The CEO of American Airlines said Monday that his airline needed to partner with JetBlue because Delta Air Lines merged before American, had more takeoff and landing rights at New York airports and fewer unions.

Robert Isom also acknowledged that Delta has “run a good, reliable airline” and has some cost advantages over American.

The Justice Department and six states have sued American and JetBlue in federal court over their regional partnership in the Northeast, which state lawyers are calling a de facto merger. Isom defended the arrangement, which has been in place for more than a year, as did JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes last week during a trial in federal court in Boston.

Hayes, however, once had doubts about the deal — called the Northeast Alliance, or NEA — because of American’s size advantage over JetBlue.

Lawrence, who later moved to American after a month-long stint at Delta, testified that Hayes worried that American “had almost unlimited resources” to sway the alliance in its favor. Despite Hayes’s concerns, American and JetBlue announced the deal six months after Lawrence’s text message.

The Justice Department is trying to persuade U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin to end a partnership in which American and JetBlue work together to set schedules and share revenue, although they are prohibited from cooperating on pricing. Government lawyers argue that the deal restricts competition and will lead to higher tariffs.

American and JetBlue say the government has no evidence the deal harms consumers. On the contrary, they say it will help travelers by creating a stronger competitor to Delta and United in New York and Boston.

American and JetBlue say they haven’t been able to grow in New York on their own because they couldn’t get enough new takeoff and landing times — so-called slots — at congested airports. JetBlue has used unusual tactics, including red-eye flights, and trying to get slots from other airlines.

“How did this happen?” JetBlue lawyer Richard Shved asked Lawrence.

“It went badly,” replied the manager. “I don’t think our competitors were interested in us getting more access.”

The trial is expected to last about another week, but it could be weeks or months before Sorokin makes his decision — there is no jury.

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