Plus Ultra, Iberia and Air Europa have grounded more than 1,500 passengers due to the cancellation of some twenty flights between Madrid and Caracas since last July after the Venezuelan authorities warned the airlines that the route between the two capitals was not authorized, since Spain does not appear on the list of safe countries with which Venezuela has an open connection due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although none of the companies has wanted to offer data on the number of those affected, the line with the most incidents is Plus Ultra, with about 800 passengers who have not been able to travel due to the cancellation of nine flights. And is that unlike Iberia and Air Europa, this airline has operated “normally” another 56 flights with Caracas being the only company that has provided direct links between Madrid and Caracas since last March 25, date on which the Government Venezuelan suspended regular flights with Spain due to the pandemic, company sources reported.
Plus Ultra flights were sold under the label of “special flights” or “repatriation” to circumvent the prohibition of the Venezuelan authorities, although the company defends that all of them were carried out “with all permits in order and respecting all protocols and biosafety standards established by the competent authorities ”.
The connections were completely interrupted since last July 30 the National Institute of Civil Aeronautics (INAC) of the South American country officially announced the initiation of an investigation against Plus Ultra that may lead to sanctions for the improper sale of tickets to fly between Madrid and Caracas, a route currently not authorized by the government of Nicolás Maduro due to the pandemic.
“In order to guarantee the correct provision of the public air transport service, the general public is informed that the commercialization of tickets by the air operator Plus Ultra Lineas Aereas, on routes not authorized by the Venezuelan authorities, is contrary to the aeronautical regulations ”, included the INAC statement.
In addition, this sale “violates the restrictions established by the National Executive on airspace in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic”, and “may generate administrative, civil and criminal responsibilities, both for the air operator and for the agencies of trips that engage in such practices, “added the public body. The Venezuelan Government recalled that the only air routes authorized for the moment are those that link Venezuela with Turkey, Russia, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia.
The companies are waiting for the Venezuelan authorities to decide whether to resume air traffic between Venezuela and Spain, which is closed until August 18, pending a review of the health situation to extend or not this limitation. Plus Ultra will await that decision and, if positive, would schedule a flight for August 21 with Caracas.
Claims of those affected
Several of those affected have shown their discomfort through social networks and, in the case of Plus Ultra, they have demonstrated in front of the customer service offices that the company has at the Madrid-Barajas airport coinciding with the days when flights were scheduled. But they neither flew nor could they claim in situ since the offices were closed. The problem is aggravated for those who come from emigration to other European countries such as France, Italy and Portugal, who have had to travel to Madrid to try to catch flights to Caracas.
The airline, which has received a public ransom worth 54 million euros, ensures that all affected passengers have been offered the following possibilities: request the credit voucher for the value of the coupon to be used with an additional 10% and a free suitcase as a courtesy; relocate them on flights as of August 18 according to availability or the refund of the pending ticket to be used (one way or round trip depending on the case).
The company defends itself against criticism and assures that they have never sold tickets knowing that the flights were not authorized. “Flights are put on sale weeks and even months in advance based on the experience that throughout the pandemic these flights have always been authorized. The changing conditions of the evolution of the pandemic have caused sudden changes in special permits to fly that are affecting numerous routes and airlines around the world. Plus Ultra has also been affected by these changes. The worsening in Venezuela of the Delta variant has made the Venezuelan government unpredictably decided not to authorize these nine flights for the first time, ”Plus Ultra sources indicate.
Iberia and Air Europa have also sold tickets through their website and through agencies between Madrid and Caracas. Iberia has scheduled one flight per week between the two cities, but it has never operated the route, and has been rescheduling it pending authorization from Venezuela. Air Europa has also scheduled up to two flights per week, canceling them at the last minute, the last two on August 4 and this Tuesday the 10th. In both cases, some affected complain that they are not allowed to travel to Santo Domingo, where they fly both airlines, to fly from there to Caracas with another company, since the Dominican Republic is on the list of safe countries.
Iberia indicates that all those affected are offered a redeemable voucher or reimbursement, and that exchange requests for Santo Domingo will also be addressed, but provided there are places available. For its part, Air Europa maintains total opacity, without responding to travelers or providing any information about their plans in Venezuela. This newspaper has tried unsuccessfully to contact the company’s spokesperson on several occasions.
It so happens that both Plus Ultra and Air Europa have been rescued with public money. A Madrid court on Monday unblocked the injection of 34 million that it still had to collect from Plus Ultra, while the Hidalgo family airline, pending its sale to Iberia, has received 475 million euros.