Expedia, Orbitz stop selling Venezuela tickets amid turmoil

Members of the Venezuelan army and National Guard block the main access to the Tienditas International Bridge that links Colombia and Venezuela, near Urena, Venezuela, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. Trucks carrying U.S. humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela arrived Thursday at the Colombian border, where opposition leaders vowed to bring them into their troubled nation despite objections from embattled President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Travel websites like Expedia and Orbitz have quietly stopped selling airline tickets for Venezuela amid recent political turmoil, further isolating the socialist-run country after years of declining flight service.

On Thursday, it was impossible to find on the popular websites any Venezuelan cities in the drop-down list of booking options for hotels and flights to the South American country.

The Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia Group said the company was acting on behalf of travelers' wellbeing and in accordance with recent travel advice by foreign governments about crime and civil unrest.

"Once governmental advice reaches a certain level of travel concern, we take action to close off destinations on our sites," spokeswoman Sarah Gavin told The Associated Press. "This 'stop sell' will remain in effect until the situation in Venezuela improves and travel advice changes."

Orbitz didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes after the U.S. State Department on Jan. 29 said Americans shouldn't travel to Venezuela, warning of unrest and the threat of arbitrary arrest and detention in the wake of President Nicolas Maduro's decision to sever diplomatic relations with the U.S.

In raising its travel advisory to the highest level, Venezuela joins a handful of mostly war-torn countries — Yemen, South Sudan and Libya — that the U.S. government has classified as "Do Not Travel" destinations.

The same advisory urged Americans to "consider departing while commercial flights are available."

For Venezuelans, as well as the few foreign business travelers and journalists who still make their way to the country, travel options have seen a steep drop-off as the country has plunged deeper into economic chaos marked by 7-digit hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

American Airlines, with two flights daily from Caracas to Miami, is the only remaining U.S. carrier providing service to the country after Delta and United Airlines pulled out in 2017 amid a political crisis that has forced millions to flee the country.

Around the same time several European and Latin American airlines also pulled out. Meanwhile Spain's Iberia and Portugal's TAP have recently added stops in the Caribbean for their trans-Atlantic flights so crews don't have to spend the night in the strife-torn country.

If you want to go local, the few financially struggling Venezuelan carriers fly older planes and have a spotty safety record. In 2017, Avior Airlines, one of the country's biggest, was banned from European Union skies after a commission determined it no longer met international safety standards.

Many expect the travel headaches to worsen now that the U.S. has slapped sanctions on Venezuela's state-run oil company, making it harder to import jet fuel and other petroleum products.

More than 40 people have died in Venezuela amid demonstrations that began last month when Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled congress, declared himself interim president and quickly drew recognition as Venezuela's rightful leader from the U.S. and dozens of other nations.

Venezuela has grown increasingly isolated as an expanding list of airlines cancel service amid low customer demand and financial distress. The International Air Transport Association has said that Venezuela owes $3.8 billion to several international airlines, a debt it is not expected to repay anytime soon. The government defaulted on billions of dollars' worth of bonds.


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AP Writer David Koenig contributed to this report from Dallas