SOCCER-U.S. fans at 2014 World Cup to see a lot of Brazil - from the air


By Brad Haynes

SAO PAULO, Dec 6 (Reuters) - The World Cup finals in Brazil

next year may be as trying for United States soccer fans as it

is for their team.

U.S. players learned on Friday they will face elite

opponents Germany, Ghana and Portugal at the start of the

tournament. The other bad news for fans? The venues hosting

these matches mean long, expensive flights through some of the

vast country's most overcrowded airports.

Far-flung games from the northeastern coast to the Amazon

rainforest may force the U.S. team to fly about 9,000 miles

(14,500 kilometers) in three round-trip flights between the

matches and their training facility in Sao Paulo.

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said the itinerary they are

stuck with is "the worst of the worst."

Fans will also book some serious mileage if they want to

catch the team's first three games. American demand for early

ticket sales was the highest of any country outside Brazil,

according to FIFA.

Brazil's outdated airports and restrictions on foreign

airlines will only magnify the cost and inconvenience of air

travel - the only reasonable option given the distances and the

dilapidated roads available.

Two domestic flights between the first three U.S. matches

could alone cost $1,000 or more, if travelers snap up the deals

that websites offered on Friday.

But prices are already climbing.

Between Friday morning and afternoon, when it was revealed

that highly ranked Germany would play back-to-back in Fortaleza

and Recife, the cost of flying between those matches shot

upward. Airlines raised prices as much as 30 percent for the

cheapest tickets and over 50 percent for the most popular flight


Fans face the choice of pouncing on rising ticket prices now

or waiting and hoping that airlines will add more routes by Dec.

20 - the deadline for them to submit their World Cup flight

plans. Airlines have said repeatedly that they want to optimize

their stretched networks for the tournament.


The scarcity of affordable flights is a legacy of Brazil's

barriers to foreign airlines. Of more than 100 countries that

have signed an open skies agreement with the United States,

Brazil is one of only a handful that have not yet put it into


Brazil's aviation minister has also ruled out letting

foreign airlines operate domestic flights during the tournament.

The possibility was floated by the country's top tourism

official as a way to relieve the pressure of an estimated

600,000 foreign visitors and three million local fans at the

World Cup.

To make matters worse, there are no direct flights from the

United States to the Americans' first group match against Ghana,

scheduled for June 16 in Natal. The city sits on the far eastern

tip of Brazil - closer to Africa than North America - and travel

from New York through Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro will take 15

hours or more.

From there to the faceoff with Portugal, in the Amazonian

capital of Manaus, there is only one direct, eight-hour flight

per day, run by Gol Linhas Aereas. Rivals' flights

take over 10 hours with at least one layover.

The airports in Natal and Manaus - cities with populations

of about 1 million and 1.8 million, respectively - are both

running beyond their capacity, according to official data.

The United States' third group match is a showdown with

Germany, about eight hours back to the east, in the beachfront

city of Recife on June 26, the last day of the group phase.

The players will decide if that is the end of the road for

travel-weary U.S. fans.

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