Written by: Enrique Perella and María Corina Roldán
MIAMI — With all the chaos that’s going on in Venezuela, American Airlines (AA) has purposely notified via an internal memo to its employees the importance of the South American city to the airline’s network.
We are proud of serving Venezuela.In 1987 we started our operations in Venezuela with the firm purpose of shortening distances and cover the Venezuelan needs over aviation. Today, with 48 weekly flights between Venezuela and the U.S., we feel proud of being the main U.S. airline of the region.
The Dallas/Ft. Worth-based carrier has, in fact, been a key player in the USA-Venezuela market since the late 1980s, growing from a handful of flights a month, up to 400, linking Dallas, Miami, New York, and San Juan, with Caracas and Maracaibo.
American expanded its services to the Venezuelan market with as much as 72,000 seats available each month. The airline would deploy its highest density aircraft—Airbus A300 and Boeing 767-200—on the short, 2.5-hour Miami-Caracas route.
American officially launched flights to Caracas in August 1987 from San Juan, Puerto Rico. After the Eastern Air Lines demise in 1991, American inherited their Venezuelan routes from Dallas and New York. These were originally operated with Eastern’s Boeing 757-200s and 727-200s.
The first Miami-Caracas American Airlines branded flight was inaugurated in 1992, the moment when the Venezuelan Aviation Golden Era began. The Maiquetia Airport’s ramp would be filled with as much as six different American Airlines planes at a given time of the day—mostly A300s, 727s, 757s, 767-200/300s—becoming the most popular carrier in terms of routes and passengers.
Along with it, Caracas would be visited by airlines like Swiss, KLM, British Airways, Continental, Varig, Mexicana, Aeromexico, LACSA, TACA, all of which began withdrawing services to Venezuela as the economical and political climate degraded.
American also ventured into a new route, linking Ft. Lauderdale with Caracas with a daily Boeing 737-800. However, the route didn’t perform well and was terminated rapidly.
After 9/11, a drastic reduction of air service to Venezuela pushed American to decrease frequencies and downgrade equipment. Eventually, AA pushed away its high-density Airbus A300s in favor of the prolific Boeing 757, which was then replaced by the newer, more efficient Boeing 737-800.
The Dallas, New York, and San Juan routes were subsequently axed as Venezuela’s socialist regime wouldn’t let American Airlines increase capacity into Caracas and add new flights to Valencia, thus cutting the 5-a-day trips to Miami to just two back-to-back flights, purposely scheduled to avoid an overnight layover for the airline’s crew.
Today, American remains as the strongest international carrier in Venezuela, with about 190 trips every month between Caracas/Maracaibo and Miami.
Even though the airline continues to offer a reliable service between Miami and Caracas, the landscape might change in the short term as the US Dollar exchange rate in Venezuela has skyrocketed.
The future for the Venezuelan traveler doesn’t seem any brighter now that AA remains as the last US carrier flying to Venezuela after Delta and United have either left or announced their goodbyes. It is also plausible that the lack of offer in the Venezuela-USA market will increase ticket prices, and therefore harm the very few passengers who’ve kept this route going since the Venezuelan crisis started.
What once was American Airlines’ most profitable destination, today is just a shadow of its past. The positive thing is, the airline has acknowledged it and continues to be loyal to a market that has been great to the airline since the 1980s.