Police Respond To Passenger Meltdown After Passport And Covid Test Refused At Check-In

After losing a partnership with LATAM to Delta, which bought a stake in the South American megacarrier in 2019, American Airlines launched a partnership wtih Gol from Brazil – the airline Delta itself used to partner with but severed ties in order to like up with LATAM. It was something out of an episode of Soap.

Now if you want to go beyond American Airlines destinations in Brazil you’ll generally fly to South America on American and connect to your final destination on Gol. One passenger tried to fly Gol to
São Paulo, connecting to American Airlines on an American Airlines ticket, and wound up in a confrontation with police in the middle of Gol’s ticketing office in São Luís.

The passenger shares that they showed up to Marechal Cunha Machado International Airport 90 minutes before their 5:30 p.m. departure. At check-in they had two problems,

  • They had a U.S. passport, but the agent wouldn’t check them in without a green card or other residency document.

  • They wouldn’t accept the passenger’s Covid-19 antigen test taken with 3 days of travel.

The agent does a bunch of typing, makes a phone call and then asks me if I had proof of US residency like a green card. I look at him like …? A US Passport is more than sufficient to enter the US. Even the Brazilian passenger next to me is like…a US Passport holder literally cannot have a green card. He goes off and makes some more phone calls and comes back and doesn’t mention the green card again.

Next he asked me for my COVID test. I give him my antigen test that meets all CDC requirements that was taken three days ago. He goes off and makes some phone calls and comes back telling me I need a PCR test. I pull up the US Embassy, CDC and AA websites to show him that an antigen test is fine.

The passenger relays that the Gol agent insists “test requirements vary by airline” and that a PCR test is an American Airlines requirement. It’s not, and American confirms this.

This check-in ordeal took 90 minutes. The airline agreed the passenger was flight-ready, but the flight had already departed. And they couldn’t do a rebooking of an American Airlines codeshare ticketed by American. So, he says, “[t]he GOL staff try to get me to pay $2800 and they will reimburse me and I’m like ‘do I look that stupid?’

The Gol office is closing and tells him to “please call reservations after noon tomorrow and the will be an interline supervisor who might be able to assist.” That’s when the passenger “caused a scene – [sitting] down right in the middle of their office and refus[ing] to leave until they booked me a flight” back home. Police were called, and ejected him from the ticket office.

This passenger is still in Brazil and even if they can get rebooked they need another Covid-19 test, because the one they have will be too old for travel back to the United States by the tie they fly.

My thoughts here would have been to try to get Gol to check the passenger in only to São Paulo, so the sticking points wouldn’t have been an issue (Brazilian domestic flight, no ‘American Airlines’ or U.S. entry requirements) but apparently he asked for that and they refused.

Airlines, especially in outstations, will make mistakes believing ‘they know the rules’ when they’re simply wrong and unwilling to yield in the face of evidence. But what truly compounds the issue is the inability of Gol to figure out how to reissue the ticket to get the passenger home. They could, of course, do it at their own expense but no one was willing to.

Still, this story is an example of why I never want to fly on a codeshare ticket if I can help it because codeshares needlessly complicate servicing a reservation.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Gol in general is an ok airline, but it’s very un-user-friendly for non-Brazilians on foreign codeshares. Last month I flew on a UA-Gol codeshare EWR-GRU-GIG, but I missed my Gol connection in GRU due to a late UA departure from EWR. United made me a reservation on a later Gol departure, but the process to turn that reservation into a boarding pass was hellishly complicated and required a wait in a long line to see a confused agent as the Gol electronic quiosques or Iphone App couldn’t process my new Boarding Pass or recognize my UA reservation number in any way. If I didn’t speak Portuguese, I think it would have been a real nightmare sorting it out – and this of course is as much (or more) United’s fault as Gol’s. If Gol agents were confused by a codeshare in São Paulo, I can only imagine what this passenger’s experience was at a backwater like São Luís.

  2. They had a U.S. passport, but the agent wouldn’t check them in without a green card or other residency document.

    If that statement is the unvarnished truth, then this guy was dealing with an idiot and should have got out of line, went to the back of the line, and tried again.

  3. “They had a U.S. passport, but the agent wouldn’t check them in without a green card or other residency document.”

