Flights were last available flown by a major U.S. carrier
Labor action follows U.S. warning to its citizens in country
American Airlines Group Inc. suspended its service to Venezuela on security concerns, shutting down the only flights to the country by a major U.S. carrier.
The move followed a notice from the carrier’s pilots union, backed up by flight attendants, telling its members to refuse the routes because of dangerous conditions in the nation.
“American will not operate in countries we don’t consider safe,” the airline said in a statement Friday. The carrier said the suspension is temporary.
The suspension comes after a U.S. State Department advisory warned U.S. citizens about the hazards of traveling to the strife-torn nation. Since 2013, almost a dozen airlines have pulled out of the South American nation as Venezuela’s government has struggled during a spiraling economic crisis.
American normally flies twice daily between Caracas and Miami and once a day between Maracaibo and Miami. The State Department said Thursday that all U.S. diplomats had left Venezuela.
“Until further notice, if you are scheduled, assigned or reassigned a pairing into Venezuela, refuse the assignment,” Allied Pilots Association President Dan Carey told its members earlier.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants re-broadcast the pilots’ notification to its own members, adding that it “supports the APA’s decision 100 percent in that the safety of our crews must be our top priority.”
“I will not put our crews in harm’s way and we support the pilots’ decision not to fly into Venezuela due to escalation of political unrest,” Lori Bassani, union president, said in a notice to American Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker. She also urged Parker to “suspend flights into that area until it’s absolutely safe to do so.”
The union action “was based on the State Department statement and on our pilots saying, ‘I can’t go there. The State Department says we are to get out. We don’t have any support if we go there,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the labor group.
International airlines have complained about staff being held up at gun point, luggage theft, poor runway maintenance and low-quality jet fuel. Carriers still operating in the country include Copa Airlines, Air France, Iberia, Air Europa and Portugal’s TAP.
A recent national power outage that has dragged on for a week in some areas has thrown the nation into more tumult. The blackout grounded planes at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas, where passengers had to wait in long lines for their passports to be manually screened.
The State Department warned U.S. citizens on March 12 not to travel to Venezuela “due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure and arbitrary unrest and detention of U.S. citizens.” It also suspended operations at the U.S. embassy in Caracas on March 11.