Juan Santamaría International Airport Costa Rica (SJO) Live Flight Updates
Check the status of your flight. All times are local (Central American Standard Time). Most airlines require you to be at the airport at least three hours prior to your scheduled departure time and Costa Rican law requires you to pay your departure tax and complete the check-in process at least one hour in advance.
Sometimes you have wiggle room on statements like “at least one hour in advance” but NOT in this case. The airlines are actually required by law to shut you out at the check-in window if your flight departs in less than an hour. This is because that hour is used to check up on your immigration status, cross check your passport with the Interpol wanted list and make sure there are no outstanding traffic tickets on your rental car.
Currently Scheduled SJO DEPARTURES (below) & ARRIVALS (click here)
The most frequent cause of flight delays at Costa Rican airports is, like most everywhere, weather.
“Sorry about that folks, but we seem to be having a bit of difficulty finding the ground here at SJO” is not what you want to hear from the pilot after a second aborted landing attempt. We’d circled for an hour in a tropical rainstorm with a cloud ceiling at about 15 feet before slamming hard into the runway but too close to the end so the engines roared and we shot skyward plastered into our seats. The second attempt we missed so badly that we never touched down before powering off.
“This is your pilot again and the good news is we have clear skies for a landing. The bad news is that it’s at LIR airport and we’re just stopping for gas because the gauge is on ‘E’,” Despite some tears and near panic no one was allowed to deplane at LIR because there were no customs or immigration officials working. We landed, filled up and returned to San José to circle for another 30 minutes before finally landing about five hours late.
Work on extending the runway at SJO completed in 2019 is designed to give more space to maneuver.
To be fair though, while the scariest weather delays we’ve ever had were in Costa Rica the majority are actually due to weather elsewhere. If we’re stuck in Costa Rica it’s usually because of a snowstorm in Denver, hurricane in Houston, or melting runways in Las Vegas (really).
Increases in tourism and expanded flights from the U.S. and Europe have far outstripped airport capacities stretching both beyond their limits.
Both airports are perpetually under construction and valiantly but futilely attempting to keep up with demand.
The recently completed addition of two gates at LIR is a 25% expansion but visitors have increased by 100% during construction. In fact the new gates don’t even represent new capacity. They’re just putting a roof over the heads of the people that were previously walking across the tarmac to board in a corner over by the parking lot.
Two new airports have been in the planning stages for decades but are unlikely to be completed before 2050 so for now try to travel mid-week (smaller crowds) and don’t make rigid plans for your arrival or return days so you can adjust to delays.
Weather and crowding delays are common all over the world but Costa Rica joins the small minority of countries that experience volcano closures (see details).
Since 2015 San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport has closed about a dozen times due to volcanic ash eruptions of Turrialba volcano 50 km (30 miles) to the east. Prevailing winds often push the volcanic emissions towards the capital and airport and flights are suspended due to potential damage to jet engines.
Liberia airport is too far from Turrialba to be threatened but another much closer volcano has been increasing in activity. Rincón de la Vieja has had significant eruptions as recently as mid January 2019. Fortunately the Papagayo winds typical that time of the year quickly pushed the ash cloud away from the airport and there was no closure.