With an expected 600,000 international fans arriving in Brazil for the FIFA World Cup and about 3 million Brazilians estimated to travel by air among the 12 city venues, travelers should brace for airport delays in the host country. Brazil is a vast country with inadequate rail service and roadways. The only viable option to travel within the country is via air. Although the nation has had seven years to prepare for the traveler onslaught, some airport renovations are only reaching completion now and other upgrades will be finalized after the World Cup is over. Air travelers will likely pay the price for what appears to be a lack of preparation for the high profile event.
In 2003, FIFA announced that the 2014 World Cup was going to be hosted in a South American country and Brazil was the only viable alternative even at that point. Brazil has had over a decade to upgrade its airports to alleviate the potential travel bottleneck. Further exacerbating the problem is that prior President Ricardo Teixeira, in an attempt to further spread the potential economic benefits of the event, obtained FIFA permission to use 12 host cities instead of the usual 10. Given that all the airports in question required upgrades, the use of 12 host cities has widened the problem further. Also, to spread exposure to the Brazilian team throughout the country, during group play the team will go to Sao Paulo, Fortaleza and Brasilia, which requires Brazilian team and its opponents to move to different cities as an additional burden on the air traffic system.
Each of the host airports has swarms of workers feverishly attempting to complete various upgrade tasks. Temporary structures will be used in several locales in order to handle the extra traffic. The situations deemed the worst, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo after touring the various facilities, were Manaus and Belo Horizonte. Manaus, located in the Amazon jungle, plays host to four games and Belo Horizonte hosts six. Although these two locales were judged the worst, FIFA World Cup travelers should likewise brace for airport delays at other host cities due to preparations and upgrades running behind schedule.
The airport in Curitiba will use a number of temporary structures and jetways for boarding flights. In Recife, elevators are not expected to be operational and a temporary walkway will be used between the airport and adjacent subway terminal. The Fortaleza airport will use a terminal made of canvas. Work has been completed at the airport in Sao Paulo, but the new terminal is only operating at a fraction of its capacity, forcing additional traffic to existing, overloaded terminals.
Once the FIFA World Cup travelers have managed to make their way through the various airports and the likely delays, they could be besieged by an onslaught of illegal taxi drivers roaming for fares. The country is relying on local authorities to enforce taxi issues and this could be an additional problem for travelers making their way out of the airports. All parties travelling among the World Cup venues will need to allow themselves plenty of time for air travel as the system will be stressed during the countrywide event.
Commentary by William Costolo