For my flights from Belem to Manaus I decided to fly through Sao Paulo with GOL. Why? I hadn’t tried GOL before and it was $300 cheaper than the direct flights.
Belem airport isn’t as nice as Recife (I flew with Azul) or Fortaleza with TAM. It’s a pretty chaotic affair and my check-in was super chaotic with people pushing right and left while I was talking to the agent. The agents spoke Portuguese only. I gave her my Alitalia number (it is a GOL partner) and she seemed to be perplexed by this request. The flights should earn miles as far as I could research. I also requested a window seat which she did not understand. I pulled out Google Translate but it was just too chaotic. Additionally all bags over 13 pounds have to be checked (at least one piece is free, likely two). I asked it to be sent all the way to Manaus but that can’t be done – no transfer luggage with GOL!
Eventually we got help from a supervisor and she explained all this to me. The agent seemed utterly confused not just because of our language miscommunications but also her computer skills.
Belem airport is bare bones – there are no lounges and just a few soda machines past security. I eventually found a seat and saw the crowds building waiting for boarding. Boarding was supposed to be by groups but the gate agent gave up quickly with the crowds storming the gate. I sat down in my window seat and expected a full flight. And indeed it was pretty much full – just nobody else in my row! OMG! Thsi wouldn’t change until boarding closed and I was able to lie down the whole 4 hour red-eye to Sao Paulo. Wow. I still wonder if that was the work of the gate agent acknowledging my Alitalia Elite status or just a streak of luck?
The GOL 737 was old – no leather seats, no seatback entertainment. It wasn;t falling apart like United planes just a few years ago but it wasn’t a great experience either. I can’t say much of any service – all I remember was sleeping until we were 5 minutes outside of Sao Paulo.
My bag came out quickly and thanks to my Alitalia status I was able to use the Priority Lines at the check-in. The Economy Class check-in had a huge line and Brazilians somehow all travel with two heavy suitcases per person which does not help the check-in process.
I was asking about lounge access (since GOL operates lounges at Sau Paulo GRU airport) – no such luck – only for international itineraries can you access the lounge (it’s also in another terminal). So after the lazy ass security I sat down at ‘Casa do Pão de Queijo’ and had a surprisingly good coffee and pastries at Sao Paulo airport. Even more surprising the WiFi would accept Boingo as roaming partner and came in with almost 4 Mbit. While it was loud form all the gate announcements the noise cancellation headphones kept those away.
When the time came for boarding to Manaus we would be sent to a bus gate and far away plane and unbelievably this full flight had the two seats next time empty again! I could not believe my luck and fell asleep right after take off until landing in Manaus. The equipment was exactly the same as in my earlier flight – a rather dirty (gross bathrooms) and rather old 737.
In conclusion GOL is the most uncomfortable airline out of the Brazil Three. Gol has an awesome loyalty program but flying is more fun with Azul and TAM. Gol is also the most chaotic airline with a random boarding process and staff that seems to have given up long ago.