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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. There are some valid legitimate concerns that need to be addressed that are not discussed in the article. Just off the top of my head, for example, if a passenger travels on a SkyWest charter flight, lands at a hub airport and the passenger connects to another flight, they may be able to travel onwards domestically or internationally without being screened at a TSA checkpoint. This goes against ICAO security conventions, and poses a serious security gap that could be exploited.
    I’m not against airline/charter hybrid models, I don’t know enough yet to make a determination, but I think the need for discussion and analysis to ensure it is done safely and properly in a high risk industry is smart, and not a conspiracy.

  2. proud to be a Texan, Gary.

    It is no surprise that the two Texas-based megacarriers are engaged in all of these efforts to shut down competition.

  3. The DHS monster — TSA included — will probably try to knock off the private terminal thing just because they can and are all about growing their fiefdom, but the flight operations should be able to continue to operate from regular airline terminals and compete still despite losing the advantage of a private terminal with their own security protocols.

    Can only hope DHS is broken up and the TSA gets relegated to the dustbin of history while we go back to passenger security screening being operated and managed by airports and airlines under guidance set by the FAA.

  4. @Terry Kozma – why? Different policies are appropriate for different products and mission profiles.

    Totally different pilot experience to fly a few 90 minute hops and overnight in your own bed vs lay over in Asia with jet lag. Totally different target value for a widebody jet from a major brand out of JFK than a 30 seat regional jet from Westchester.

    And when you force airlines to fly with pilot wages set by major airlines, amortizing that pay over hundreds of passengers, across 8-30 passengers then air service is no longer viable… people drive… which is far less safe.

  5. @John T – false, SkyWest Charter operates from regular airports with regular TSA. JSX, operating out of private terminals, does not provide airside access to connections.

  6. @Terry Kozma-
    I don’t say shut them down, I say there needs to be the same security for all flights. JSX says they’re “charter flights”. When you charter an airplane, you reserve the whole airplane and know the people you are flying with. Higher-income individuals do this as well as companies, sports teams, and more. JSX is really offering scheduled service and selling seats, but calling it a charter. All the airlines wonder why they have to have TSA screening that is more stringent than JSX. Gary likes to blame this on unions and airlines that are trying to drive away business. I don’t see the problem in demanding that scheduled carriers are on a level playing field. If the major airlines were able to use the same security as JSX they’d have nothing to complain about. Can you imagine what JSX would say if the security was turned around?
    As far as 49 USC 41104, there was no security for FAR 135 scheduled operators in 1978. I know because I was doing FAR135 scheduled service from 1977 to 1979. When we arrived at ORD, passengers had to go to security if they were connecting. So if Gary is correct, JSX would not be required to have any security.

  7. The idea that all kinds of flights require all the same rules is as much as a non-starter as the idea that taking a bus or subway should require all the same rules as for flights of all sort.

  8. Old 65+ captains and new copilot and lax screening is a bad idea. These aircraft are airliners, just smaller.

  9. @DA Pilit – the legal limit on adding regulatory burden to charter flying applies to DOT and not to TSA.

    IF JSX seeks greater regulation of competitors I will criticize that, too.

    Your level playing field idea is nonsense first because the deck is stacked against an upstart not against incumbents and second because we want the opposite – not sameness but innovation, which has been lacking in commercial aviation.

    The point of rules is to advance public goals in a situationally-appropriate way, not to protect monopoly rents of incumbents at the expense of passengers.

  10. Gary why are you so bent on JSX, are you long on skywest or what ?

    JSX use 135 pilot minimums which are less restrictive than those at a 121.

    JSX exploits the E3 Visa program which at its very heart causes pilots to prioritize efficiency and completion factors over safety. No one wins when your employer can have you deported for citing safety issues.

    Airplanes have been used once as a weapon, let’s go ahead and open that vulnerability back up.

  11. Enough of the posturing and misdirection, Gary. JSX is NOT being opposed simply for being a competitor. They are, in fact, a scheduled airline just like AA and WN, but scam a loophole to avoid paying by the same rules as the rest. For instance, besides the security issues and other airport hassle they get to avoid, they get to fly internationally from DAL when no other airline can. Does that seem like fair competition to you?

    All scheduled airlines should follow the same rules. If and when that happens, AA and WN would still complaining. But then Gary Leff would have one less subject for his biased and one-sided column, wouldn’t he?

