Another casualty of Brazil's rise: cheap airfare

The founder of Gol, a Brazilian airline that once set out to topple high-cost air travel, is now facing questions on his company's exorbitantly high prices.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP/File
Chief executive of the Brazilian airline Gol, Constantino Oliveira Jr., is shown at the company's headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in this 2005 file photo.

• A version of this post ran on regular contributor Andrew Downie's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

When I interviewed the head of Gol Airlines for the Monitor in 2005, I was hugely impressed by his ethos of wanting to create a low cost, low fare airline for Brazil and take on the legacy carriers whose model he so disliked.

Constantino de Oliveira Jr. did exactly what he set out to do and his cut-price but high quality service – combined with an economic boom that brought millions of consumers into the Brazilian market – helped Gol bankrupt Varig, the country’s flagship carrier. Today, Gol vies with Tam for the position as Brazil’s No.1 airline.

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The problem is that somewhere along the line de Oliveira Jr. dumped all that progressive talk of creating an alternative airline for the discerning and less well-off traveler and turned Gol into the kind of airline he was so keen to replace.

Gol now charges prices that are ridiculously high even for Brazil, a country that is now among the most expensive in the world.

The cheapest flight found yesterday for a flight today between Rio and Sao Paulo, the country’s two main cities, on Gol’s website was $832. In comparison, flights between New York and Washington DC on Delta start at $319. A trip between London and Edinburgh on British Airways comes in at a minimum 210 pounds (around $332).

In the best example of how Gol comprehensively betrayed its starting ethos, it is charging three times what Webjet is charging for the same route, according to Wednesday’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

The curious detail here is that Gol bought Webjet last year, which was a low cost, low fare airline that set out to provide an alternative to the exorbitant prices charged by Gol and Tam. (The report is in Portuguese and available to subscribers only but says Gol sold tickets that cost three times those advertised on the Webjet site, even though it owns both companies and operated the same flight).

Gol told Folha it wasn’t breaking any laws, and Gol surely isn’t alone in taking the mickey. Everything in Brazil is expensive. But the abusive fares are particularly egregious given Gol's initial, laudable, and sadly abandoned, goal.

RELATED: Think you know Latin America? Take our geography quiz.

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