Wed | Jun 23, 2021

Fans face rough landing

Published:Wednesday | June 11, 2014 | 12:00 AM


Before they see their teams battle on the fields, soccer fans arriving in Brazil will first have to fight their way past airport scaffolding, terminal flooding and two-hour taxi lines.

The World Cup opens tomorrow and airports are bracing to welcome the crush of international travellers flying in for soccer's premier event. Brazilian authorities insist they're ready, but passengers may find themselves in for a rough landing.

For example, officials had nearly seven years to prepare Brazil's largest airport, São Paulo's Guarulhos, yet only a quarter of the new $1.3 billion international terminal is operational.

On Monday, the wait time for a taxi at Guarulhos was more than two hours and nearby traffic was at a standstill due to a crippling strike by subway workers.

"Let's just put it this way, we are not showing the world the best we could," said Luiz Gustavo Fraxino, an airport infrastructure consultant in Curitiba, one of the cities hosting World Cup matches.

President Dilma Rousseff has dismissed complaints that Brazil isn't ready. The overstrained infrastructure, she says, is a sign of a nation on the move, as the middle class expands and previously poor Brazilians take to the air for the first time.

building for Brazilians

"We aren't building airports just for the World Cup, just for FIFA," she recently said. "We are building for Brazilians."

For most travel in Brazil, flying is the only practical choice. The country is the size of a continent and there are no passenger rail connections, not even for the 260-mile (418-kilometre) stretch between its two largest cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. To top it off, resources were stretched thin because Brazil insisted on preparing 12 cities to host the games, rather than the eight preferred by FIFA.

In Brasilia, a recent 20-minute tropical cloudburst was all it took to flood the linoleum floors of its spanking-new airport, forcing travellers to splash through the terminal. In other host cities, passengers have to walk underneath scaffolding or see brand-new facilities from afar because they weren't finished in time to be tested.

In general, comforts common to other airports, like power outlets or functional Wi-Fi, are difficult to come by. Travellers who lack Portuguese skills may have a hard time understanding local authorities, airport announcements or signage.

Christina Gubitosa, who travelled with a group of friends from Philadelphia, felt lucky to have some help.

"We are happy we are travelling with a friend who studied abroad here," she said. "Otherwise we would be lost."