A slew of international airlines were forced to cancel or severely delay flights to São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport on Monday night after protestors who are angry with Jair Bolsonaro’s election defeat in Brazil’s presidential elections blocked the main highway to the airport.
A United Airlines flight from Chicago to São Paulo was even forced to turn back midair after the aircrew who were expected to work the return flight found themselves trapped in tailbacks and unable to get to the airport.
United made the costly decision to turn back flight UA845 just after it passed Charlotte, North Carolina rather than carry on to São Paulo where the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner could have been stranded, Twitter user @xJonNYC first reported.
The airline also scrapped scheduled departures from Newark and Houston to São Paulo on Monday evening, telling customers there had been “schedule disruptions caused by ongoing protests”.
Videos shared on social media showed angry pro-Bolsonaro supporters blocking the main highway with small fires, waving flags and lighting flares. Some passengers abandoned their cars and attempted to walk the rest of the way to the airport in the hope of catching their flights.
On Sunday, Bolsonaro narrowly lost the Presidential election to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in a remarkable comeback for the left-wing politician who was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges.
Bolsonaro didn’t, however, immediately admit defeat and tensions were already high over fears that the result might be disputed. Ahead of the polls closing, Bolsonaro claimed there were three possible outcomes of the election: he won, he was arrested, or he was killed.
American Airlines has delayed its scheduled departures to São Paulo from Monday night into Tuesday, as have Air Canada, British Airways and TAP Air Portugal.
Lufthansa’s daily service from Frankfurt to São Paulo, however, pressed onwards on Monday night undeterred by the protests. The return flight isn’t expected to depart GRU until Tuesday evening, and by that point, the highway to the airport should hopefully be open.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department hadn’t issued any specific warnings for Brazil following the Presidential elections, but the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office warned that protests “take place regularly and often without warning” and that delays on the main road to GRU are common.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.