Spirit Airlines on Wednesday delayed shareholder vote on its proposed merger with Frontier Airlines until July 8, hours before a meeting scheduled for Thursday so it can further discuss options with Frontier and rival suitor JetBlue Airways.
It is the second time Spirit has delayed a vote on its planned combination with Frontier and extends the most contentious battle for a U.S. airline in years.
Spirit originally scheduled Thursday’s vote for June 10 but had delayed that for the same reasons.
Both Frontier and JetBlue have upped their offers in the week before the scheduled vote approached.
“Spirit would not have postponed tomorrow’s meeting if they felt they had the votes,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry consultant and president of Atmosphere Research Group. Spirit didn’t comment on whether that is the case.
“We compliment the Spirit Board for listening to their shareholders, who clearly were not supportive of the Frontier transaction, and adjourning the Special Meeting,” JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes said in a statement later Wednesday.
“It’s clear that Spirit shareholders have now handed the Spirit Board an undeniable mandate to reach an agreement with JetBlue.”
“This is like the end of a soap opera episode,” Harteveldt added.
Frontier and Spirit first announced their intent to merge in February. In April, JetBlue made an all-cash, surprise bid for Spirit, but Spirit’s board has repeatedly rejected JetBlue’s offers, arguing a JetBlue takeover wouldn’t pass muster with regulators.
Either combination would create the United States’ fifth-largest carrier.
JetBlue has fired back at Spirit, saying it did not negotiate in good faith, setting off a war of words between the airlines as they competed for shareholder support ahead of the vote.
Frontier didn’t immediately comment about the postponed vote.
Spirit shares were up about 2% in afterhours trading, while Frontier was up more than 1% and JetBlue was down 1%.