Travel question of the day: Simon Calder on transferring between two Sao Paulo airports en route to the Rio Olympics

Have a travel question that needs answering? Ask our expert Simon Calder

Simon Calder
Monday 25 July 2016 10:34 BST
Certain airlines offer a free shuttle between Sao Paulo’s airports
Certain airlines offer a free shuttle between Sao Paulo’s airports (Shutterstock)

Q I am travelling to Rio for the Olympics on the Brazilian airline, TAM. My flight from London Heathrow arrives at one airport – Sao Paulo GRU – and leaves for Rio from another, Sao Paulo CGH. I’ve checked online and it looks like it’s about 25 miles between the two and would take roughly an hour by road. I imagine a cab or Uber would be expensive. Is there any alternative?

Name withheld

A Sao Paulo is the biggest city in South America, and has several airports. The main one (its Heathrow, if you like) is Guarulhos, while the second-busiest is Congonhas (analogous to Gatwick).

As you say, the TAM flight from London arrives at Guarulhos (GRU). Although there are plenty of onward flights from here to Rio, TAM also has a big domestic operation from Congonhas (CGH).

In my experience when booking connecting flights from the UK to other Brazilian destinations, fares tend to be significantly lower for onward flights from Congonhas.

A parallel would be someone flying in to Heathrow on British Airways and connecting to Amsterdam: if you are prepared to put up with the bus connection around the M25 to Gatwick, you might find you could save £50 or more compared with the fare from Heathrow.

As with Heathrow and Gatwick, there are frequent connecting buses between the two, and connecting TAM passengers qualify for free transfers.

However, it is likely you will need to pick up your bags on arrival at Sao Paulo GRU to clear customs at your first point of entry into Brazil. In that position I would go straight to the TAM transfer desk and ask very nicely if there was any space available on an imminent flight from GRU to Rio. While no doubt your ticket insists no amendments are possible, airport staff have a fair amount of discretion. It may be that a smart airport manager takes the view ahead of the Olympics of "let's just get everyone to Rio, by whatever means, as smoothly as possible”. If a spare seat is available on a connection, you might get lucky.

Rio also has a number of airports: GIG (Galeao), which is the main airport, or even better SDU (Santos Dumont), which is practically in the centre of town. Your ticket almost certainly is for GIG, but if you get really fortunate then you might be put on a flight to SDU. Having said that, I'd estimate a less than 50 per cent chance of success. So enjoy the road journey, which will give you some glimpses of life in 21st-century Brazil beyond the beach.

Every day, our travel correspondent, Simon Calder, tackles a reader’s question. Just email yours to or tweet @simoncalder

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