  12. It is very clear that if the rules stay as they are, major airlines will set up JSX-like operations.

  13. Alex,

    You’re playing the “scare ‘em” card, right?

    My skepticism alarm starts ringing the moment people try to achieve self-serving aims by scaring people into going along with the desires of the mob in charge trying to play favorites.

  14. I am a frequent JSX flyer with no specialized knowledge. I wouldn’t object to full TSA screening. I just love the ease and speed of going in and out of the smaller terminals.

  15. @Sean Murphy – Southwest literally controls 18 of 20 gates at the commercial terminal, there used to be 32 gates but Southwest helped change the law to destroy 12 which keeps out competition, and you think that aviation policy is unfair to… Southwest?

  16. This has much deeper ramifications that people aren’t seeing. This is the TSA where “a solution looking for a problem” comes to mind. We have yet to have a SINGLE security issue with JetSuite, Contour, or anyone that operates under the DOT 380 operations right now. Passengers are vetted against the TSA No-Fly list, get screened to get on the plane, etc. Same as what happens with college charters and whatnot.

    JetSuite’s model works because they don’t use the main terminals (and their HUGE HUGE HUGE expenses) – an animal created BY government, FOR government, to make your travel MORE painful (how many hijackings and bombings have been stopped by TSA…. *** waiting ***).

    Fact is, a few airlines don’t like this model and have tried to get every administration to update DOT 380 since, and no one has done it yet. Biden has had 3 years to update it, and they haven’t.

    Whatever ploys AA and WN are doing with TSA will dig deeper than just affect JetSuite, it could also affect sun destinations like the Bahamas… do you really think someone is going to hijack that Piper Navajo or Cessna Caravan going to Bimini? Or that PC-12 taking a family out to Hope Town/Marsh Harbour?

    Also – you can’t operate non-sterile to sterile (eg: JSX connect to a JetBlue flight without going thru security).

    We’re only here because of government. The FAA moving the bar on Part 121 flying in the 90s (from Part 135 flying) and every call for “safety and security” is nothing more than a ploy to put a competitor out of business.

  17. I’d rather have business travelers going through a private screening than allowing Illegals to fly without an ID. Time for the TSA to be dismantled.

  18. We haven’t had a single security issue in these smaller flights….yet. Hadn’t had anyone slam a plane into a building in the US…until they did. You can’t base security process on ‘nothing bad has happened’ that being said, the TSA, and largely air travel these days, is such a monumental pain in the ass I’m honestly shocked anyone bothers anymore. Many TSA rules are bananas (don’t bring more than 3 oz of toothpaste? What can I do with 4 oz of liquid I can’t do with 3?), cancellations, delays, tiny ass seats, federal law requires me to obey petty tyrant douchenozzle flight attendants..who needs all that nonsense.

  19. Cmon Gary, you don’t tell the whole story or have all the facts. I agree AA and Southwest are only fighting jsx because it takes away their premium passenger revenue. But, JSX is benefiting from non-scheduled air carrier regulations and operating as a scheduled carrier. Double standard their. If they had to use the main terminal or have tsa at the fbo screening their passengers, their competitive advantage would be lost. Also, I have watched tsa agents arrive at the fbo to screen sports teams before they board charter flights over the years, so there is precedent. If jsx had to pay to have them on site every day they wouldn’t be profitable, I’m betting.
    And, the last time I looked both the dot and tsa were agencies of the same federal government. Both serve the same public in ensuring passenger travel safety, so who cares about a technicality of which agency can legally regulate the issue? The end goal is the important part-make sure Air travel is miserable FOR EVERYONE

  20. Hopefully this attempt to shut down JSX ricochets into an inspection of the failures of TSA in finding prohibited items. I don’t see TSA as the answer to any security concerns.

  21. Gary — that’s the same lie you published before. Southwest must assuredly did NOT help limit the gates at DAL. The reduction to 20 gates was AA and DFW over WN’s objections. And that has nothing to do with what I said.

  22. Sean
    Gary said “helped” and it is accurate that WN helped limit gates as soon as it became assured that it would control nearly 80% of them. When the ex-UA gates became available, WN threw over $100 million to try to make it 90% that they controlled. They just happened to find DL in their way. DL sued, stuck w/ the suit for years, and settled for its own gate.
    and it is far more likely that WN will end up w/ more than one gate at DFW than it is that AA will end up with more gate at Love Field – because DL is now occupying the other ex-AA gate.
    Whether WN was the prime mover in destroying gates is far less important that WN has used every chance to prevent competition and the only entity that has been successful from stopping Southwest is Delta.

