The air transportation chaos that has been installed in Brazil the last few days with flight delays of up to 20 hours is getting curiouser by the hour.
Passengers incensed with their woes have appealed to Procon, the consumer protection agency, which has threatened to sue the airlines, which now are vowing to take the government to court with a 40 million reais (US$ 19 million) lawsuit for damages.
José Moreira, the vice president of the National Air Companies Union (Snea) has announced Friday, November 3, that by Tuesday they should have all their numbers in.
Their intention is to present the federal government a detailed bill for all the expenses they incurred due to a work-to-rule campaign staged by air controllers since September 27.
Preliminary figures, says the Union, show that the 18 airlines represented by the Snea have lost a minimum of 40 million reais in the last 10 days. Most of the Brazilian air controllers are military men and they are subordinated to the Defense Ministry.
Their first course of action, says Moreira will be to get into an agreement and reach a settlement. Failing this the Union is ready to file suit: "We have a contract with the granting power, the Union, by which we vow to provide an adequate service. The Union, however, is not giving us the indispensable conditions we need to provide such a service".
São Paulo Procon’s has already summoned the airline companies for a Tuesday, November 7 meeting, when that consumer protection agency will remind the air carriers that they have a duty to assist all passengers who for any reason get stuck in airports due to flight delays or cancellations. They are supposed to offer hotel, food and transportation while the passenger waits for his flight.
The Procon has already signaled that they also will go to court against the airline companies and the Union if they are not able to reach an agreement. All consumers who had losses in the last few days due to lack of assistance by the airlines are being encouraged to show up at the closest Procon office with the air ticket stub and other documents detailing their expenses.
The National Civil Aviation Agency’s (ANAC) director, Milton Zuanazzi, recognizes that the airline companies had losses, but he believes they are making a mountain out of molehill: "There has been some loss, but the ones who suffered the biggest loss were the citizens who had their right to come and go jeopardized," he commented.
The work-to-rule campaign by the controllers lowered the number of planes monitored by one controller to 14 aircraft simultaneously, the accepted international maximum. Before that one controller might be in charge of as many as 20 airplanes.
This new routine imposed a bigger distance between planes causing delays of five hours in average, but up to 20 hours in some cases, and flight cancellations.
As an emergency measure, the government has moved 149 military controllers to the air control towers in need. The situation has returned to normal now, but many fear that the chaos will come back Sunday, November 5, when people start returning home at the end of the long All Souls Day holiday.