Few things are more frustrating than a cancelled flight. But when American Airlines cancelled three flights heading to Caracas, Venezuela on Thursday, "frustrated" wouldn't begin to describe how passengers were feeling.
Venezuela is on the verge of one of its most important elections in the past 14 years, with President Hugo Chávez facing the possibility of losing to challenger Henrique Capriles.
Although there are no official numbers, it is estimated that around 1.2 million Venezuelans live abroad, with half of these being old enough to vote. Since there is no absentee vote in Venezuela, many voters must fly back home to be able to fulfill their duty as citizens.
Flights to Venezuela for this weekend have been sold out for weeks, tickets to Venezuela for the elections reached over $3,000 from New York City in the past month. To most Venezuelans this was not just another flight back home. So, when told that their flights had been cancelled two hours before take-off, it's no surprise that most felt betrayed by the airline.
Ignacio Villanueva, one of the passengers of cancelled JFK-CCS flight tweeted in spanish: @AAespanol your negligence will cost Venezuela hundreds of votes and possibilities. My solidarity with your airlines dies today AA: VVY9528.
Isabela Castro, another passenger on that flight, said the scene was depressing. "People just sat on the floor with their head in their hands sobbing," she commented, "and American Airlines didn't offer any help in solving the situation."
American Airlines released an official statement explaining that they were having problems with loose seats in their fleet of Boeing 757s, the aircraft most commonly used in their flights to Venezuela, and that they were checking all the aircrafts to fix the problem.
Yet passengers complained that American Airlines had known about this problem for days yet they were told their flight was cancelled when they were already at the gate, offering no solution and telling passengers that their flights would be refunded "soon".
Many passengers, unwilling to be deterred, shelled out almost $2,000 for flights to Aruba and then to Caracas, before receiving their refunds from American Airlines.