  23. @Sean Murphy – Herb was in the room cutting that deal – they got Wright Amendment restrictions limited and a near complete monopoly at Love Field, while fhe amount of competition vs AA at DFW was limited.

    AA and Southwest were winners, at the expense of consumers, just like here.

  24. I have been flying JSX for 2 years consistently. The ease of access, at the FBO’s is amazing. No hectic antics displayed by the airlines and no large crowds, like there is in the large terminals. The attendants and workers at JSX are delightful, caring, thorough very approachable. When was the last time you heard “Welcome Back” or “Nice to see you Again” flying Southwest or American??? JSX is the exact opposite of the rude, overbearing, and conniving personnel I used to encounter, flying Southwest and American at the large airports. The give someone a badge and they think they own the world attitude displayed by the personnel at the larger airlines is ludicrous! If the larger Airlines cared 1/4 as much for their customers, as JSX does, People would not be up in arms at the attacks Southwest and American are waging on JSX. JSX is successful with the service they provide and their handling of their customers. It’s like it used to be 45 years ago. Guess what, people may even enjoy flying again, as I do! If anyone has a list of pertinent names and addresses, I can send a letter to, on behalf of JSX, please advise me.

  25. The US Supreme Court is reviewing the expansion of “rules” by unelected bureaucrats in US government agencies where there is ambiguity in the Congress passed legislation. Do I see another law suit?

  26. I’ve flown over 40 years in jet transports under Part 91, 135 & 121. To suggest that Part 135 operations have the governance (internal and regulatory) that provides safety on par with large established 121 carriers is laughable and belies the historical record across most metrics. I also want a nice seat, at my local airport & with no security hassle, but you can’t equate the safety resources and processes of a large 121 to a 135 outfit, it’s not even close. Argue correctly for JSX because you selfishly like the product, but saying they have magically acquired the same level of safety because they are a 135 operator is patently false. There is also a distinct difference between the validity of opinions rendered on the cocktail side vs. the thrust lever side of the cockpit door.

  27. TSA and airline “security” is a fantasy. They have missed every real hijacker / bomber so far. All they have done is slow down travellers and spend billions that should have been used to update the ATC system, to create real safety.

  28. So much for Capitalism and free enterprise. If a superior product is being offered then mega carriers have to get their crap together and offer something unique. Flying hasn’t really changed much in years except for the entertainment systems which are horrible.

  29. After an early morning AA DFW-GSP with no coffee available and a AA YUL-DFW with inoperable lav in F, I’m ready to try JSX if they fly where I’m going. A cup of coffee and a place to pee are kind of basic things. Maybe JSX has them.

  30. Very simple. If WTMD is required for JSX it must be required for Taylor Swift, Elon Musk and the thousands of executives who fly private jets. You don’t have Animal House rules because some pigs are more special.

    Personally I think TSA made the right call for private terminals and small jets, which pose less of a security threat than jumbo jets.

    And there is something you can do about it. If you reside in a district with a JSX terminal write your Congressman and ask them to share your views with TSA. Congress has a direct line to fed agencies and they care about business in their districts.

  31. Close Dallas Love to scheduled airline operations force WN to fly out of KDFW with the rest of the airlines. Enough of that nonsense. They had their beginning they succeeded now let them play with the big boys.

  32. JSX operates a Part 135 flight as a “public charter”.

    But they actually operate their flights like Part 121, and should fall under Part 121 (scheduled air service).

    JSX operates a schedule, along with the other airlines (like Contour) that fly this model. Nobody is “chartering” the plane – they are selling tickets for a specific route and flight number on a specific route. They’re competing with Part 121 airlines, and the lax security allows a possible hijacker to just waltz aboard. No, these airlines should fall under 121. Public Charter is a way to “justify” getting around Part 121. The rules are there for the public’s safety (anyone remember Colgan 3407???).

  33. @JP – it is not lax security, and they operate under long-standing regulations that restrict operations to 30 or fewer seats.

    “The rules are there for the public’s safety (anyone remember Colgan 3407???)” is a genuinely dumb statement.

    1) the pilots of the Colgan Air flight both had over 1500 hours
    2) but the captain had been poorly rated, and pilots were subject to exhaustion
    3) Over 90% of JSX flights overnight at base, so pilots sleep in their own beds – far less exhaustion than a part 121 carrier

    Colgan Air is inopposite here, completely.

