Note: Updated May 1, 2018 – Nature Air has been grounded since a fatal crash on December 31, 2017. General Directorate of Civil Aviation (DGAC) reinstated their permission to operate in February of 2018 but the airline did not resume operations. As of May 1, 2018 the DGAC has suspended Nature Air’s operating permit indefinitely due to “abandonment of assigned routes.”
There have been rumors of repossession of airplanes due to non-payment of loans, accounting irregularities and preferential government treatment of the national airline (SANSA) over the foreign owned Nature Air but whatever the reason it looks unlikely that Nature Air will ever fly again.
Domestic Flights on SANSA & Nature Air
The biggest difference between the two airlines is the equipment they use. NatureAir uses Twin Otter DHC6 300 Vistaliners and other twin engine aircraft while SANSA has a number of single engine planes in service. The advantage of having a second engine available becomes quite distinct if mechanical difficulties develop.
NatureAir puts much more emphasis on serving tourists which makes it more likely that you’ll find someone there who speaks (or e-mails) English.
SANSA is consistently a couple dollars cheaper, but probably not enough to influence a choice between the two. Generally flights range from $40-$160 each way (there may be additional fees).
If you’re planning to fly everywhere NatureAir might be the better choice because they have better connections between outlying destinations with shorter stopovers in San José.
SANSA has lockers in their terminal at Juan Santamaría airport, something the main international terminal at SJO doesn’t provide.
Both airlines also offer charter services to all of the airports they normally serve plus others lacking scheduled flights.
Both airlines serve essentially the same outlying destinations. While nearly all flights still begin or end at San José NatureAir started adding a few flights from Quepos and Tamarindo directly to other popular destinations and rearranged their schedule to make one stop flights from Arenal more convenient (see schedules and rates NatureAir)
There are Two San José Airports
Depending on which airline your domestic flight is on it will depart from one of San José’s two airports.
NatureAir used to fly exclusively out of Tobias Bolaños airport north of Pavas. In 2014 they got rights at SJO and began shifting some flights there. In 2017 most flights are from SJO.
While this is convenient if you’re connecting with a international carrier there were some aspects of Tobias Bolaños that were really nice. It’s tiny. Just one room and you breeze through ticketing, check in and security.
Last time we landed at SJO on a Nature Air flight from Panama the 10 passengers from our flight were stuck in immigration for a couple of hours since jumbo jets carrying 250 passengers each from Miami, Houston, L.A. and New York had arrived a few minutes earlier.
Check your NatureAir airports carefully. It takes time to transfer between airports!
SANSA operates out of Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) south of Alajuela. SJO is Costa Rica’s main international airport where the major international carriers like Continental, United, American, and TACA land and the rental car companies maintain their offices and fleets.
A taxi ride between the two airports costs around $25 and takes less than 30 minutes (plus up to an hour or more for traffic delays at peak times).