    Alternative viewpoint: You have to recognize when you are being solicited for a bribe.

  4. I used to use Delta Skymiles to fly Gol on domestic nonstop Brazil flights and never had an issue. That agent was probably new but who knows. Also, even though this was a domestic flight, that pax should have arrived at the airport earlier than 90 mins before departure to give time to clear possible issues like this.

  5. GOL is a nightmare. I had my first and last experience with them flying DFW-GRU with a connection to Rio in November. My outbound was late on AA, which AA fixed, but GOL created a nightmare that causes me to believe this story is true. I will do all I can to avoid them. By the time it was over for me, I’d landed in Rio 36 hours after my initial departure from DFW, rather than 14 (including the connection), and been taken all over the airport by GOL agents, including to the back offices with supervisors who didn’t seem to even know their own jobs. Thank God this was before the US testing requirement.

    Biden’s mandate will kill most major travel of it last too long because I’d never risk it. But that’s why I did international early. Frankly I think it’s dumb to impose a bunch of restrictions AFTER things get better. It’s a power ploy that hurts people like this passenger.

  6. it does sound like the agent was pretty clearly fishing for a bribe. 90 minutes before departure is optimistic to begin with though, so in that respect you might say the passenger took a risk, but without a doubt there’s something fishy here.

  7. Had a similar problem when LAN was code-share with American on a LAX-LIM-Cuzco. The Lan ticket counter could see the LIM-Cuzco portion but apparently AA failed to release it. Missed my connection and spent 6 hours sorting it out.

  8. It’s an issue at many of the outstations in Brazil. While this was clearly an extreme example, it’s very common that they will also ignore and refuse any of the alliance benefits that they are supposed to provide. Not because they are being difficult, but because they have not been trained properly. Or have been trained in a way that is confusing. The most common being that they refuse to check your bag for free when you are an Emerald card holder (back when LATAM was OneWorld). Once I was even told, “This is LATAM, what is Emerald?”

    Comments like Gus’ do not understand at all the culture of Brazil. The country is mired in bureaucracy far more than most places. And when you have a lack of training it results in these issues. They are not doing this on purpose. They were simply trained with tunnel vision and to have fear for their job.

    Just to assure, you will never rarely have these issues in Rio or S.P. I normally spend many months every year in Brazil, as it’s my second home, and while hardly Swiss efficiency, things are normally just fine.

  9. @Stuart – I have also been to Brazil a lot, and did not mean at all to stereotype or offend! I’ve had very smooth experiences in Sao Paulo and sometimes a bit more trouble in regional airports, but nothing beyond some annoyance (like the agent not knowing how to check my bag through to my final destination). And overall have always had great trips to Brazil.
    I just strain to believe that the situation described in this article could happen purely because of incompetence.

  10. @Billy Bob.

    First, bribery is not a thing in Brazil unless you are a politician or doing large scale deals. So, really, just like anywhere in the world.

    I imagine you as the kind of guy who throws down a “20” at a hotel in Brazil and thinks that is going to get you a suite and a stripper. Maybe that will work where you are from – but most working Brazilians are the most honest and decent people you will ever meet. They just suffer from poor training and a harsh bureaucracy.

    Second, if you actually had ever been to Brazil you would know that the outstation airports are lucky to have two agents, both working right next to each other. Your advice to go back in line is funny. It’s not O’Hare, lol.

  11. @Gus

    I get it, but just stop with the entire “bribery” thing. That’s all. Is Brazil corrupt? Sure. Just like every damn country at higher levels of Government and Business. But let’s not make the actual people who are already victimized from it further victims in thinking it’s a cultural thing and them. This is nothing more than poor training and the usual Brazilian bureaucracy.

  12. Flying from São Luís to São Paulo is approx 4 hours south, then another 11+ hours north again from GRU to MIA or JFK. In itself this shows the sheer stupidity of international air travel from Brazil. Was there no flight or connection via Manaus or Fortaleza? The insinuations of corruption are absurd for anyone that has ever used GOL or TAM to transit through GRU or other airports. Often chaotic with gate changes etc etc. But who wants to spend 8+ hrs just to get back to where you started from so to travel abroad? Would you fly from Dallas to Miami via Montreal?