  34. @John – “the last time I looked both the dot and tsa were agencies of the same federal government. Both serve the same public in ensuring passenger travel safety, so who cares about a technicality of which agency can legally regulate the issue? ”

    Having moved air travel security regulation into DHS, the federal government gets to increase regulation on charter airlines *despite long-standing law* on a technicality. That’s why it matters.

    ” JSX is benefiting from non-scheduled air carrier regulations and operating as a scheduled carrier.”

    JSX is operating under long-standing regulations which make their business model legal, which nobody questioned, and neither DOT nor TSA had any concerns about it until competitors started lobbying them to shut it down.

    Finding ways to innovate with models that appeal to consumers within the law is precisely what you want businesses to do. Stopping that to protect entrenched interests is its opposite.

  35. I don’t see the delta in safety being so large between JSX and the legacy majors and their regional franchise partners being so large as to have me avoid JSX unless and until JSX are subject to all the same requirements as mainline widebody flights on the legacy majors. Their commercial viability, the security of their investors’ funds and the value of the company are maximized by not going all Wild West on safety standards.

    In any event, the TSA is doing nothing better to secure my life as a frequent flyer. If anything the TSA has increased the risk to my life over say the regular passenger security screeners at Danish and Swedish airports who don’t give a damn whether a passenger is flying under the name Mickey Mousa or the name as in a passport. Labor time and bigger lines to ID/identify passengers for ID checks are the TSA not only wasting my time but also increasing the risk to my security in various ways.

  36. Security rules need to be the same, regardless of aircraft and who operates it. Private crafts can be hijacked or owned by terrorists and flown into buildings too! Probably even easier?!
    As for AA, the hypocrisy is hilarious but expected, do they still make their actual money from their credit cards? I only fly aa if I don’t have a choice, I rather fly spirit with their uncomfortable, tiny seats than listen to 3+ credit card pitches on aa!
    Have issues with Southwest’s owned Dallas Love Field? Check their history, see why they had to, you would understand!
    I don’t care how they want to operate but some rules should be universal:
    -Security and its application (I’ve made it , unintentionally, thru tsa with forbidden items but had to get out of the wheelchair and crutches taken at same time while trying to stand (no chair offered) with two broken ankles) or originally sealed hand cream/perfume taken. A couple people could create dangerous items from allowed carry on items.
    -Safety of aircraft (some use really old airplanes, like 30+ yrs and seemingly falling apart. If the cabins are neglected, what do the engines and frame look like underneath?
    -Pilot training/age/health appropriate for flights operated. I would feel safer if tsa were more diligent, not just spot check, are bored/tired or on power trips.
    ….So, “chapter flights with schedules” is a joke , But if Security is Not that important to you, knowing complete strangers could easily take control of your flight, then go for it, just make sure you’ve got your Will prepared!

  37. @Crystal: You wrote: “Security rules need to be the same, regardless of aircraft and who operates it.” I’m afraid I have to disagree. Across Alaska, excellent airlines like Wright Air Services Alaska offer scheduled service to the rural “bush” communities not connected by roads. The majority of destinations do not use TSA or private security screening. Call their customer service at (907) 474-0502 if you have questions.

    Fun fact: When flying with Wright Air Service, your bear spray may fly as baggage but must be declared and given to the customer service agent at check-in time. More info:

  38. More from Bloomberg: (paywall)

    US aviation authorities are poised to propose changes in the next few weeks to standards governing public charters, a controversial corner of the travel industry that has pitted some of the largest airlines against one another.

    The Transportation Security Administration plans to share the proposals with public charter carriers like 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.

    Public charter operators compete with regularly scheduled flights from smaller, private terminals but allow passengers to avoid airport crowds and long security lines. Such carriers can handle passenger screening on their own and hire pilots who don’t have the minimum 1,500 flying hours required for large scheduled carriers.

    *** The forthcoming TSA proposals could help resolve concerns by critics that public charter carriers compromise safety and security. The agency and the Federal Aviation Administration began formal reviews last year, with the FAA saying the expansion of such carriers is “an increased risk to safety if left unchecked.”

    The FAA has said it’s considering nearly 60,000 public comments filed as part of the review and hasn’t provided a time frame for any decisions.

    SkyWest Inc., which operates regional flights for larger airlines, proposed a similar public charter service about 18 months ago that it said would primarily serve smaller communities. It has been blocked from moving ahead while regulators resolve rules that will govern such carriers.

Comments are closed.