Brazilian Travelers Storm Airport Runway to Protest Flight Delays

Brazilian travelers incensed about an overbooked flight stormed a runway Wednesday to prevent a commercial jet from taking off, and a tourism industry leader said two months of chronic flight delays have been a "disaster" for tourism.

The protest happened after a group of about 30 travelers with tickets to the northeastern city of Recife waited more than 40 minutes aboard a bus outside a Tam Linhas Aereas SA jet at one of Sao Paulo's two airports, Brazil's Globo TV reported.

When the crew closed the jet's door because the plane was full, some of the passengers got off the bus in an attempt to stop the plane from leaving. It was unclear how many people were involved in the protest.

Police removed the protesters from the tarmac, but the flight was delayed for more than two hours in a repeat of similar incidents last week, when Brazilians invaded runways at several airports plagued by delays just before Christmas.

Tam did not immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment Wednesday night, and the phone at the company's press office went unanswered.

Leonel Rossi Junior, international affairs director for the Brazilian Travel Agency industry group, said the air travel chaos since late October has sent sales of tour packages plummeting by 15 percent just as the industry enters its busiest season.

Brazil is heading into high holidays, with children out of school until late January at the height of the South American summer. Because of the flight delays, many Brazilians are now considering driving instead of flying to vacation destinations.

Tour operators also fear that North Americans and Europeans seeking to escape the winter will be spooked away from Brazil by incessant media images of travelers sleeping in airports while awaiting flights.

The delays began about a month after a collision between a Gol airlines Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet killed 154 passengers on Sept. 29. It was the country's worst air disaster.

After the crash, air traffic controllers significantly slowed airline operations by following regulations to the letter in a "work-to-rule" protest to demand better pay and working conditions.

An air control system failure earlier this month, bad weather and maintenence problems with some Tam planes led to more delays.


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