  13. Gary, Can you find out the end of the story? Is this guy just sitting still outside the terminal or did he find a way home? Can he get any compensation?

  14. @Boston
    I am the OP in that story. I am in a DFW Admirals Club right now but no thanks to GOL. I did talk the GOL Interline supervisor mentioned and he offered me a flight three days later on the 22nd which was not acceptable at all. I called AA’s Sao Paulo office and explained what happened to one of the supervisors there, aided by the excellent notes the AA staff had put in my record when I had them speak to the incompetent GOL staff in SLZ. She waived the fare difference and rebooked me on yesterday’s flight as a customer service gesture and added that this happens 2-3 a week with GOL and they are attempting to address it.

    I do plan on filing a complaint and requesting compensation from GOL for my extra expenses and if I don’t get it I will sue them in Florida small claims court. Extra lodging, food and a new COVID test were not that expensive but it is just the principle that GOL needs to take responsibility for there errors and provide service to their customers.

  15. @M Jones: “Would you fly from Dallas to Miami via Montreal?” Yes, but only if I receive for the inconvenience: valuable bonus frequent flyer miles, seat upgrades, sufficient meal vouchers to purchase smoked meat sandwiches, Fairmount bagels, Orange Julep, and foie gras poutine at the Montréal airport, a lounge pass to the temporarily closed Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and, a complimentary COVID-19 PCR or rapid antigen test so I can reenter the United States.

  16. We just came back from CNF to GRU on Gol and were supposed to connect with American Airlines to fly to Dallas out of São Paulo. We were fortunate enough that the employees in Belo Horizonte were better trained and they told us to check in again on arrival to São Paulo to be able to board the American Airlines international flight to Dallas. It was time consuming and worrying as the flight out of CNF was delayed, but in the end we did make it (barely!).

  17. @Sal Your story perfectly illustrates why IATA are not on the case when it comes to Global Airtravel Covid Document standardisation, information and training. There is a globally accepted WHO Yellow Fever regime which is not that difficult to replicate, especially in Latin America. In terms of your US Passport versus a Green Card proving residence… frankly this is just badly trained Agents and an airline that deludes itself that it is international. I wonder if US CBP publish their rules in Portuguese?

  18. @ M Jones. This is one of the issues with travel from NE Brazil. Yes, there are flights to Miami from Fortaleza and Manaus and other cities. Gol was expanding to Miami and Orlando from some of these locations using the MAX but had to cancel some and alter others to stop in Santo Domingo for refueling. Have not looked to see if they have the MAX back up yet or what the plan is. LATAM has a few flights a week from some of them, like Fortaleza, but it’s hit and miss as to them working for when you need to fly back or work with connections from other smaller markets to them (an example being that the LATAM MIA to FOR will often schedule to arrive at around 1AM). As well, these either can be a good value or crazy expensive depending on the season and are primarily catering to the Brazilian leisure market headed to Florida.

    Bottom line is, most of the time it’s just easier to fly to GRU and connect. Even with the flight routings that are counter intuitive. That should begin to change though in the coming years. Fortaleza especially is positioning to become the main International hub of the NE, has a LOT of flights operating to Europe already, and has a decent and nice new terminal

  19. @Boston – https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/33051055-post11.html

    “After dealing with GOL all morning and getting nowhere, I finally called AA’s Sao Paulo office in a state of panic but the agent that answered the phone and her supervisor were able to get me on a flight tonight.

    Apparently this happens at 2-3 times a week with GOL, so the Brazilian office is very familiar with the issue and is taking steps to address it with GOL before their partnership can expand. GOL Agents do not have access to TIMATIC, when they check in an international passenger they have to call some sort of documentation center that is staffed by a third party to find out what is needed and this center frequently gives bad info.”

