Maiquetía is not what it used to be

Expertly made in Socialism

For Venezuelans, the word Maiquetía doesn’t bring to mind the town on the shore of the Caribbean, but Venezuela’s kafkaesque gateway to the world: Simón Bolívar International Airport.

Originally built in the 1940s, the airport as we know it was built mostly in the seventies and eighties. Back in the day, it was a symbol of what Venezuela aspired to be. Even Concorde used to come to our shores.

But that was then.

These days, Maiquetía is part and parcel of the crisis facing the country’s aviation sector. IAIM, the agency that runs the Airport, has spent considerable sums to improve service. Sadly, Latin Business Chronicle (LBC) has called Maiquetía “the worst airport in Latin America for business travelers”.

In the full article, only available for suscription, they touch on the state of the Caracas-La Guaira highway:

“…how vulnerable that link is to disasters, both natural and man-made, was made abundantly clear in 2006, when one of the main viaducts on the route collapsed, forcing an average 50,000 vehicles a day onto a narrow, hastily-built by-pass and frequently turning what should be a 45-minute journey into a four- or five-hour nightmare.

A new viaduct was opened in June 2007, but the problem is far from solved. The four kilometres of highway closest to Caracas are threatened by an active geological fault line, as well as subsidence caused by inadequate drainage of slum housing on the hills above. The only permanent solution is a new highway, taking a different route, but work on that has yet to begin.”

But the problem is about more than access. There are accidents, stolen luggage, problems with the runway, constant delays, sky-high fees and the run-of-the-mill despicable Caracas-style customer service.

No hay quien pinte

Despite a recent, partial face-lift, the experience of flying through there ranges from disappointing to maddening. Walls remain unpainted, the cheap plastic floor on the hallway to the immigration is bubbling up, and the finishing on the granite lining the columns is slapdash. You can’t help but wonder: if that’s how the place in plain view of the passengers looks, what can it possibly be like away from travellers’ eyes?

Maiquetia faces the kind of multi-decade dysfunction that takes more than a couple of paint jobs to cover.

46 thoughts on “Maiquetía is not what it used to be

  1. When I worked in Caracas, I couldn’t get any suppliers to come as the airport alone was famous for how dangerous it was, especially when the bridge was down. It is another reason why it will take time for Capriles to turn around the country if he is able to win the election…

  2. I first flew into Maiquetía 30 years ago. The first people I saw on exiting the plane were troops with automatic rifles. Scared the beejeezes out of me. I never liked that airport since.

  3. I hear that airport has the most expensive tax in the Western hemisphere.
    I also remember the amount of military with weapons there. I wonder: is it the same in Bogotá? (never been there)

    • Kepler,

      If you convert at the official rate, the tax is high. At the current market rate of exchange it is not unreasonable.

      Personally, I don’t notice such a high military presence in Maiquetia. At least not compared with many other places in the world. Nor in Bogotá.

      What I do find negative is that it is generally just plain run-down looking. It always appears to be undergoing renovations, but to little effect. As someone mentioned, the service sucks. But that is true of nearly all of Venezuela, now.

    • Yes, the Army is everywhere in ElDorado, and they hold the biggest guns. Also, every time I go through it I lose the count of times I’m searched (by airport stadd ans the military). In Europe, security is very lax in comparison.

  4. the toilets work great……..when there is water. you cant even buy a coffee half the time because the water is shut off. they took out fridays restaurant and put in the government friendly one. i ask for jelly(mermelada) for my toast and they didnt know what i was talking about. they brought me syrup for pancakes.

  5. I went through the airport a few months ago (after an absense of about two years) and I was impressed by the work that had been done. It looked big, airy, clean, the bathrooms worked and there was plenty of water, the air conditioning was fine (maybe I was lucky). My first impressions were certanly good. The problems started at immigration, more than an hour in a horrible queue. Then dealing with one of the officers that was trying to send my husband back because he didn’t need a visa but required an invitation letter authorised, stamped, etc by who knows who. In the end we were allowed in. A horrible experience.

  6. I might add:
    – The parking area has been botched by splitting it into three parts: the left part for apartment buildings (in violation of international security standards?); the center part for an eternally under-construction airport hotel, which can have a more suitable location but no airport authority wants to hire a good urban planner; and the remaining area for vehicles. This is just another display of Venezuelan poor logic at using something for a purpose it wasn’t originally meant for.
    – The decision to use the airport’s buffer areas to permanently house homeless families. Those areas were meant for future expansion of the airport.
    – National guards instead of trained airport police units for security.
    – The national guards’ brand-new adversarial policy of questioning random travelers while lining up before the X-ray machines.
    – The airport has a design flaw: there are no standard facilities for connecting flights. An Aruban once told me his unpleasant story when years ago he decided to fly with Aeropostal to Port of Spain. He swore never to fly that route again, although he had no complaints about the airline service. The same applies for Venezuelans who happen not to live in Caracas and have to recheck everything because of the change of terminal.
    – The reduced-quality duty-free shops, thanks to Diosdado Cabello and his order to cancel all of the former shop concessions and grant them to his inner circle of friends.

