As if people haven’t already seen enough surcharges and assorted fees added to the cost of air travel in recent years, Venezuela’s government has imposed a new levy on passengers departing Simón Bolívar International Airport near Caracas: a tax on breathing ozone-infused air.
This month the government started charging travelers 127 bolivares for the privilege of breathing the air at the airport under a new “biosecurity” measure. The fee is about $20 at the official exchange rate, or as little as $2 on the bolivar’s black market rate against the US dollar. The government announced the plan in May, explaining that the ozone system would first be installed in the international terminal and immigration sector, eventually extending to the airport’s customs sector and national terminal.
The purpose of the system, authorities said, is to destroy airborne pathogens and bacteria. Venezuela boasts that this technology is the first of its kind to be used in South America, but a similar system — one that uses ionized oxygen instead of ozone to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses like H1N1 — has been in operation since 2011 at the international airport in Santiago, Chile.
Venezuela’s airport tax comes amid a financial feud between its government and international airlines over roughly $4 billion that the government owes the airlines in unpaid “repatriation” revenue from tickets sold in bolivares.
United Airlines, American Airlines, and Panama’s Copa carrier were just a few of several major airlines to suspend ticket sales earlier this year after impatience grew with Venezuelan officials who had failed to pay the airlines out of the government’s dwindling foreign-exchange reserves.
Venezuela’s government did not release details on how the system at the international airport would be monitored, or how much ozone it would release into the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency offers a pithy phrase about ozone’s effects: “Good up high — bad nearby.”
Ground-level ozone is a major component of smog, and is in fact a highly toxic gas that can cause an assortment of health problems, from chest pain, exacerbated asthma, respiratory tract irritation, and difficulty breathing. On the other hand, stratospheric ozone miles above the ground provides a shield from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
New fees and taxes are always a bummer, but especially so when your country is dealing with an annual inflation rate of more than 60 percent. Venezeulans have vented a mixture of outrage, incredulity, and amusement on social media over the ozone-breathing fee.
One user tweeted, in reference to the next presidential election: “#Venezuela doesn’t need ozone. It needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Before 2019, please.”
Follow Andrea Noel on Twitter: @metabolizedjunk
Photo via Flickr