Tips for Flying in Brazil

In the space of a few years and a World Cup, flying in Brazil has changed very little. The experience is pretty good, with a few pitfalls. A few tips can help you along the journey.

Choose your airport strategically: Brazil’s major cities can have several airports and with Brazilian traffic added in, logistics and costs are a big factor with airport selection.

Find a way to/from the airport: taxis can be mega-expensive. Sao Paulo’s GRU has a taxi monopoly and fares to the city start around US$50 and climb up, up, up. Rio’s airport taxis add surcharges for every piece of luggage you are carrying. Some airlines have shuttles for some airports, and there are other transport options, but don’t expect a slick rail link anywhere.

Flight check-in can be slow-moving mayhem: if at all possible use kiosks or online check-in. Here’s a Gol international departure check-in line:

GRU Airport Gol International Check-in

Priority check-in and boarding: is recognized for OneWorld elites (TAM), Delta elites (Gol), and it seems for anyone willing to bluff or push through.

GRU Airport Gol Priority Check-in

Landside food courts: most of the dining and retail may be landside (before security). Here’s a great food court and viewing platform in Recife:

REC Airport Food Court

Airside is skimpy: domestic departures especially can be in small concourses with only a basic cafe and a shop or two:

REC Airport Domestic Departures

Domestic security: is a breeze. International is a bit more thorough, though still quite reasonable.

Lounges are few and basic: Gol serves cocktails in plastic bags. There are few domestic lounges. 3rd-party lounges accessed through programs like Priority Pass are mostly cruddy.

Gol GRU Lounge 02

ATMs: there may be dozens of ATMs, just be happy if you find one that is operational and that accepts foreign cards (this goes for all Brazil).

GRU Airport Arrivals

Seat reclining: immediately as the captain wraps up the post-takeoff announcement, the seatback in front of you will be violently thrown back. Moments later, it will be thumbed back a few times more.

Frigid: Gol keeps its planes incredibly cold. I don’t remember about TAM. Haven’t flown Azul.

Connections: domestic connections typically involve checking in segment by segment as you travel. Luggage is checked through but, somehow, passengers not. I don’t really understand it but have had it on both Gol and TAM. One time, an agent was able to check me in for my next connection, while the website and kiosk couldn’t, but then that created all kinds of confusion at the next stop as I fell off the connecting list held by the agent at the next airport. Usually there is an agent to greet a flight and get people through a side door to their next connection without exiting and going through security again.

GRU Airport TAM Connections

Readers, your tips for flying in Brazil?

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  • Tyler

    Completely agree on all but the last one- never had to check in separately per segment.

    Also I’d recommend trying to avoid eating in airports completely- 99% of the restaurants are horrible and very overpriced.

  • purcitron

    a sudden urge for a bagged cocktail has come over me.
    which cities have you visited? any recommends? rio & st paul seem rather tourist trappy, but i am personally pretty interested in Manaus

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Tyler – I would say that about most of Brazil’s restaurants, at least the overpriced, I have had some nice meals, particularly Japanese and Italian in SP thanks to their respective communities, but otherwise there is way too much tough, overcooked and over-salted beef with mushy beans and rice for my taste. My wife did enjoy the seafood stews in Salvador when we went there.

  • Joey

    Don’t use the ATMs at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport (GIG). I forgot which one but my friend used it when we went to Rio back in summer 2013 and a few days later guess what? Money was stolen from his bank account (there was a skimmer in most if not all the ATMs on the 2nd floor.) :/ Luckily he sorted it out once he was back in the USA but it was still a hassle. Just google Rio de Janeiro airport ATM scam skimmers and you’ll see plenty other examples.
    As for me, I had Brazilian Real from a previous trip to Iguacu Falls so I didn’t use the airport ATM at GIG.

  • Headly

    Never experienced the last one either. In fact, I get my return boarding passes sometimes along with my outbound on a same day return on Gol.

    Only other comment to add is that the new Star lounge in T3 GRU is very nice. Totally different lounge experience for Brazil.

