Brazil: Surviving The Air Traffic Controllers Strike Part 1

By James Denison
My wife Cassia and I had the most challenging trip of our lives over the past couple of weeks in Brazil. First, we were planning on staying in Lima, Peru for three days before heading to Brazil. But our travel agent neglected to let us know that we could not get into Brazil from Peru without proof of having had a yellow fever vaccination. So LAN Peru forced us to go straight through to São Paulo.

Once in Brazil we were caught in the middle of the decisive work-slowdown of the air traffic controllers. Since we planned to hit eight different cities in Brazil, we inevitably were stuck in the absolutely worst affected airports in the country: Brasilia and São Paulo.

Since the air traffic controllers were a part of the Brazilian military, they were not technically allowed to go on strike. Instead, they resorted to their only recourse against the injustice of their work conditions and hugely inadequate pay. They conducted a massive work-slowdown which resulted in a near complete work-stoppage. It turned out to be an effective technique to finally force a breakthrough in negotiations with the government and to begin to bring about the necessary changes for this crucial infrastructural sector of the Brazilian economy. In this regard, the air traffic controllers of Brazil should be seen as an inspiration to organized workers around the world. They stood up for their rights and after the crisis was over they respectfully apologized to the Brazilian public for any hardships they may have endured. Cassia and I were not so much upset about the workers effectively going on strike in the middle of our trip, we actually supported and saluted them because their demands were so obviously just. What troubled us was the inability of the airlines to deal with passengers in any kind of an efficient or comprehensive manner. In particular, our disappointment was with the airline TAM.

Our first delay of the crisis occurred in Brasilia when we were waiting for a flight to go to Palmas, (which is a relatively new city that is an hour and a half flight north of Brasilia). The flight was delayed for about two hours. Here TAM gave us a free meal at the airport buffet while we were forced to wait to find out if and when our flight was leaving. While we were eating with a friend that Cassia hadn’t seen for years who happened to be waiting for the same flight, a TAM agent came and told us that our flight was leaving in a half an hour. This was the first and last time TAM worked efficiently during the crisis.

The next leg of our adventure brought us directly into the very heart of the crisis in full-swing. We needed to fly from Palmas to Brasilia to connect to our flight to Natal. Our first flight from Palmas was on-time. The next flight in Brasilia was delayed and the TAM people would not tell us anything except to wait. The airport was full of frustrated people waiting, some sleeping on the floors. There were many more people on their feet crowding around TAM agents who repeatedly told them that they didn’t know anything. As the hours passed we began not to believe the TAM people and passengers began to get hostile and demand answers. People were yelling at TAM representatives in Portuguese, Spanish and English. Eventually the passengers’ discontent was reaching a boiling point and the TAM representatives told us to back off and that we would be put up in a hotel in Brasilia.

After waiting for another hour, until well after midnight, while they put together paperwork for the hotel, we were herded-up like cattle to wait for shuttles to the hotel. The traffic at the airport was beyond chaotic. Waiting in yet another long line for the shuttle, we realized that we would be waiting for at least another hour to get to the hotel, so we opted to grab a taxi and get out of the endless frustration of the airport.

The TAM pass we received said that we had a room at the Hotel Pilar. We went to the Hotel Pilar, which was more like a small 1950’s motel, and the man at the front desk said that there were no vacant rooms and that TAM should not have sent us there. So we went to where the large hotels are and tried the Hotel Naoum. There were people from both TAM and Gol flights trying to get rooms. After finally securing ourselves a room, we went back outside to see our taxi driver who was patiently waiting to give us a tour of the capital at 1:30 in the morning.

Part 2 next week…

Readers comments:

James must be kidding when he says:

… we actually supported and saluted them…”

How come a victim of a criminal act support and salute the perps? If this is trying to be PC it went way too far. Btw, I didn&rsquot;t suffer from it, but this isn&rsquot;t reason enough for me to favor an insurrection by armed public servers.

“…their demands were so obviously just…”

Says who?????

“… they respectfully apologized to the Brazilian public for any hardships they may have endured…”

Yeah, right. Not before being charged for their crime.

“… the air traffic controllers of Brazil should be seen as an inspiration to organized workers around the world…”

I sincerily hope they won&rsquot;t.

— Mario Silvio

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