In Venezuela Flight Crews Get Robbed and the Government Loots Checked Luggage

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

But it was risky even then to holding Venezuelan assets, something 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.”

Two years ago I wrote about things getting bad enough that there was a toilet paper shortage with hotel guests being told to bring their own.

As currency controls loosened for residents modestly in 2013 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 even get seats on the non-stops. American thought it was a cash cow. It was a trap. Currency controls tightened on airlines and prevented them from taking currency out of the country.

That’s why airlines scaled back flying to and from Venezuela in 2014 and then started refusing to sell tickets inside the country so as to avoid accepting local currency. Airlines got nearly $4 billion stuck in Venezuela, about one-fifth belong to American.

The world is only just now waking up to Venezuela’s crisis even as the direction the country was headed has been obvious for years (indeed, I’ve been telling you about it for years). If you think this somehow started with Nicholas Maduro, you’re mistaken.

Two years ago I wrote that ‘stealing billions of dollars from international airlines won’t help. It means less air service, less trust for the Venezuelan economy. It means a risk premium that must be paid in any international dealings. And that’s a premium the ailing economy can’t afford to pay.’

Earlier this year a bridge collapsed and an Iberia flight crew had to sail to the airport.

We’re finally starting to see more and more airlines pull out of the country.

United Airlines, Avianca and Delta Air Lines have either stopped flying to Venezuela or said they would leave the country, while three others canceled flights on specific days as the nation descends into chaos. Colombia’s pilots’ association says its members who have flown to Venezuela have had to deal with contaminated fuel and hours-long delays as the National Guard pulls suitcases off flights to loot them. This week, videos showed an apparent assassination of a man at the check-in desk of a local airline at the airport.

Let’s ponder that for a moment: “the National Guard pulls suitcases off flights to loot them.”

Flight crews get robbed by bandits. It’s not enough to stay near the airport, or hire bodyguards. Airlines complain they’re getting contaminated fuel. Airlines fly crews out of the country to overnight, and try to refuel elsewhere as well.

American Airlines still operates in Venezuela, saying that Caracas and Maracaibo “meet the highest standards safety and security.”

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 »

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  1. Just remember – every time you fill up at Citgo, 50..1% of the profits help Maduro and the other 49.9% help Putin.

  2. Well you reap what you sow. That country is rapaidly going to the pit and pulling the innocent with it. At least the airlines wont take worthless money nor will they participate in a verman escape. Just my opinion.

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