  7. “Despite a recent, partial face-lift, the experience of flying through there ranges from disappointing to maddening.”

    I did, one month ago. The veterinary office handling paperwork for animals went smoothly. Then… Three different searches by the National Guard. One in front of baggage check-in, very thorough and time consuming. Another using some kind of body scanner next to emigration (this had National Antidrug Office ,ONA), by a guard that took our passports and left us stranded on the boarding gates’ side of emigration, had to go back to queue to have my passport stamped. And a pat-down when about to enter the plane. Then almost two hours delay, waiting on the runway. The captain powered down the fans at least twice and was very apologetic, but it certainly was not the crew’s fault.

    I was left wondering. Ours is an age that’s already utterly insane about airport security, terrorists and drugs. In other parts of the world, they don’t try people’s patience and bunch the more or less pointless searches and the appropriately named security theater in a single area. Only in Maiquetia do they try to get to a person’s nerves by dividing it in three.

    • Agree. The 3 checks are now routine but, as you mention, almost ALL flights get delayed, in the multiple hours delay, digit. It is a weird experience, being questioned and checked by military guards right, left and center. A couple of years ago, I was called down to recognize my baggage -I then learned it’s a bad idea to pack many books. They look like “bricks” of coke or something on the scanner, so you always get called down to open your bag in front of the military. I did as requested and then had to answer questions like, “why do you need so many books?” or “seriously, you’re going to read all that? What, are you taking an exam or something” and, to make things worse, one national guard tried to steal my copy of Barrera Tyska’s biography on Chávez! (Not kidding). He leafed through the book, marveled at the pictures and asked if he could keep it. I said no, he got pissed… Normal stories for a Venezuelan.

      • Wao! He asked you like that? It shocks me…and yet I suppose it would be normal.
        These poor, ignorant soldiers are the feeding material that keeps the high generals defending Bolívar’s Heritage.
        A friend of mine also had books and a soldier asked her to open her baggage. As she did and all those books came up he asked her “qué tienes allí?”
        Then she said very slowly, pronouncing the word clearly, like he might be hearing it for the first time: “estos son libros”. He was not amused.
        Last time I left Maiquetía they started to body-search every man just before getting to the airplane. I pulled out a book and started to “read it furiously” to see if I would look less suspicious. They actually just told me to move on. I think my book scared them.

      • Ignorant people are everywhere. Entering the US I was held for 1.5 hours by customs, who tried to nail anything on me, they even took my stack of science papers that I took with me, as I was writing my thesis, and went through them for at least 20 minutes. The initial questions were in Spanish, but once they took my papers, very casually, an Anglo officer came and started talking to me in English too casually, for around 10 minutes. I guess he was gauging my English to see if it was good enough for me to justify to have the papers.

        I really don’t know what they were thinking. A plot to increase the yields of marihuana plants using mathematical modelling of biological systems? When they finally let me go, I was advicsed not to take papers when I was on vacation, it was suspicious. I told them I would take papers wherever I wanted, as it is fun for me. So, ignorants are everywhere.

    • Also, I was left wondering if the show wasn’t all the more ironic in Maiquetia… with all the drugs, terrorists, weapons for same and whatnot passing through this and any port of entry of Venezuela. Just not in the baggage of ordinary passengers like yours truly, but with blessings from higher up (meaning Miraflores in Caracas).

      And oh, let’s not forget the highway from and to Caracas itself, plus the highwaymen preying on the international travelers and not only on the highway, they are additional enticements to never go through this airport unless you have to.

  8. When I went I had two rucksacks in this bagage cart, got out of immigration and thought I could take the cart until somewhere close to the door but a guy stopped me and said he would take the cart there because he was a maletero. I looked at him puzzled and he said: tú no eres venezolano? Sí, sí lo soy. Well, te falta sol, una playita…Entérate: ahora tenemos carritos socialistas y me encargo de las maletas.

    I lifted both rucksacks and gave one to my friend and just left.

  9. I’ve been robbed in maiquetia. Security is a joke. You pass from the international to the national terminal through a much celebrated overpass ( built a couple years ago and leaking like a seive) and at the end of the passageway you have two options: wait 20 or so minutes to go down an elevator desired to carry two passengers (and operated by two, count them, two employees) or take an escalator with your luggage. One afternoon, my family and I watched dozens of people navigate the escalator to their considerable risk with their heavy luggage. How many elderly people have broken their bones in maiquetia? Then there was the food poisoning at benehanna sushi ….needs some work that place. After maybe fixing Vargas which is a disgrace of this gobierno beyond description.

  10. I have the “luck” of going back and forth between the top two worst airports in LatAm, Guarulhos and Maiquetia. I’ll have one more such experience tomorrow.

    I would add the ARC (my brother calls it the Avenida Regional del Centro) as part of the nightmare for those of us whose final destination is Valencia or Maracay.

