The little known Spanish carrier Air Europa (which is actually Spain’s third largest airline after Iberia and Vueling) has decided to restart layovers for its pilots and cabin crew in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. The decision comes just five months after a group of Air Europa crew were shot at during an attempted armed robbery on their crew bus as they were being driven from Simón Bolívar International Airport (CCS) to their downtown Caracas hotel.
The Mallorca-based airline which is owned by the Globalia Group initially insisted on continuing direct flights to Caracas with cabin crew forced to stay overnight in the city despite other airlines either cancelling flights or adding a crew stopover in a safer destination. Air Europa eventually relented to mounting pressure and a public outcry and added a stopover in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic for a crew changeover.
Venezuela is currently in the grip of a major constitutional and humanitarian crisis after the incumbent President, Nicolás Maduro refused to cede defeat to opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Only a couple of months ago, Guaidó was calling for a military coup to overthrow the Maduro regime that has been described as illegitimate by many countries in the West.
However, Air Europa thinks the security situation has stabilised enough to allow pilots and cabin crew to start laying over in Caracas again. The first night stops are scheduled to restart on 3rd July.
“We have already communicated the decision to the unions and we will transfer all the information they need about the operation and the security situation in the country,” a spokesperson for the airline has been quoted as saying about the decision.
“Other airlines have already returned to spend the night in Venezuela, such as Air France, TAP and Turkish because the security situation in the country has improved,” the spokesperson continued (translated from Spanish).
The Spanish flag carrier, Iberia has decided to keep its crew changeover in the Dominican Republic. At the end of April, the FAA banned all flights between the United States and Venezuela citing “increasing political instability and tensions” which caused an “inadvertent risk to flight operations”.
American Airlines had already suspended its operations to Venezuela over a month before the NOTAM was issued, in part because of a Level 4 ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory issued by the State Department.
U.S. officials warn Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world and that kidnappings are a “serious issue”. The country has been gripped by power cuts that can last days and which make getting hold of drinkable water nearly impossible. British authorities say there is a “high threat” of violent crime, robberies and kidnapping throughout the country.
Air Europa says “all necessary measures” will be taken to protect is staff in the country and that the airline is monitoring any developments through the Spanish Embassy in Caracas. The airline has previously issued advice to cabin crew on what to do should they be kidnapped. One suggestion was to alert security staff by pretending to call a friend for money to pay the kidnappers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.