RPT-FEATURE-Venezuela airline crisis makes travelers ever more inventive
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By Girish Gupta
CARACAS, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Buses across jungle borders, boats through Caribbean waters and private flights from small airfields have become a new norm for departing Venezuela as a multi-billion dollar pay dispute turns the country into something of a 'no-fly' zone.
Major international airlines have slashed seat availability by half since last year, pulling many routes entirely in a spat with Venezuela's socialist government about the repatriation of $3.6 billion in ticket revenue.
The dwindling supply has sent prices spiraling for available seats, and led to a surge of more inventive travel itineraries via circuitous routes and other means.
"I've never flown private but I had to because you just can't get a normal flight," said Orinda Pamfil, 23, at the small, exclusive Charallave airport in hills outside Caracas.
Unable to find a commercial ticket to the United States, she was lucky to be traveling to Houston in a spare seat on a small plane owned by a friend of a friend. "It's impossible for normal Venezuelans to travel," she said, clutching designer luggage.
Hiring a seven-seat private plane, such as a Learjet 55, costs upwards of $2,500 per hour, said private pilot Carlos da Silva. Used to flying super-wealthy clients, he is now receiving calls from groups of middle-class Venezuelans looking to share costs.
"There's been a surge in demand because people are desperate," added another pilot Nicolas Veloz who estimated demand was up at least 20 percent in recent months. Continuación...