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

January 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To contact the reporter on this story: Frederic Tomesco in Montreal at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at

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