  20. @Stuart Seems all flights from FOR/REC/NAT to Europe with KLM/AF/TAP are cancelled. REC stopped AA to MIA a few years back. Even BA stopped direct to GIG. That leaves US Carriers via MIA or JFK from GRU, seems FOR, BSB & MAO all stopped these too. Add to that LATAM in CH11 and GOL unable to make up it’s mind who they are with I think it is wishful thinking for NE Brasil flights to come back for many years. Truth is there is no Premium revenue traffic to anywhere else but GRU and maybe GIG. Unfortunately Brazil is still in a global air traffic backwater with Gate Agents in the Provinces poorly equipped to deal with international destinations. One can fly from LHR to BKK for half the price of Europe to Latin America. Nice revenues if you can get it!

  21. @ M Jones. Again, I have not looked what they are doing now as I have not been to my place in Brazil since last February. All of those cancellations though are Covid related. The European flights to FOR were growing each year and almost always full. The French being a huge market to the NE. The village where I have my place you will hear French spoken more often than Portuguese.

    The Miami flight on LATAM I took often and was always full on a 767. These will return. As will GOL. And I expect Azul is eyeing expansion there to FLL as well. Even Virgin Atlantic had announced an expansion into FOR from Heathrow before Covid. One of the big draws is that it has become the biggest kiteboarding Mecca in the world. Which is why I have a place there. Europeans flock there for thousands of miles of relatively undiscovered villages along the beaches. And at prices that make Thailand look expensive. It will eventually take off for Americans as well now that visa requirements are lifted and when developers realize the insane amount of available areas to build higher end resorts.

    As far as your comparison to flying to BKK….for Americans it is often very cheap to fly to Brazil, including FOR, if you choose your time and period carefully. I often get MIA/FOR R/T on LATAM for around $1800 in Business Class. Gol was showing fares in the MAX before grounding around $600 R/T in economy+ And it’s an easy 6 hour(ish) flight. Feels more like flying to California. The most important factor are the flight times. You don’t lose two days traveling like to Asia and there is no jet lag as to the minimal time difference. For Europeans the flight is also far less than to Asia and with far less time adjustment. Most leave in the morning/afternoon and arrive to FOR in late afternoon and, instead of spending two days jet lagged, they are eating that evening on the beach and feeling good.

    I don’t argue that half the time even before Covid I would go through GRU. It beat waiting for an extra day for a Miami flight or the schedule just worked better, even with the extra flight times. But as the NE continues to grow as a destination this will change. I can see FOR developing into a Miami style gateway to the world. It’s my singular pick as the greatest potential region in the world still left for massive growth in tourism. Thousands of miles of beaches, perfectly positioned for ease to the U.S. and Europe, fantastic weather (even in the heat the winds keep it comfortable…which is why it’s THE kiteboarding Mecca of the world), and plentiful availability to a workforce that is ready to go and friendly.

  22. @Stuart São Miguel do Gostoso me thinks, border RG del Norte or Ceara. People have been talking for years about NE Brazil becoming a Tourist mecca but it never happened. All the Golf Resorts in RG del Norte went bust due to Bureaucracy. Not to mention the roads to the Natal airport that never got finished. We all live in hope that Brasil get’s their act together but frankly, I don’t hold out much hope. I started my journey there in 2007 with promises of the new nirvana. For reasons that are not best explained here, it ain’t going to happen. Regretfully, Brazil is one of the most un-international places I have visited. Simply, there is no desire for them to develop things to move forward and there is little or no international understanding…. that’s why our man got stranded in São Luís because NE Brazil doesn’t get international travellers.

  23. @ M Jones. I do get that. And yes, as I mentioned above in earlier posts the bureaucracy in Brazil can be mind boggling – as I also am subjected to doing business there. But there is far more hope now then perhaps 5-10 years ago. As well, many Europeans are moving there and figuring out ways to get around the layers of difficulties. If you get a chance and haven’t already, please visit the town of Maceio (Fortim) in Caera. It’s where I have my place. A French guy stumbled upon here kiteboarding 20 years ago and has literally transformed the entire village from a sleepy backwater to developing two excellent small hotels, many homes, and apartments. It now also has wonderful little restaurants, bars, etc. Bocce is fast becoming the local game, lol. I can’t imagine that Fasano is not eyeing this area for the future as they are already moving into Trancoso. And they have the connections to build and develop like crazy. As well, with Four Seasons and Rosewood now in Brazil – along with a strong presence by Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Hilton – there has to be push to now move these brands into the NE as well, especially along the coast. Jeri is the other one…that area is also attracting a number of Europeans who are opening up inns and small resorts.

