CARACAS, Venezuela - Delta Air Lines drastically reduced service to Venezuela on Monday in a dispute with the government over revenue trapped in the South American country. The move left disgruntled fliers scrambling to rebook seats on one of the dwindling number of carriers with full service to the socialist country.
Delta is slashing service by 85 per cent starting Aug. 1, replacing its daily roundtrip flight between Atlanta and Caracas with one roundtrip weekend flight, according to spokeswoman Sarah Lora.
Lora declined to say how much money Delta has stuck in Venezuela. Airlines have been unable to convert their Venezuelan earnings into dollars because of the government's hold on repatriation of airline revenue.
"Delta will remain in the market to serve valued customers, however, the debt created over the past several years due to currency issues made us take a business decision to minimize our risk." Lora said.
The International Air Transport Association says Venezuela has prevented the repatriation of $4 billion in airline money because of currency control problems.
American Airlines cut its service to Venezuela by 80 per cent last week and now only flies in from Miami. Air Canada and Italy's Alitalia have suspended all flights to Caracas and other carriers have reduced service.
Frequent fliers between Venezuela and the U.S. feel that they are running out of options.
David Smilde, an analyst for the non-governmental Washington Office on Latin America, scrambled to find another flight Friday morning after Delta cancelled his return trip from Caracas in August. Unlike American Airlines, which offered customers the option of booking alternate routes, Delta cancelled all Venezuela itineraries in which customers had not already begun travel.
Smilde, who studies the region, is used to going back and forth to Venezuela 15 times a year. He worries about how to keep doing that with dwindling airline service.
After finding out that his ticket had been voided by reading the news on Twitter, Smilde counted himself lucky to find another seat on United Airlines. He paid $2,000, many times the price of his now-cancelled Delta ticket, which he bought in Venezuela.
"It would be cheaper to fly to Tokyo," he said.
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