Airlines fear Brazil backlash from crowded World Cup airports

jueves 20 de febrero de 2014 19:04 GYT

By Brad Haynes
    SAO PAULO, Feb 20 (Reuters) - International airlines are
worried the Brazilian government may hit them with a flurry of
fines during the World Cup over delayed flights and lost bags at
already overcrowded airports, the head of a global airline
association said on Thursday.
    Less than four months before kickoff, Brazil's busiest
airport, in Sao Paulo, is still racing to finish a new terminal
and other airports are preparing temporary tents to receive the
influx of passengers.
    That leaves airlines wary that they will be on the hook for
untested baggage handling systems and overcrowded terminals.
Many of Brazil's biggest airports are running beyond capacity
after years of neglect by state operator Infraero.
    "It's very unfair to hold the airlines responsible for every
disruption that happens if frankly it's a problem of the
infrastructure," said Tony Tyler, head of the International Air
Transport Association, ahead of a visit Sao Paulo's Guarulhos
International Airport. 
    His concerns underscore the challenges facing Brazil's
aviation industry during the tournament in June and July, which
Tyler called the "Aviation Cup." Airlines are adding hundreds of
international routes and nearly 2,000 new domestic flights to
ferry some 600,000 foreign fans and millions of Brazilian
tourists between the dozen cities hosting matches.
    Yet work on chronically overcrowded airports is even further
behind schedule than the construction of new soccer stadiums for
the tournament, which have drawn more ire from organizers as
they missed deadlines and ran over budgets. 
    "It is going to be challenging and people are going to have
to be understanding," Tyler told reporters in Sao Paulo. "This
is why we're a bit concerned about the very strict regulations
that apply in Brazil." 
    Depending on the length of a delayed flight, airlines in
Brazil are responsible for food, transport and accommodations
for passengers, regardless of what caused the delay. Blizzards
in the United States, by contrast, can lead to canceled flights
without airlines footing the bill, said a spokesman for IATA.
    A single stormy weekend in December cost Brazil's No. 2
airline Gol Linhas Aereas as much as 5 million reais
($2.1 million) in regulatory fines. The scarcity of affordable
hotel rooms during the World Cup could make the cost of a
canceled flight even more daunting, said Tyler.
    The IATA delegation spent Thursday afternoon at Sao Paulo's
Guarulhos International Airport, where work on a new terminal is
on such a tight schedule that airlines worry they will have no
time to test a new baggage handling system, which is crucial to
smooth operations.
    Brazil's domestic airlines and the busiest international
carriers have declined to move operations into the new terminal
before the tournament.
    Fewer than a dozen foreign airlines are expected to move in
by June, many with just a couple flights per day. Those that do
may fall back on ad hoc baggage handling solutions, said Tyler.
    "I think baggage is going to be a challenge," he said. "It
will be made to work ... even if it means throwing people at
processes that in due time will become properly automated."
    ($1 = 2.37 Brazilian reais)

 (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)