Brazilian Airports Latest Headache: Hundreds of Lost Luggage Pieces

Brazil’s ANAC (National Agency of Civil Aviation) promises to conduct an audit today to find out why Brazil’s largest airline company, TAM, was unable to carry all the passengers it sold tickets to. The probe’s goal is to avoid another air traffic collapse on New Year’s Eve.

TAM’s breakdown made the last Friday, December 22, the second most chaotic day in Brazilian aviation history losing only to the so-called black Tuesday, on December 5, when planes just stopped after radio communications malfunctioned in Brazilian capital Brasí­lia.

It’s believed that the most recent problems were caused by overbooking by TAM coupled with the scheduled maintenance of a few airplanes by the airline company. So, the main focus of the ANAC’s investigation should be the number of tickets sold not only by TAM, but also by other airline firms.

Delays have diminished in the airports since Sunday, according to ANAC, but the number of cancelled flight has increased in part due to the smaller number of passengers using planes. Despite the improvement, Christmas day saw 139 flights that suffered delays of one hour or more and 237 of them were just cancelled.

One of the victims of the air chaos was Amanda Pargas, a 12-year-old girl, who was flying from Rio to Miami and ended up spending Christmas night by herself at the Cumbica airport, in Guarulhos, in the Greater São Paulo.

She had been transferred from a TAM aircraft to a Brazilian Air Force (FAB) airplane – the FAB leased eight of their airplanes to help meet the demand –  and got lost in São Paulo, missing the Miami flight.

But while airport authorities and airline companies seem to finally be getting a handle on on-time flights, the new big headache has been the disappearance of luggage. The problem might last at least a few more days. On Christmas day more than 200 suitcases were at the TAM’s lounge in Rio waiting for their owners. Most of them were lost during some connection and came from several states and different countries.

The latest collapse in Brazil’s air traffic is one week old today. It started last Tuesday, December 19, when Congonhas, the São Paulo domestic airport, closed for 50 minutes alleging that bad weather had made landings and take-offs dangerous.

Other factors contributing to what would soon become total chaos were TAM’s computer system, which went down in the Tom Jobim’s Rio airport and the maintenance of six planes from the airline company’s fleet.

The ANAC ended up forbidding TAM from selling more tickets until it accommodated all its passengers already in the airports. When the order to stop the sales came, however, it was already too late and the company only interrupted Internet sales, anyway, continuing to offer tickets by phone. 

In São Paulo and Rio, airport workers ran out of space to store luggage not claimed by their owners. In Congonhas, the room reserved for lost suitcases was full and another one had to be found. In Rio’s Tom Jobim, the misplaced pieces were crammed up in the airport’s lounge.

In order to reestablish some order to its flights TAM has been using the Air Force’s planes as well as those from the competition as OceanAir, Gol, BRA and Varig. According to the ANAC, between Friday and Sunday, FAB’s planes carried 1,676 passengers for TAM in a total of 15 flights.


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