  11. Interesting… No one is talking about the elephant in the living room.

    And I get it: It is there. Everyone can see it. But no one can do anything about it.

    Better to talk about that disgraceful color the Simpson’s chose to paint their house.

  12. Just flew from Connecticut to Managua, and at the American Airlines counter, there is a big sign that says “The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been unable to assess security measures at international airports in Venezuela that serve as the last point of departure for nonstop flights to the United States. ” Although I just noticed the sign, the advisory has been in effect since 2008. Must be us defending our sovereignty, right?

  13. Elephant in the room is that Maiquetia is major a transit point for…EVERYTHING. Arms, drugs, humans, probably rare poisonous species of ghekko. A foreigner is a sitting duck there. Get in and get out as fast as you can, is all I can say, and if you are lucky, that will be the only interaction with the government authorities you will have on your trip. As for El Dorado, its in a country in a civil war. That’s their excuse. And frankly, it is like Schiphol compared to Maiquetia…sorry if I sound like an angry gringo tourist. This all will change. Margarita Island was a major and well regarded international tourist destination in the 1980s…it could all happen again. HCR will make it so.

  14. You should see the page for Venezuela travelling of the German Foreign Ministry.
    It looks like the one for Afghanistan.

    I thought so, I thought you were talking about Kyrgyzstan, Congo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Israel, Syria, Iran…but I wonder: how is the military presence in Latin American countries other than war-torn Colombia? I don’t know, I would be grateful if frequent travellers in L.A. told me.

    • Kepler,

      You have been away for too long. “War-torn” is not an apt description of Colombia any longer. Yes, they still have some some trouble spots (primarily in the border regions), but in the vast majority of the country, la guerrilla simply doesn’t exist any longer. Along with the threat, the visible presence of troops has also been reduced proportionally.

      • Yes, I have been away a long time, but I am afraid at least for Venezuela perhaps not too long. My last time there was very unpleasant with anything but family and friends.
        I haven’t been to Colombia in ages, but I could understand so many soldiers in their airports as they DO have a guerrilla problem, even if main cities are much safe than Venezuela’s. I was asking how it was and the way I understood your comment was that Colombia was in a similar situation to Venezuela.

        Venezuela, that is what I say, has much less reason to have soldiers everywhere. Venezuela should have real policemen on the streets

  15. One thing that nobody has talked about: The lady that does the announcements.

    When she speaks in “English” my ears almost start to bleed. She sounds like the sister of Gustavo el Chunior, way worse than the lead of Cachicamo con Caspa. It is really an insult to the English speaking travelers that such atrocious, abominable “English” is what they need to pay attention to in order to be informed. There are lots of people with much better English that could be doing that job. And I am not talking about foreigners living in La Guaira.

  16. Once I was using the toilets and somebodyb knocked my door and asked:
    “epa pana ahi no hay una bolsa llena de pasaportes?”
    Literally scared the s*** out of me…

    • There have been noticeable changes since 1997. The balcony where one could watch planes land/take off, the food court and the small shops on the upper level of the international airport are all gone; that area is now for incoming passenger traffic exclusively, i.e. immigration, luggage pick-up and airport exit. Outgoing passenger traffic is still handled on the lower level but emigration officers have been moved to a huge single hallway in the middle of the airport, where arriving passengers used to get out. There are 8 new gates (4 on each far side), 5 new private VIP lounges respectively managed by American Airlines, Iberia, Santa Barbara, Priority Pass and Italcambio, and most importantly a good-quality arepera to eat a last creole meal just before departing. Airline check-in kiosks, bathrooms, electric stairs, maleteros, foreign currency mafia and the occasional Venezuelan rudeness when servicing remain the same.

  17. I arrived for my third visit to Caracas on 23/12/11 at 430am after a direct journey from Sydney, Australia – 36 hours of travel. The airport was almost empty and there were no huge queues as I’d experienced before. However, near the carousel where you retrieve your luggage I alsmost stepped in a human shit right in the middle of the floor. It surely must have been dropped from someone with a young child, maybe desperately short of daipers, i have no idea. But it was right there for anyone to step in and no one was making any effort to clean it up. I actually found it funny because it reminded me immediately that Venezuela is out of control. If my partners family didn’t live there, it wouldnt be be high on my list of holiday destinations. A real shame too because it is a beautiful country with fantastic people and it is being driven into the ground. I wish Radonski all the best.

  18. For me the nightmare is the journey from Valencia to Maiquetia. It has come to the point that if you have a flight before mid day you have to leave the day before and spend the night near the airport in order to be sure to catch your flight. I refuse to travel on the ARC after dark in either direction. The airport service has changed little in 30 years, it always was bad. The building has improved but has a long way to go.

  19. I used Maiquetía two times last summer. It was not as bad as expected – worst by far is the unhelpful attitude of personnel, for whom customer orientation is a completely foreign concept. SAIME staff were extremely friendly.

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