Flight Crew Takes a Boat to the Caracas Airport When Bridge Collapses

Back in 2008 Venezuela’s currency controls were considered an airfare arbitrage opportunity.

The riskiness of holding Venezuelan assets, though, was certainly underscored when the country nationalized a Hilton. (Not even a first in Venezuela for that brand.) Apparently Hugo Chavez didn’t like the hotel meeting contract, so he decided to take the hotel.

“To hold the conference we had to ask for permission… and the owners tried to impose conditions on the revolutionary government. No way,” AFP quotes Chavez as saying. “So I said, ‘Let’s expropriate it.’ And now it’s been expropriated.”

Things have gotten so bad in the Venezuelan travel industry that hotel guests were being told to bring their own toilet paper.

As currency controls loosened for residents somewhat to allow them to travel abroad a few years ago airline tickets became an arbitrage tool in a different way, an opportunity to get money out of the country and to convert currency from the black market rate to the official rate.

Flights out of Venezuela became so popular that you could only buy full fare tickets when you could get seats at all. American’s Caracas – San Juan flight was carrying almost exclusively onward connecting passengers to the US because Venezuelans couldn’t get on non-stops. American thought it was a cash cow, selling seats at full fare. It was a trap. Currency controls tightened on airlines and prevented them from taking currency out of the country.

The deteriorating economy, a less stable security situation, and the government stealing the airlines’ money have led to airlines:

  1. Refusing to sell tickets inside the country in order to avoid accepting local currency.
  2. And in some cases no longer flying to Venezuela at all.

As of a year ago airlines had ~ $3.7 billion stuck in Venezuela, and about 20% of that is American’s. (American wrote down much of that.)

It’s a sad state for Venezuelans, mostly. Stealing billions of dollars from international airlines didn’t help. The country is crumbling. Literally.

A bridge collapsed preventing the crew of yesterday’s Iberia flight IB6674 flight to Madrid from making it to the airport on time. They had to sail to the airport.

The flight ultimately took off 2.5 hours late.

This is the least of the nation’s problems of course. After losing legislative elections, the nation’s President declared a state of emergency which allows him to even conscript citizens to work on farms for months at a time. Food is in short supply, while the government even confiscates toys. Prison inmates have reportedly resorted to at lest isolated instances of cannibalism. Nonetheless a flight crew having to take a boat because the bridge to the airport has fallen down is emblematic of a country collapsing.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Why is there a Sunwing flight status when this was an Iberia flight? No Canadian airline services Venezuela.

  2. That airline status screenshot isn’t an Iberia flight and it’s for a flight that took place on Dec 31, 2016, not yesterday.

  3. “It’s almost like socialism doesn’t work or something. Puzzling.”

    Yeah, since it worked so well under Stain, Mao, Castro, and continues on in swell form in North Korea.

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