The Party Starts at Costa Rica’s New Airport, but It’s Not Yet Open for Business

by  James Sturz | Nov 21, 2011
Costa Rican jungle
Costa Rican jungle / Kevin Wells/iStock

On November 17, JetBlue threw two parties. The first was at JFK’s Terminal 5, just before 9am, with cupcakes, coffee, smoothies, and a three-man steel band. The second was six hours later in Liberia, Costa Rica, marking the airline’s inaugural flight to the capital of the Guanacaste province, JetBlue’s second Costa Rican destination and 68th overall. That party was co-hosted by the Costa Rican minister of tourism, and started with water cannons over the A320’s fuselage, followed by three men on a marimba, a woman feistily playing a donkey jaw, and six youthful dancers in national dress, featuring lots of flouncy skirts and sashes. To promote the new four-times-weekly flight, the only non-stop to Costa Rica from JFK, one-way fares through February 15 are $119 for tickets bought by November 30, and surfboard surcharges are waived through December 17. (Catching wind of JetBlue’s plans, Continental launched its own daily directs from Newark one week before, but without the donkey-jaw, dancing, or promotions.)

As the gateway to Costa Rica’s northwest, the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia is the second-largest in the country, after San José – and a launching pad for visits to the country’s famously active volcano, Arenal, or to the Pacific coast. What’s more, the province is home to 75 percent of the country’s biodiversity, which in turn includes five percent of the entire planet’s, on just an iota-sized 0.03 percent of the Earth’s surface area. Or put another way: Yes, you’ll see monkeys and coatis when you visit, plus audacious rampages of birds.

What you’ll also see soon is Liberia’s new $41-million passenger terminal, a 250,000-square-foot, modern air-conditioned bi-level affair, which will replace the abysmally sultry current one, jerrybuilt from an old airport hangar, now appreciated solely for its mammoth branded ceiling “Big Ass Fans.” (Not to worry, the new terminal has modern Big Ass Fans too, to keep everything, including passengers, moving.) There will also be a lounge, retail shops, a Players Café hosted by a woman in an also-flouncy micro skirt, granite floors instead of poured cement, and 28 international ticket counters.

There’s no official word yet when the debutante terminal will open. A US-Canadian-Costa Rican consortium broke ground 11 months ago, before launching into construction at breakneck speed, but has been paying the government a $3,333 daily fine since late May for not moving quite fast enough. Although the airport now does look nearly ready (the gift shops are mostly fully stocked with coffee, t-shirts, and hats), security and signage problems are among those keeping its doors bolted. In the meantime, JetBlue is landing in Liberia, along with Continental, American, Delta, US Airways, and Air Canada. New carriers will soon include Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Sun Country, Panama’s Copa, and Airberlin (nonetheless flying from Düsseldorf), marking an 11 percent increase in available airline seats. No doubt Costa Rica will throw another party when its new terminal opens its doors, perhaps with the donkey jaw player, too.

For general trip-planning information, see our Costa Rica Travel Guide.

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