  24. @Stuart I started a similar journey over 10 years ago. The common denominator is Gringo optimism conflicting with local mindsets. Study RG del Norte Golf & Tennis Resorts also instigated by major brands. RG del Norte with it’s wonderful Dunes is what Scotland is to Links Golf, sensational potential. But when these Global Players arrive, local Bureaucracy then kicks in to stifle them with unusual “costs”. I admire your positive thinking but don’t hold your breath. Truth is until NE Airports can properly deal with mass air transit and flexible connections it ‘aint going to happen. Just as GOL couldn’t work out how to check in a US Citizen to Dallas. Nobody is going there soon to experience such hassle, least of all via GRU 8 hours later!

  25. @ M Jones I have yet to get there but have some friends who kiteboard in that area and tell me that it’s incredible. I will have to check it out when I start flying back again. I’m hoping to spend July and August back there after all this time away. I’m missing it so much.

  26. “It’s an issue at many of the outstations in Brazil.”

    And not just in the airports. It’s an issue at mobile-phone offices and all sorts of other places where poorly-trained Brazilians hold jobs for which they are clearly unqualified.

    And the more we travel in remote Asian and African countries the more we realize this is a uniquely Brazilian problem.

  27. To all the guys up here, I’m brazilian and I must agree with all of you.

    First of all I have been working on airline industry since 2018, including the no more Avianca Brasil aka Oceanair.

    GOL have switched back in 2019 to AMADEUS Reservation System, for me the top of the notch GDS system and I loved to use in Avianca and helped a lot of pax with this.

    But they didn’t trained well. On my initial training in Avianca we got like 1 week and half, from 8am to 4pm training, just stopping to get lunch. On GOL they pickup few people from every airport, made a 2 or 3 day training, and the another ones made a Computer Based Training with last around 6 hours.

    So you sum that with the fact that all the airport agents don’t have the supervisor acess (which as an agent at Avianca had, and lot of friends at Lufthansa and Swiss also). So that generate a lot of problems, including bag polices.

    After Avianca went off, I started to work for another airline and one of our flights got delayed, so we transfer people to GOL. I was with a handicap pax, and took her to the GOL check-in like 30 minutes before the check-in closes for her flight. We spent like 20 minutes on the line because the GOL employee had trouble with the new system (which was implemented 3 weeks before).

    So finally they called us up, insert all the data on the Amadeus system, but the handicap pax had 2 bags, and FIM (Flight Interruption Manifest) ticket just hold up for 1 bag. In Avianca and Lufthansa you must add one extra bag and them Waiver. But since they are not with Supervisor acess, they aren’t allowed to do that. I even stand up and tried to make around in the computer, but no luck. So every time this happen, they had to call an supervisor to make the waiver or take another action, and that was ONE supervisor for the entire airport check-in.

    Going fast-forward, they checked the bags 25min prior the flight departure and myself had to rush with the handicap pax to the gate, even if by this time was a GOL pax.

    Conclusion: 99% of the problems related in GOL are due the lack of training and chain of command issues. People do take bribe but not on airports, they even refuse a tip because it’s airline policy to refuse. But Human Resources at GOL are sick, got a friend that had to make a college exam and their supervisor forced him to make 4 extra hours 3 day straight, and when he complained about being late for the college, the supervisor said: “That’s not my problem, you are here to work and not take classes” and took his badge to avoid him to hit Attendance Machine

  28. “And not just in the airports. It’s an issue at mobile-phone offices and all sorts of other places where poorly-trained Brazilians hold jobs for which they are clearly unqualified”
    Perfect! Just see the unqualified and crazy president Bolsonaro…

  29. @Ricardo not so much, the problems That happens way before the actual president. That’s something cultural related to the Brazil and the airline itself. Don’t get political. Brazil is a mess for a very long time, and the point is: will won’t change.

  30. Mike, as a Brazilian, unfortunately I can witness that the things in Brazil always can get worse. And with Bolsonaro we definitely hit a new low.

  31. @Ricardo, também sou brasileiro, we will hit a new low every year, regardless of the clown on the planalto.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *