By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The prospect of holiday season airport chaos this year is being used as a proving ground for the World Cup rush, during which it is predicted that the country’s airports will be stretched beyond their operational limits. As TAM struggled to cope with the fallout of a 15-hour delay on a 95-minute flight from Campinas to Brasília last weekend, an increase in the number of customs officials was announced in an attempt to reduce waiting times.

Weather-related delays have caused heavy delays at Santos Dumont airport, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Weather-related delays have caused heavy delays at Santos Dumont airport, photo by Fernando Frazão/ABr.

Figures from INFRAERO, the Brazilian Airport Infrastructure Company, showed an alarmingly high 44.2 percent of flights scheduled before 8PM were running late on the last Friday before Christmas at the country’s busiest airport, Guarulhos. On Monday morning alone, seven flights were cancelled and a further four heavily delayed out of Rio’s Santos Dumont city airport, as São Paulo and Belo Horizonte were hit by bad weather.

There was good news for the industry on the whole, however, with the Association of Brazilian Airlines (ABEAR) announcing that 85 percent of flights between January and October of this year took off within the allowed period of punctuality, up to fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure time. The figure for the same period in the U.S. stood at 79 percent.

For the President of ABEAR, Eduardo Sanovicz, the increase in the number of flights and resulting hike in passengers passing through the terminals, makes the figures all the more impressive. “The Brazilian market has tripled in volume over the last ten years. We have over 100 million departing passengers a year, but with the same infrastructure that we had back then.”

In November, the number of passengers countrywide hit 6.6 million, two percent higher than October. TAM continues to be the market leader with a 39.1 percent share, with Gol in second place with 36.6 percent followed by Azul (16.5 percent) and Avianca (7.8 percent).

Brazil's leading airline, TAM, has had to increase its reserve operational fleet ahead of the holiday season, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Brazil’s leading airline, TAM, has had to increase its reserve operational fleet ahead of the holiday season, photo by Marcio Jumpei/Flickr Creative Commons License.

“Since August we have seen a consistent improvement in the average performance of the market. This November, we equaled the best performance of the year, which was registered in January,” continued Sanovicz.

The true test of the system will come in June, however, when hundreds of thousands of football (soccer) fans will stretch the network to the limit. Delays across just two days earlier this month after Rio and São Paulo were struck by storms on December 6th and 7th, look likely to cost Gol more than R$5 million in fines.

“Meteorological problems happen, and can occur anywhere in the world and create backlogs. But those backlogs have to be overcome,” the President of the Civil Aviation Authority (Anac) told Agencia Brasil. The chain reaction from the delays hit airports in Curitiba, Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, Brasília and Belo Horizonte, meaning that one strong storm was able to impact exactly half of the 2014 World Cup host cities, something that the authorities will be desperate to avoid during the tournament.

A government report published in 2011 suggested that without significant infrastructure improvements, several of the host city airports could be running at well over one hundred percent capacity. Little has been done since to improve the facilities in several key hubs, with Rio’s Galeão and Belo Horizonte’s Confins airports privatized only last month, leaving nagging doubts for international travelers wary of the real possibility of missing matches due to airport delays.


  1. Me and my wife have been in brazil for nearly 3 weeks and we have travelled using both TAM and Azul we have flown in and out of Sao Paulo, Brazilia, Campinas, Fortaleza Receife, Rio, also by bus from receife to Fortaleza, car to natal, pipa beach…
    we are headed next to Florianópolis(Floripa) and Curitiba.

    EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS LATE, GPS gets lost on highways *tom tom GPS reliable in canada and us, no here
    even google maps gets lost, there is no english anywhere people are not ready for the world cup, they are all angry about the lack of public transport and the rising prices and government corruption. Protest continue daily on a wide veriety of topics. The Corinthians stadium was delayed because of bad safety precaution that i have noticed is practised around the country. Rio is a shit show currently for new years, we had less the a cubic foot to sit at the beach yesterday in 45 degree heat wave.
    We have taken tours of both Sao Paulo and Rio and everywhere we go we are reminded it is not safe, thieves and arsonist are at every corner. Favelas are known to hold guns on tourists and the police seem to do nothing, we have been told police accept bribes. I got lucky as a smoker i threw and stepped on a butt and a policeman wanted to charge me 600reyoles fine equal to 300 canadian or american dollars, a recently passed law. There is an overflow of garbage all over the place in every major metropolitan area including where i through my cigarette butt. In Fortaleza we saw a fight where police watched.

    Back to Air traffic, we can see that the government is trying hard because they are all under renovations currently making it very annoying, no free wifi is accessible to non Brazilians even though it is advertised everywhere as free wifi, and Azul has what i think the worst pilots on the planet i freaked out from Campinas to Rio, the plane wings almost hit the ground on take off and then flopped from sided to side for almost 2 minutes and TAM airlines from Brazilia to Receife i may have had the roughest landing. I have a respectable amount of flights under my belt with airlines such as KLM, West Jet, Air canada, United Airways, Ryan Air and even Northern on my way to Yellowknife where we had no heat on the plane but none have ever been as frightening as the Brazilian airlines and none have been so late.

    Traffic in all the named cities is brutal and people should plan to leave hours ahead of time especially during rush hour to get anywhere because these cities become parking lots, and most cities dont have metro systems yet making it very difficult to get around.

    Using my wife’s Spanish and my french we have gotten by with the Portuguese in fact my wife has now a considerably good vocabulary of Portuguese thanks to friends we have met across the world who have help us across our holiday journey, in no way could i imagine the difficultly of a german or english speaking person would have. We have met some Persians that reside in Australia who have told us horror storys of there stay in Rio because of the lack of english in the main touristic city of Brazil.

    Also people here just stand in line for anything, dont be fooled the odds are there is an easier way around the lines if you can communicate, but it is almost a custom to stand in ridiculously long lineups for anything you could possibly want.

    Water is another issue, most citizens have warned us to not use tap water, it may be dangerous to our health forcing us always to buy bottled water, and they run out of both all the time in this country i waited for water at a restaurant for 45 minutes, my meal was served and eaten before i could get a drink of water.
    On a good side when you get to a refreshing coconut water (best in the world) or the brazilian Acai you can see that this country has something to offer for the shortage of water.
    Despite all the warnings for tourist i and my wife have felt relatively safe on tour, more then expected from the warnings and the prices for things are more then reasonable in comparison to my home in Canada or in most European countries.
    The free walking tours are very educational and a great way to meet people, we have used Air BNB to find places to stay and we have used couch surfing to find others travelling around and both are very efficient.

    I know i have listed a large amount of complaints but the sights and the culture have been one of the best experiences i have had. The country is infested with beautiful beaches and vibrant parties, people mingling on the streets architectural wonders and a very interesting history.
    I recommend everyone come to Brazil once in a lifetime at least but i would also recommend renting a car, staying away from traffic hours, dont book flights to travel inside the country, keep your passport and money in a zip-able pocket, WEAR SUN SCREEN (SPF 50) and learn portugese if you dont have a latin background, otherwise you may have a hard time enjoying the trip.

    I hope the infrastructure is finished for the world cup and the Olympics. I hope Brazilians can find faith in the current government because it is very visible as a tourist from a slightly more developed country that they are on the right track to becoming what is expected to be the 5th largest economy by 2023.


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