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.

At the time it wasn’t much fun. But the experience of the bureaucracy involved was, I was informed by locals; a worthwhile taste of day-to-day life here, an authentic slice of South America, they suggested – full of faceless, powerless pen pushers and jobsworths; harmless enough for the most part, though. Far less George Orwell’s 1984 than, appropriately enough, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

The real upside was that if Avianca hadn’t turned me over so gloriously I never would have flown with Azul and that really was a laugh.

Having to travel during games you really want to see is an occupational hazard at these things. And there was some excitement among the hacks when word started to spread that one of the airlines had live TV on board. So you watch as you flew.

An English journalist tweeted that during the Brazil v Chile game the pilot on a flight on which he had flown had to address the passengers, asking that people stop physically reacting to incidents in the game as the plane was wobbling.

In my case, Costa Rica against Greece generated slightly less excitement but the whole thing was a hoot with a multinational cast cheering and booing various events in the game according to their preference. Then we landed with extra time just about to end and the whole thing about to go to penalties.

For the first time in my experience of such situations almost no one moved.

Eventually they had to turn the TVs off, a move that sparked much grumbling. A mad dash ensued to get to a terminal bar where we watched the rest of the drama.

God only knows what it was like to fly with them on Tuesday but it certainly must have passed the time.

Brazil is a wonderful country but a month here leaves you with few illusions as to the amount of work it has to do to get to where its people clearly want to be on a number of social and economic fronts.

Indeed, their football team may take some time to recover from the trauma of their semi-final defeat.

Moreover, their politicians still have some explaining to do regarding the funding of this entire shindig. But rest assured, when it comes to mid-tournament, World Cup, in-flight entertainment . . . they leave the rest of the planet standing.

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