Saturday, 12 January 2013

The joy of Brazilian airlines and their IT skills

All my previous internal flights were with TAM and had gone smoothly. My ticket was with TAM, but the flight was operated by Trip, or as my taxi driver called it, "Trippy". "Trippy Airlines", what could go wrong?

So I arrived at Recife airport. There was no indication where to check in though there were some screens with Trip written on them, but the people queuing in front of them appeared to be being handled by Azul staff. So I joined the queue. I later found that Azul and Trip are connected. How you're supposed to work this out before, I don't know.

There were 3 queues and no indication on the screens what the difference was. There was a man who wandered past occasionally with a high tech piece of paper. He told me I should be in the long queue.  The "system" seemed to be that the long queue was served by one person. The two other, shorter queues had two members of staff on them. When your flight became imminent, you were told to move from the long queue to one of the short ones. So basically, there is absolutely no point in turning up early. You won't check in any quicker.

After an hour and a half of waiting, I finally got to the front of the long queue. I gave them my booking code, passport etc and she couldn't find my booking. I'd checked the TAM website that morning. It had even told me my seat number, but she couldn't find it. So phone calls later and I'm told to stand to one side while she checks someone else in while they fix my booking. The rest of the queue is all glaring at me by now as if it's my fault they've also booked with a useless airline. They were all  Brazilian. They should know better. Another 10 minutes and I finally have a boarding card, so I make my way to the lounge.

The screens say gate 9. They also say it's delayed. So I sit down and after a while a queue forms at gate 9. And then someone starts checking people through the gate. The main screen still says "delayed". The screens above the gate say nothing and onto the plane I get. It was probably still saying that when we took off. I was right at the back. There was nowhere in the overhead bins to put hand luggage. The back two were full of emergency equipment and the next one was full of the inflight food. Since this consisted of packets of biscuits and sweets, I don't know how they managed to take up quite so much room with them. The actual flight was uneventful.

I'd like to say I was surprised, but it wasn't the first time I experienced Brazilian airlines mastery of IT. Right at the beginning of my trip, I'd tried to book a flight online with a company called Vol. Their website is complete crap. It took longer to fill in my details than the flight was supposed to take. My favourite part was entering your country of residence. The drop down list included that well know country "Ayers Rock". It was also in a random order, so you had to scroll through 200+ entries to find your country.

When this was all done, it sent me an email with what looked like a booking confirmation but which actually had the small print on it that it was subject to credit card approval. And naturally this failed, probably because it was a non-Brazilian credit card. And do they send you an email saying it's failed? Of course they don't. I only found out because I'd created an account on there and later checking said it had been cancelled.

I met someone who was stranded in Santarém a couple of weeks later. She'd tried to book with Azul. They did exactly the same to her only she turned up at the airport to find she had no ticket and there were no more flights available for a week because it was Christmas. So it sounds like they've shared the same web code and with quality code like that, it's too good not to share.

Apparently, and I've not tried it myself, there is an option to print out a receipt. You then take this to the bank, presumably stand in a long queue, and pay over the counter. How very 1980s. Not much use if you've got no printer or you're not in Brazil.

Again apparently, the TAM website works as well with foreign cards as domestic. I say apparently because my experience of trying to use it involved entering all my details, then clicking buy, only to be told that there were no seats available at that price any more and being kicked right back out to the beginning again. Repeating the process revealed the price had gone up a couple of dollars and then that failed too. After I'd done this 3 times, I gave up with homicide in my heart.

So my advice is to use a travel agent.

The World Cup is going to be so much fun when thousands of people are all trying to book flights at the last minute when they know where their team's next match is going to be, isn't it?

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