Hugo Chavez Joke Gets Airline Crew Detained In Venezuela

WikiLeaks cables reveal the crew of an American Airlines jet was detained in Venezuela in 2008 after making a minor joke over the plane's PA about President Hugo Chavez, forcing American to fly the plane empty to get them home.

The details of the diplomatic row — revealed for the first time in a WikiLeaks-released cable — show just how thin-skinned those working for the Venezuelan leader can be, as a simple comment was transformed via the old-fashioned game of telephone into a personal insult.

The report says that after American flight 903 to Caracas landed, one crew member announced: "Welcome to Venezuela, local Chavez time is...," a reference to the unique time zone Chavez put the country into in 2007. A friend of a Venezuelan legislator on the flight heard the announcement as "loco Chavez time," and relayed his report to the lawmaker, who was waiting to meet him. By the time the report made its way to Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizales, the crew member had supposedly said the time was "the hour of the crazy Chavez and his women."

Carrizales called the air control and immigration authorities, and after a few hours of meetings and several rounds of apologies from the local American Airlines manager, the crew was allowed to leave the country about 11:30 p.m. (or midnight in sane non-Chavez time) — meaning American not only flew the plane out of Caracas empty, but also canceled the next morning's flight. (Photo:
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty) [NYC Aviation]