Venezuela’s aviation agency is cutting the number of flights it will allow U.S. airlines to and from the country, an aviation official said Thursday.
Venezuela’s National Civil Aviation Institute has informed American, Continental and Delta Air Lines that they will be allowed fewer flights to Venezuela starting Sept. 28, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment on the matter.
The move comes three days after the U.S. Transportation Security Administration warned travelers that it can’t vouch for their safety on flights to the U.S. from Venezuela, which has refused to allow U.S. officials to assess security measures at its airports.
Venezuelan aviation agency president Jose Martinez Bravo told the airlines their flights must be cut to correct an “imbalance” in the number of U.S.-bound flights operated by U.S. airlines, compared to a smaller number of flights flown by Venezuelan carriers, the Venezuelan official told The Associated Press.
American Airlines, Delta and Continental operate 80 percent of the weekly flights between Venezuela and the United States.
According to the official, Martinez also claimed that the TSA’s security warning proves the agency “insists on maintaining a line of slander” against Venezuela — suggesting that long-standing tensions between President Hugo Chavez and the U.S. could spill over into a tit-for-tat dispute affecting air travel.
It is unclear how many flights will be cut. Seats on planes between Venezuela and the United States have been in high demand recently, requiring travelers to reserve tickets well ahead of time or pay a higher fare.
TSA officials have said that Venezuela’s refusal to grant U.S. inspectors access to assess security at its airports is flouting a condition that every other country has complied with since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Martinez denies that Venezuela has blocked U.S. officials from visiting its airports, but he noted that U.S. officials are not responsible for evaluating airport security on foreign soil.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. continued operating its daily, roundtrip, nonstop flight between Atlanta and Caracas normally on Thursday, spokeswoman Betsy Talton said.
A letter from the Venezuelan government to the airline said Delta’s flight schedule would be reduced as of Sept. 28, she said, but no flights have yet been rescheduled.
“This is an issue between the U.S. and the Venezuelan government,” Talton said. “Delta hopes the sides can reach an agreeable resolution.”