Cancellations, Delays Bedevil South American Travel

The recent deadly crash of a commercial airliner in Sao Paulo sent the already reeling Brazilian airline industry deeper into crisis. On Saturday, it received a further scare when a radar failure in the Amazon region caused some 20 international flights to be diverted back to the U.S. and elsewhere, stranding and delaying thousands.

Tuesday's TAM Airlines crash killed more than 190 people -- the deadliest in Brazil's history -- and came less than a year after 154 people died when a Gol Airlines flight collided mid-air with an executive jet and went down in the Amazon.

TAM and Gol control the vast majority of the domestic air travel market in Brazil, and these accidents have put further stress on their fleets, which suffer from chronic delays, cancellations and work stoppages.

The same is the case in neighboring Argentina, where a series of walk outs from employees of the country's largest air carriers, Aerolineas Argentinas and LAN Argentina, and technical problems at its airports have often made traveling to, from, and within Argentina a headache.

Concerns about safety, poor working conditions, and lack of investment in crucial infrastructure -- like up-to-date radar systems -- have nagged authorities in South America's two largest nations for years, but even more so recently, as booming economies and bargain travel rates have caused a surge in air traffic.

Be a flexible traveler

If you are planning to visit Brazil and Argentina soon, be prepared for the possibility of delayed or cancelled domestic flights. Therefore, take some measures before you fly, so that if you find yourself at the whim of these unpredictable airlines, your trip won't be thrown into disarray.

Make your travel itinerary as flexible as possible. Leave a day on the front and back end of your trip, so if your flight from, say, Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls is cancelled, you can fly the next day, soak in the sights and be home as scheduled.

Check your hotel's cancellation or delay policy, as well as that of any tour group you may have booked an excursion with. The same goes if you are flying one airline, like American Airlines, but using a local air carrier, like Gol, to travel within the country.

Most of all, remember that air travel in South America often does not meet the same levels of customer-service satisfaction found in other parts of the world. It's best to have an easy going and flexible attitude before you travel.

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