I will never drive this far again”, I was contemplating the best vehicle for such trip.

    Now, if I was able to fly on JSX type airline, I certainly would do it. Especially if the price was at a point that I could afford it but high enough to keep the Greyhound crowd away.

  13. Major Airlines can solve this problem by operating all of their regional aircraft under the 380 rule to lower their costs and operate just as JSX does. As more and more aircraft operate nationwide with lower safety standards the data would begin supporting the safety concerns—or we could just not lower aviation safety standards.

  14. I feel as a corporate flight attendant that corporate jets are safer because if it was an emergency it would be easier to evacuate a group of 20 people from the plane than 200 people from the plane. The more people the more dangers can arise. That is there way to bribe the government officials like what happened in the 737max crashes when a federal prosecutor in Seattle was on the board of directors with Boeing took bribe money so Boeing executives would not go to prison for genocide and making false statements to the faa to pass inspections. The faa inspectors was on Boeing payroll

  15. Idk if this is true ^

    Anyways I don’t understand all this. They will “propose” changes and let Jsx comment ? They can propose change but jsx can “comment” by saying screw your proposals we like what we have now right?

    Also if anything changed at all would it be immediate ? I have a jsx flight in 2 weeks and a return in 4 weeks. Would it be changed by then ? Thanks

  16. Let me try to clear up a few misconceptions.

    1. At JSX your baggage is swabbed and tested for explosives when you check in. Everyone can see this happening as opposed to your bags disappearing down a conveyor belt where anyone could add (or subtract) something to/from your luggage. In addition, at JSX you have visual proof that it was tested. The crew must also have their bags swabbed and tested. That doesn’t happen at the airlines unless the crew are selected for random screening.
    2. At JSX your name is checked against the same TSA “no fly” list that the airlines use.
    3. At JSX passengers must walk through a “metal” detector just as at a major airport. The crew must also do this. Again, unless a crew member is selected for random screening this doesn’t happen at the major airport/airlines.
    4. At JSX the cockpit door is fortified just like at AA or WN.
    5. At JSX you can never connect to another airline without going through the screening process of the connecting airline. Never!

    The rules JSX operates under have been around for a very long time. It’s just that now the public is fed up with the cost and hassle (TSA?) of flying with the major airlines and, more importantly, the technology has improved to the point where the aircraft are just as comfortable as with the majors. Thus, airlines such as JSX have tapped into a new market that wasn’t possible before.

    ***Passenger security and safety is definitely not the issue AA and WN are upset about. Follow the money.***

    While the aircraft used by JSX are older they aren’t that much older than some of the aircraft at the major airlines. In fact, AA is still using the same type aircraft (EMB135/145) on some of their “regional” flights. A strict maintenance program allows for aircraft to fly a very long time.

    Do not use the condition of the interior to judge the condition of the engines and airframe. Passengers are extremely rough on tray tables, seats, window shades, etc., and the short time on the ground between flights does not allow for immediate repairs. However, safety of flight items such as seatbelts and seats are repaired immediately or the seat isn’t used. Nonetheless the interior of JSX aircraft are in very good shape. Just ask anyone who has flown on JSX.

    While JSX does operate under Part 380/135 they are doing all they can to operate as a Part 121 air carrier like the airlines for safety and security. They are using proven and highly effective technology to ensure the safety of their passengers. I’m sure some are opposed to that even though the technology is just as effective as a deterrent if not better than humans who can and do make mistakes.

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