On the eve of Christmas, Brazil’s main airports have once again become a battleground of discontent, tumult, long lines, hours of delay and, at times, total chaos.
In Rio’s Tom Jobim International Airport the military police brought armed agents after people threatened to break the airport’s installations. In Brasília a group of disgruntled passengers invaded the runway.
At 5:30 am, today, the Rio Federal Police arrested Roberto Maurício Ferreira Ribeiro, a surgeon, charging him with stirring up trouble. He was supposed to fly to Maceió in the state of Alagoas by TAM, but the air company was only allowing people going to Recife, capital of Pernambuco, to board.
The Maceió stop-over cancellation generated protests. TAM informed that some enraged passengers broke a computer and the counter on Terminal 2.
In São Paulo, both the international airport in Guarulhos and Congonhas were having delays averaging 5 hours. Nothing compared to Tom Jobim’s, however. where a flight to Miami was more than 12 hours late.
According to the ANAC (National Agency of Civil Aviation), Brazil’s airport authority, 35% of the flights today are being delayed at least one hour. The problems, they say, started Wednesday afternoon, December 20.
The Brazilian Air Force, which is in charge of air flight control in the country, tells that trouble started due to a heavy rain in the southeast region of the country, where are São Paulo and Rio are located.
The problem got worse, said the Air Force, when TAM, Brazil’s largest airline, suffered a failure in its computers preventing passengers from checking in. The company, however, denied having any computer glitch.
Cancellations and delays made some passengers very aggressive. A woman in Congonhas attacked a TAM employee while waiting for a delayed flight. About 300 people ended up sleeping on the chairs and floor of the airport’s departure hall.
At the Juscelino Kubitschek’s International Airport, in Brasília, flights were being delayed up to four hours this morning. The situation became tense when a group of disgruntled passengers invaded the airport’s runway and despite the heavy rain sat down on the air strip until they were forcefully removed by the airport’s security.
People waiting for hours in Congonhas were more restrained. About 100 of them signed a petition addressed to the Justice. Brasil Filho, who should have embarked at 8:30 pm, yesterday, but was still waiting for his plane at 8 in the morning today told reporters about his frustration "Indignation is widespread. We are without water, without sleeping, without information. We have people who are 75 years old, and 8-year-old children."
ANAC released a note apologizing for the delays. The agency informed that the problem this time wasn’t the fault of flight controllers but the airlines. TAM confirmed that their domestic flights were 2.5 hours late in average and that they had cancelled 26 flights.