Brazil still tops for . . . in-flight entertainment

It was an authentic slice of Latin life that will linger long in the memory

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands celebrates after winning their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against Mexico at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Arjen Robben of the Netherlands celebrates after winning their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game against Mexico at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 12:04

The games define these tournaments and I’ll remember this one for some time – the Dutch defeat of Spain and Brazil’s enthralling yet slightly chaotic second-round encounter with Chile, even if both were eventually overshadowed by this week’s amazing semi-final in Belo Horizonte.

The experience of being at a World Cup, though, is much broader, with the people, cities, food and, in particular for those of us who work at them, the logistics, conspiring to play a big part in shaping the impression that you take away from a host nation. There’s a chunk of luck involved too of course.

My first World Cup was France and it was terrific but things didn’t look so good when I first touched down in the place.

It was at Roissy airport and there was a strike on. In fact, as I remember it, there was more than one and things seemed to have broken down to the extent that if your flight did land in the place you simply got to walk around the terminal building afterwards until you stumbled upon your bags.

I fared well enough but some guys from Cameroon dressed in the grooviest (okay, perhaps only) football themed suits I have seen were among those clearly having a harder time of it.

Anyway, flights complicate things. Things go wrong. And even when they don’t they have the potential to do so, which is a constant concern. That’s one of the reasons clusters of journalists at these things can still be found fondly reminiscing about the German train system in 2006.

My own most bizarre experience, albeit at a World Youth Cup in Nigeria, was a handful of us having to take turns to stand on the shoulders of colleagues so we could clamber into the hold of a plane on the runway at Kanu.

We had just been told that it was overweight, that we could not get onboard and identifying our bags individually as the plane prepared to take off was the only way they could retrieve them without the airline having to reboard everyone.

Before I arrived here last month I’d heard considerable concern expressed about how the Brazilian airports and airlines would cope with the extra flights required for this World Cup, but for the most part the experience has been terrific. I certainly can’t think of another country that gets people so swiftly from pavement to plane.

That said, I had a nightmare early on with one local airline, Avianca, who due to some sort of glitch between their call centre and airport counter computer systems declined to honour a booking I’d made for three flights.

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