Venezuela's main international airport, Maiquetia, or Simón Bolívar International Airport of Maiquetia, as it is formally known, is the country's principal gateway for visitors from abroad. It serves as the point-of-entry for those on their way to nearby Caracas, as little as 30 minutes away by taxi. It's also a prime jumping-off point for domestic flights to other Venezuelan business and vacation destinations. The Caribbean Sea-fronting facility, which reportedly processed more than 10 million passengers in 2012, has been undergoing renovations for more than a decade. However, the slow pace of work and steadily increasing number of arrivals and departures are stressing a facility that has been, in many regards, outdated and inadequate for many years.
Long lines and lack of information
The standard advice that international passengers should arrive at the airport three hours prior to departure is especially apropos at Maiquetia, where delays in processing at airline check-in counters are chronic. The airport also lacks a sufficient number of video monitors displaying the latest arrival and departure information to meet passenger needs, so it can be difficult to see what gate you're at and whether your flight is on time.
Offers of assistance lead to rip-offs
Many foreign visitors, when they get to Maiquetia to depart on an international flight, will be approached by a clean-cut young man with an official-looking badge dangling from a neck lanyard. He'll offer assistance.
Given long lines of passengers and the general confusion that pervades during the airport's peak use hours, any offer of assistance can be tempting to accept. The pitch is that he is there to offer assistance, as a courtesy, to foreign travelers. The passenger will be told that 200 Bolívares (at the official exchange rate, approximately US$50 dollars), must be paid for a departure tax. The scam artist will then produce an official-appearing form requesting such customary information as the passenger's name and flight number. The young man will advise the traveler: "You won't have to stand in that long line," then ask for the 200 Bolivares to expedite the procedure and return with the approved form. He'll never be seen again.
Later, the passenger will learn that Venzeula levies no departure fee. According to the airport's own website, "Passengers that enter the country with [a] Tourist Card and stay for less than 30 days do not have to pay [an] Exit Tax."
Perfunctory security measures in effect
Those passing through security at Maiquetia will find the pace slow and the procedures, compared to other international airports, lax. Nonfunctional metal-detecting portals stand idle collecting dust. On a typical day, it's likely that only one unit will be operational, adding significantly to the time it takes to complete the security screening. Physical pat-downs and other more invasive procedures, such as the item-by-item examination of carry-on luggage that is part of the routine in such neighboring countries as Colombia and Brazil, are token at best at Maiquetia. Unfortunately, that doesn't alleviate the lines that mandate a very early arrival at the airport and a very large amount of patience.