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World Cup airports fail to get off the ground

Brazil struggles to meet construction work deadlines in airports that should receive World Cup visitors.
Last modified: 17 Jan 2014 22:13
Some airports are more than a year behind on their improvement projects [AP]

At the airport in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, one of the host cities for the upcoming World Cup, there was no air conditioning as we arrived to check in for our flight back to Rio de Janeiro. My crew and I joined the long line of perspiring passengers at the Gol airline counter, rolling our eyes as we correctly imagined how long the whole process would take.

The summer heat felt even more unbearable because of all the dust from the frantic construction underway to finish the expansion of the domestic and international airport. If they hurry they might just make it in time for the games, but if the airport is overcrowded now on a normal week day, I hate to think what will happen when thousands of local and Brazilian fans invade this city in June and July.

More than 50 percent of the airports that will be receiving World Cup visitors have still not completed half of their promised expansion and renovations.

The good news is that in the city of Natal, a brand new airport will be ready to go. The bad news is that the road connecting the airport to the city, and the stadium, will not. Officials admit they cannot pave it in time, so travellers will have to make the long hike on a dusty dirt road instead.

Major delays

Some airports are more than a year behind on their improvement projects, even though Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup six years ago.

"We always leave things for the last minute. It is the Brazilian way," says Felipe Da Silva.

I met him on the morning he arrived from a trip to Miami, as he, and a long line of others, was struggling to get his luggage cart into the absurdly small elevator at Rio de Janeiro's international aiport, so that he could check into a connecting domestic flight on another floor. He has already missed his original flight because of the long delay getting out of customs. A preview of what World Cup fans can expect, I suspect.

And that's not all. At the best of times airline tickets on Brazil's two main carriers, which dominate the market, are astronomical and schedules inconvenient. (I just cancelled a planned four-hour flight to another city because the ticket cost more than $2,200 round trip. You would have thought I was going to San Tropez, rather than San Luis, in Brazil's poorest and most violent state of Maranhao.)

Brazil's National Aviation Agency has just authorised domestic airlines to schedule nearly 2,000 more flights during the month of the World Cup so that fans can travel to the 12 host cities. The government has warned airlines that fares must come down, and in fact two smaller airlines, Azul and Avianca Brazil have put a R$999 (US$490) cap on their flights. But so far, no such promise from the main airlines, which have already jacked up their tickets to the 12 host cities by 13 percent.

Between the cost and the potential chaos, I can see that fans will have to be prepared for a lot more than just the possibility of their favourite team losing the Cup.