Thousands stranded as Colombia’s Viva Air grounds flights
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Struggling low-cost airline Viva Air has suspended its operations in Colombia and Peru, leaving thousands of passengers stranded Tuesday in airports with little support.
The airline, owned by the same group that owns Ryanair, said in a statement late Monday that it grounded its flights after the latest delay by Colombian authorities in approving the airline’s requested merger with Avianca, Colombia’s main carrier.
Earlier this month Viva had grounded five of its planes and suspended dozens of flights.
Viva said it has given the Colombian government plenty of evidence of its dire financial situation and that it can continue only if it merges with the larger airline. “But the Colombian government’s decision jeopardizes the future of low-cost airlines in Colombia and threatens the jobs of 5,000 people,” the statement said.
Viva and Avianca last year requested a permit from Colombia’s aviation authority to merge their companies, but deal has faced obstacles from government regulators who fear it could restrict competition in the airline market.
Last month, Viva had a 20% share of Colombia’s air passenger market, while Avianca controlled about 40%.
Viva was founded in 2009, and ran flights to Colombia’s largest cities, as well flights to Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Florida. In Peru, Viva’s subsidiary, Viva Air Peru, also ran domestic flights to cities like Cuzco.
On Tuesday dozens of angry passengers protested outside Viva’s counters at the airports in Bogota and Medellin, where they briefly blocked access to the international departures terminal. A small number were moved to flights on other airlines.
“Viva is a shameless airline,” said Guillermo Noboa, a Peruvian university student who had booked a flight from Bogota to Lima on Monday night.
Noboa said his flight was canceled without warning and that he had to sleep in the airport. He said airline representatives gave him a form to register for a refund but told him it would take at least eight days to get his money back.
With his funds depleted, Noboa waited to be transferred to another airline, and said Viva provided no support with food or accommodation.
“I have to return to Peru to register for the next semester and register for an internship” he said. “But now I have no clue when I’ll be able to go back home.”