LATIN AMERICA

Venezuela blocks four international airlines from selling tickets

Most carriers have reduced services in response to state’s failure to pay them what it owes

An Aeroméxico plane, one of the airlines sanctioned by the Venezuelan government.
An Aeroméxico plane, one of the airlines sanctioned by the Venezuelan government.AFP

On Tuesday, Venezuelan aviation officials banned four international airlines from selling tickets at the country’s main airport near Caracas. The 48-hour suspension will affect Ecuador’s Tame, Aeroméxico, Aerolíneas Argentinas and Colombia’s Avianca. According to a press release issued by the National Civil Aeronautic Institute (INAC), the companies may not advertise “their pricing policies and general conditions for transport” at their counters at Maiquetía International Airport.

The measure follows a similar initiative taken 24 hours before against state-owned carrier Conviasa, as well as Aserca, Aeropostal, and Aerotuy, which all cover domestic routes. According to INAC, flights operated by these local companies experienced frequent delays and failed to comply with current regulations.

The sanction will do little to harm business as foreign carriers have not sold tickets at the airport for some time

The sanction will do little to damage business since international airlines have not sold tickets at their airport counters for a while and sell few at other bricks-and-mortar establishments – these days almost all ticket sales are made online.

The majority of the 24 international carriers operating in Venezuela claim that they have not received the funds – in foreign currency – corresponding to their ticket sales since 2012. The amount the government, which controls currency exchange within the country, now owes the companies exceeds $4 billion, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In response airlines have suspended or reduced their services in the country, including limiting the number of flights and personnel. According to recent press reports, the few firms that have reached individual agreements with the administration only received about 15 percent of the compensation promised.

The symbolic impact of the sanction could be a delay in the eventual resolution of the payment issue, sowing the seeds of distrust between both parties. Passengers wanting to travel to or from Venezuela can buy tickets abroad in foreign currency at prices far exceeding standard commercial airline industry rates. But as the conflict evolves, the country could end up with no air connections to the outside world whatsoever, something that does not seem to worry President Nicolás Maduro. “I have asked Economy Vice President Marcos Torres to settle this situation immediately, company by company,” Maduro said on national TV and radio a month ago. “And for him to go to each one and ask ‘Are you going to work in Venezuela? These are the rules of the game.’ They have to completely, immediately, resolve this situation ... If one [airline] stays, then one stays; if they all leave, then they all leave.”

 Translation: Dyane Jean François

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