American Airlines halts flights to Caracas, Maracaibo in Venezuela

(Reuters) - American Airlines Group Inc on Friday said it has temporarily suspended its operations into Caracas and Maracaibo, after its pilots union urged its workers to deny trips to Venezuela in the wake of a travel advisory issued by the U.S. State Department.

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The department cited civil unrest, poor health and arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela for issuing the advisory on March 12.

A number of airlines have stopped their flights to the South American country because of security concerns and disputes over money they say the Venezuelan government owes them.

“Our corporate security team has a collaborative partnership with all of our union leaders and we will continue to do so to evaluate the situation in Venezuela,” the airline said in a statement, adding that American will not operate to countries it does not consider safe.

“Do not accept any trips to Venezuela,” Allied Pilots Association President Captain Dan Carey, told pilots in a letter seen by Reuters.

United Airlines ended its flights to Venezuela in 2017.

Venezuela plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled congress, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Nicolas Maduro’s 2018 re-election was not legitimate.

The move has put Venezuela at the heart of a geopolitical tussle, with the United States leading most Western nations in recognizing Guaido as the legitimate head of state.

All U.S. diplomats left the country on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Shares of the airline were down almost 1 percent at $31.88 in afternoon trading.

Reporting by Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shailesh Kuber