LATIN AMERICA

Venezuelan state airline leaves hundreds stranded in Barajas

Government currency controls leave many passengers without money left to tide them over

Some of the passengers stranded in Madrid.
Some of the passengers stranded in Madrid.JAIME VILLANUEVA

None of the 287 passengers who were scheduled to fly from Madrid to Caracas on Tuesday with Conviasa, the Venezuelan state airline, thought they would still be on the ground in Madrid’s Barajas airport three days later with just the clothes on their backs.

Neither did the 287 other tourists who had a Madrid-Caracas flight on Thursday, but instead found themselves spending the night at a hotel in the Spanish capital.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, around 600 passengers, including 40 children and 90 elderly people, found themselves stranded in Madrid.

I washed my underwear in the hotel bathroom and dried it with the hair dryer, but I couldn’t do anything else”

Brilan Capote, stranded passenger

The Venezuelan airline, which has suffered similar delays in the past, did not offer an explanation until Thursday, when an employee told the group that those with tickets for Tuesday’s flight would depart for Caracas on Friday at 1am Spanish time on an Iberia plane. That flight landed in the Venezuelan capital earlier this morning.

Alberto Panietieri was one of the people originally scheduled to leave Barajas at 11am on Tuesday. Panietieri, a 57-year-old Argentinean who had a layover in Caracas on his way to Buenos Aires, watched as the airline delayed his flight again and again until it finally sent him and his wife to a hotel in Madrid.

Conviasa paid for passengers’ stay at Compostela Suites and Tryp Airport Suites, but the airline did not return their suitcases. These remained stuck on a plane until early Friday morning.

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“We ate and slept in the hotel, but did not have a change of underwear or laundry service or money to buy medicine and clothes,” says Brilan Capote, a 27-year-old Venezuelan who arrived in Caracas on Friday morning.

Venezuela’s currency exchange system allows its citizens to use up to $2,200 (€1,949) of their own savings when they travel to Europe. Authorities must see the travelers’ tickets and record their travel dates. The Venezuelan government then blocks their credit cards for usage abroad on the day they are due to return home.

On Tuesday, most of the passengers did not have a euro in their pockets. Capote had been wearing the same pair of pants, t-shirt, sneakers and underwear for several days. “I spent all my money because I thought I would be back home on Tuesday,” he says. “I washed my underwear in the hotel bathroom and dried it with the hair dryer, but I couldn’t do anything else.”

This newspaper tried to reach Conviasa and the Venezuelan embassy for comment, but got no response. Half of the passengers are still at the hotels in Madrid, waiting for the airline to find a solution. Nearly all of them had been expecting to be in Spain for 15 days. So far, they’ve already been here for 16.

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