US DOT Fines Panama’s Copa Airlines $450K For Flying Passengers To Venezuela

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The US Department of Transportation (DoT) has levied a fine against Copa Airlines for flying passengers between the US and Venezuela. The Panamanian carrier will be forced to pay $450,000 in addition to suspending the practice of selling flight tickets for travel between Venezuela and the US.

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Copa must pay a fine for violating a US DOT order. Photo: Getty Images.

Violating a DoT order

In 2019, the DoT issued an order that prohibited both US and foreign airlines from transporting passengers or cargo between any point in the United States to any airport in Venezuela.

This came as the US government indicated there was a risk to the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, or crew traveling to Venezuela. Civil unrest in Venezuela and the inability of the Transportation Security Administration to ensure security measures are in place in Venezuelan airports led the DoT to issue the order.

This also included airlines selling tickets to Venezuela via a stop. According to the DoT, Copa Airlines sold flight tickets between the US and Venezuela via an intermediate point. Though unnamed by the DoT, this is most definitely Panama City– the airline’s largest hub.

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Copa is the largest carrier in Panama. Photo: Getty Images.

How many tickets did Copa sell?

Per the DoT order viewed by Simple Flying, the US government believes that Copa sold over 5,000 tickets for flights between the US and Venezuela between May 15th and June 11th of 2019. This includes tickets sold on its websites and third party agents. Between the same time frame, Copa also transported over 15,000 passengers on itineraries between the US and Venezuela.

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In response to the order, Copa believes that its violations were not willful. The airline was not included in a Department of Homeland Security’s letter listing airlines serving Venezuela, which, the carrier said, it believes led to some confusion to understanding those restrictions.

Copa Airlines jets at Tocumen International
The airline reportedly flew 15,000 passengers between the US and Venezuela over a one month period last year. Photo: Getty Images

Will travel between the US and Venezuela open up again?

American Airlines was the last major US airline to pull out of Venezuela back in March of 2019. Most other airlines pulled out of the South American country before then. This move was prompted after unrest mainly coming from a disputed presidential and economic crisis that still has not ended.

For now, it is unlikely that the US government will open up travel between the two countries. In March of last year, an Air Europa crew had a harrowing incident in Caracas that led to a shootout. The current health crisis, combined with the political crisis, has only exacerbated some of the potential risks for traveling to and from Venezuela.

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American Airlines Cuban Havana Getty Images
American Airlines was the last major US airline to pull out of Venezuela. Photo: Getty Images

Few major airlines have also shown an appetite for flying to Caracas. Some current flights, especially between Venezuela and the Middle East, are being operated largely under political purposes. However, the US government has indicated that it is not a fan of airlines flying to Venezuela.

Some more bad news for Copa Airlines

While not a significant financial hit, it still is another cost that Copa has to face while simultaneously dealing with the current crisis. The airline has faced significant international travel restrictions and expects to be set back about 30 years by the current crisis.

Do you think Copa should be fined for this violation? What do you think about this fine? Let us know in the comments!

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