    ATM comment is absolutely spot-on. You will go through 4 ATMs on average till you find one that works and accepts your card.

  • Tyler

    Yea, Brazil is tough to find great local eateries. My girlfriend is Brazilian so I’m lucky to hit up the local spots, but I’ve been to plenty of mediocre restaurants.

    In general though they do love to put a lot of salt on their meat, sometimes too much for my taste. But they rock at desserts- pretty much every Brazilian dessert I’ve had has been good.

  • Tyler

    @Joey- I know exactly in GIG where you are talking about. I get nervous at pretty much all ATM’s in Brazil- the crime rate is so high.

  • Santastico

    @Tyler: I believe you wanted to say “AIRPORTS in Brazil are tough to find great local eateries”. If you are talking about the airports I have to agree (changing now with Terminal 3 at GRU). However, if you are talking in general about the country I guess you missed a lot. Brazil is well known for its amazing diversity and the country offers the most amazing restaurants you can find with Sao Paulo being easily compared to any big city in the world. Brazil offers most of the international cuisines with huge influence from Italy, Portugal, Lebanon and Japan. Also, local eateries are amazing and you can find great Brazilian food in every corner. Thus, if you did not experience good food in Brazil you probably visited the wrong country.

  • Santastico

    @Rapid Travel Chai: you also need to have a local to take you to places where you can eat real food. “…there is way too much tough, overcooked and over-salted beef with mushy beans and rice for my taste…” To start, rice and beans is the main dish in Brazil. It is everywhere and people eat everyday. If you got mushy beans, you did not got to the right place. As for the meat, next time you go to Sao Paulo, try the following places: Figueira, Rubayat, Rodeio, Dinho’s. You will get the best beef you can find.

  • George

    Well, some insights about the things you wrote:

    1-)Choose your airport strategically: The thing about having too many airports is actually not that true. For instance in São Paulo you have GRU (Guarulhos International) and CGH (Congonhas Airport). The first is the international one, the “JFK” one, and the former is the La Guardia. The same goes for GIG (Rio’s Galeao International) and SDU (Santos Dumont Airport). The same for Belo Horizonte that have CNF (international) and PLU (domestic flights). And in all these cases, the domestic airport is always close and within the city.

    2-)Find a way to/from the airport: At least in São Paulo you have the Airport Bus Service, which runs between the two airports (GRU and CGH), bus stations and the city center. []

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Santastico – thank you for the tips, I always hope to get back and will look these up when I do. The rice and beans thing is a bias of mine, I don’t like them whether good, bad or middling, and in my mind categorize countries from Mexico to Argentina as either ‘rice and beans’ countries or not, though of course most all in the region have them to a greater or lesser degree. Some oddballs of course, it seems Bolivia is a fried chicken country by the amount of those restaurants. Someday I may do a post on that that will really piss off some people!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @George – thank you for the notes. I wasn’t intending it to be a point of ‘too many airports,’ just there are often several and, like a NY, inadvertently booking a connection from one to the other, or choosing one when another might be much closer to your destination, can be unneeded grief. Like the guys I saw outside EWR a few trips ago that have flown United to EWR and were connecting on Turkish out of JFK. Oops. For Sao Paulo, Campinas can easily enough be confused with the others, and it is has AA service, lots of Azul flights, and even that TAP flight to Lisbon. Again, not a bad thing, just to know your options and avoid snags.

    @Headly – this is interesting, I have had it once on Tam and twice on Gol and that is out of a small sample size. These have always been pure domestic tickets with a domestic connection, not part of an international ticket. In a case like the recent Gol back and forth REC-FEN, the plane was continuing under the same flight number to a different city, so those connecting passengers stayed on the plane and waited for new to board, the traditional concept of ‘direct’ flight. For those of us go to GRU we all had to go out to the transfer counter, get boarding passes, and be on our way. It works fairly well, other than creating confusion for people checking in, especially online or kiosk where the next segment totally vanishes.