Bringing a Dog to Costa Rica – Part One – Airlines

rindoThis weekend we will journey down to Costa Rica again as a family. By this time we’ve got traveling to and from Costa Rica down to a science. Instead of making this 5th trip down the easiest one yet, we’ve decided to make it the most complicated one by adding our new dog to the mix.

Rindo (short for Tamarindo) will be flying down with us for her inaugural visit to Costa Rica.

It has been quite the adventure to figure out getting Rindo down there, so I thought I’d tell a little story today.

This is the story of a little black dog named Rindo.

Last spring when we were living in Tamarindo, we promised the kids that we would get a dog when we got back to the States. They’ve been begging for a dog for a few years, but with all of our traveling it just didn’t make sense. Despite any future travel, Erin and I decided together that it was time to get a dog. We thought long and hard about it and decided that we’d get a Mini Golden Doodle. They’re a great size, big enough to look like a regular dog, yet small enough to travel with us. And, I’m allergic to dogs, so a mostly hypo allergenic dog (which Mini Golden Doodles are) was a must.

So, we found a breeder, got on a list and right after Thanksgiving, Rindo came into our family.

As December progressed, it got darker, colder and snowier. (As a side note, Potty Training was a BLAST this time of year..) By the time the holidays were over, we were starting to feel the itch to get back to Costa Rica. The previous two years we had left in December and January and our brains had quickly trained themselves to crave that plan.

This year was going to be different though. We had decided to spend the winter in Colorado this year and skip the annual trip to Tamarindo. We wanted to get some skiing in after missing two entire ski seasons!

Tamarindo was calling us though, so Erin and I started to debate going back to Tamarindo for April and May. Ski season would be over at that point and we could put the kids back in school at the TIDE Academy with ease. It seemed like a no brainer. But there was one more major factor to figure in… the dog. Rindo would only be 6 months old in April so we wouldn’t want to leave her with anyone while we were gone, so we decided that IF we were going, she would be coming with us.

So I started doing research. Lots of research. I quickly discovered that it was absolutely possible to bring her down with us, but that there were a lot of variables at play and it would be complicated to say the least.  Erin and I finally decided that it would be worth it to get the family down to Tamarindo for a few months and to figure out how to get the dog down with us.

There were two main factors that I had to research and figure out.

1) The Flights
2) Clearing Customs (both directions)

Flying with a Dog to Costa Rica (or anywhere)

If you have a super tiny dog that can fit in a carrier under a seat (just like other carry on luggage), you’re in luck, flying with a dog is pretty simple on most airlines. Rindo is not super tiny..

Rindo will be flying with the luggage down to Costa Rica. And each airline has different rules and regulations for animals as cargo.

Frontier is our favorite airline to fly to Costa Rica because they offer non-stop flights from Denver and they are usually cheaper than anyone else. Unfortunately, Frontier does not take animals as cargo at all. If they don’t fit under the seat in front of you, they don’t get to fly Frontier.

My next call was to United. United accepts larger animals, but they charge a LOT of money to fly them and they will only allow an animal into cargo if the plane is less than 75% booked. I can’t remember the last time I was on a plane with empty seats. Additionally, they won’t tell you whether they have space for your dog to fly with them until 3 days before the flight. And you guessed it, if a human has a ticket and the dog doesn’t get to go, no refund for the human. That’s too big a gamble in my opinion, so United was out as well.

Next call – American. My rising anxiety started to calm when I spoke with the nice woman from American Airlines. They do accept animals and their pricing was about half that of United. And you can book a space for your dog as soon as you have a confirmation number for your own flight. Perfect. I’m in.

The agent on the phone explained to me all of the rules and regulations for animals on the flight. Kennel sizing and requirements, food and water information, timing, temperature guidelines and more. It was a lot to take in and while helpful, still vague in exact details.

After confirming that American was the airline we’d need to use, I started looking for tickets. Another painful hurdle popped up.. American’s tickets to Liberia were almost twice as much as the tickets I’d found on Frontier. We were in a conundrum. Erin and I discussed it for quite a while and ended up settling with a mixed flight solution. I would be using American miles to fly to Liberia and Erin and the kids would fly down on Frontier to get the better fare.

The only tricky part with our plan (other than not getting to fly together of course!) is that in order to redeem my miles for a flight, I had to go a day earlier than Erin and the kids. That’s added a whole other element worthy of writing about in a separate article.

So I booked my ticket and called the reservations folks back again to make Rindo’s official reservation. It was simple, almost too simple… the woman on the other end said that she’d added a dog to my reservation and that I should be at the airport 3 hours ahead of time (yikes!) to drop off Rindo, etc. She told me the kennel regulations again, explained that the temperature had to be between 30 degrees and 85 degrees for Rindo to be allowed to fly, explained the vet documents that I’d need and also told me I’d need “some import form that needs to be signed before you go”. She tried to get more information for me, but I was left simply knowing that there was “some form” I needed to fill out. Ok, I guess we’re all set on the airline side of things…

I don’t have a “ticket” for her or a locator number.. I sure hope they’ll be ready for her when we arrive at 4 am tomorrow…


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