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Rio Fog Strands World Cup Fans on Game Day

A man walks his dog on the beach during the 2014 soccer World Cup in Fotaleza, Brazil, June 17, 2014.
A man walks his dog on the beach during the 2014 soccer World Cup in Fotaleza, Brazil, June 17, 2014.
Reuters
Fog over Rio de Janeiro's Guanabara Bay on Tuesday stranded hundreds of fans trying to catch Brazil's second match of the World Cup in the soccer tournament's worst travel headache so far.

The closures rippled through Brazil's domestic networks, underscoring
 the World Cup's dependence on smooth air travel as fans and teams bounce between 12 host cities sprawled across the world's fifth-largest country in terms of area.

The bad weather closed Rio's Santos Dumont airport for hours in the early morning, canceling over one-third of departures from the downtown domestic hub and from Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport at the other end of Brazil's busiest route.

"You can't blame the organizers for fog, but it really is a letdown,'' said U.S. expatriate Michael Hayden. His brother's flight from Chicago to Rio was also diverted, ruining their chances of catching an afternoon game together.

Santos Dumont reopened as the morning fog burned off, but tight bookings meant 27 of 63 departures had been canceled by 11:00 a.m. Foul weather in the southern city of Curitiba also delayed 50 percent of flights, according to Infraero, the state airport operator.

 The closures rippled throughout Brazil's domestic networks, underscoring the World Cup's dependence on smooth air travel as fans and teams bounce between the 12 host cities sprawled across the world's fifth-largest country by area.

Airlines have warned a drop in business travel during the month-long tournament may hurt revenue, while the scrutiny of traveling fans could put a harsh spotlight on an industry that already suffers delays under the best of conditions.

"I don't know who's going to win the games, but the airlines are going to lose with the World Cup,'' said Enrique Cueto, chief executive officer of LATAM Airlines, at an industry event in March.

"If you do things right with operations, you can wind up with a draw,'' he said. "You get it wrong, and you don't get to a game on time and you'll soon see what you get.''

Outrage was easy to find among the hundreds of travelers who packed waiting areas at Santos Dumont. Sofiane Bekhe, an Algerian stuck in Rio while his team warmed up to play Belgium, seethed at the idea of missing the one match for which he had tickets.

"I paid 6,000 euros ($8,200) to come to Brazil and I can't see
 the game,'' said Bekhe, who lives in Paris. "I've been in Brazil three days and I just want to go home.''

President Dilma Rousseff made it a priority to overhaul old and overcrowded airports before the tournament. A handful of concessions attracted millions in private investments, but most airports are still run by Infraero, which finished few of the renovations promised in host cities before the Cup.

No major work was planned at Santos Dumont and Congonhas, both of which are hemmed in by their central locations in Rio and Sao Paulo, at the center of domestic networks run by Gol Linhas Aereas SA and TAM, the local unit of Latam Airlines Group SA. 

Click here to check out our special World Cup site
 
  • Germany's Toni Kroos (L) and Portugal's Joao Moutinho fight for the ball during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, Brazil, June 16, 2014.
  • Portugal's Hugo Almeida fights for the ball with Germany's Mats Hummels during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, June 16, 2014.
  • Germany's Thomas Mueller (L) shoots to score against Portugal for his hat-trick during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, June 16, 2014. 
  • Nigeria's Juwon Oshaniwa (L) jumps for the ball with Iran's Reza Ghoochannejhad during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Baixada arena in Curitiba, June 16, 2014.
  • Iran's goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi (L) makes a save on Nigeria's Joseph Yobo during their 2014 World Cup Group F soccer match at the Baixada arena in Curitiba, June 16, 2014.
  • A Ghana fan waits for the 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match between Ghana and the U.S. at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 16, 2014.
  • Clint Dempsey of the U.S. celebrates after scoring their first goal during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match against Ghana at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 16, 2014.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughter Naomi watch their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match against Ghana at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 16, 2014. 
  • Ghana's Andre Ayew scores a goal during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 16, 2014.
  • Team U.S.A celebrate during their 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match against Ghana at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 16, 2014.
  • Fans cheer after the U.S. scored a second goal during the 2014 Brazil World Cup Group G soccer match between Ghana and the U.S. at a viewing party in Hermosa Beach, California, June 16, 2014.

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