For the first time since mid-March, a plane full of tourists has arrived in Costa Rica.
Juan Santamaría International Airport welcomed Iberia 6317 from Madrid, Spain in style on Monday night, celebrating the return of commercial flights with a water-cannon salute and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The 210 passengers — who received welcome gifts after deplaning — represent the first tourists to enter Costa Rica since the country established border restrictions on March 18.
“We’re in a mode of celebration,” said Gustavo Segura, Costa Rica’s Tourism Minister. “This marks the beginning of a gradual process for the recovery of the Costa Rican tourism industry, which has a great ability to multiply its economic effects throughout all corners of the country.”
Arriving tourists had to comply with a series of requirements, including purchasing qualifying travel insurance, completing an epidemiological questionnaire and showing proof of a negative PCR-RT coronavirus test.
In an “exceptional measure” for the first flight, the Costa Rican Chamber of Health donated 13 tests to tourists who were unable to obtain them in Spain. Those travelers were swabbed at Juan Santamaría International Airport and must isolate until they receive the results.
“All of these initial flights put us to the test,” Segura said. “They put to the test all the protocols, and we’re observing all the details to find opportunities to do better.”
Despite the tedious — and potentially expensive — requirements for entering Costa Rica as a tourist, Monday’s flight flew at nearly three-quarters capacity.
“We are delighted to be the first European airline to resume flights to Costa Rica,” said Vladimir Salgado, a regional sales manager for Iberia.
Watch the plane’s arrival in the video below:
“This is the first step in a long journey,” said Rafael Mencia, CEO of Aeris, which operates Juan Santamaría International Airport. “We hope that when we reach the high season, starting in November, we’ll have the airport back to normal with a lot of flights, and that all those things dynamize the economy.”
“The flight was very smooth,” said Pablo Garcia, who was part of Iberia’s flight crew. “It would be worth saying, for people to be motivated to fly and feel comfortable, that the cabin air is sufficiently purified for there not to be pathogenic elements during the flight.”
(The CDC says “most viruses and germs do not spread easily on flights” due to the cabin air filtration systems, though “social distancing is difficult on crowded flights” and presents a risk for exposure.)
Costa Rica now allows commercial flights from select countries — including the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada — though that currently translates to fewer than five flights per week.