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Confusion Reigns at United Airlines over Costa Rica Entry Requirements

United Airlines is refusing permission to board for passengers to Costa Rica over its misinterpretation of the COVID-19 test result turnaround rules. Have the rules surreptitiously changed or is United incompetent and confused?

The past couple of days have seen social media reports coming in of passengers trying to fly to Costa Rica on United Airlines and being refused permission to board over their COVID tests.

Apparently, United are confusing the online health pass visitors need to fill in within 48 hours of arrival with the COVID-19 test, which should be performed within 72 hours of arrival.

Passengers are checking into the flights with their COVID test results and being told they’re not valid because they’re not within 48 hours.

On Sunday evening, Yan Lacayo tried to travel from Newark to San Jose. 

He posted the following on the Gringo Expats in Costa Rica Facebook group:

“If you are traveling to Costa Rica via United Airlines please be advised they just unilaterally changed the requirement of getting the Covid-19 test within 72 hours to 48 hours although the Costa Rican government has not.

“Today on flight UA1442 from EWR, several passengers were not allowed to board the flight, despite having the health pass at hand and a neg COVID test within 72 hours plus the travel insurance. Very unfortunate situation generated by the misinterpretation of the country requirements by united airlines international operations office.

“Even diplomatic passengers (who are not required to have a COVID test) and non-residents with family links with all their documents in order, were not allowed to board the flight. Beware if you are traveling from NYC or NJ, if you can DO NOT TRAVEL VIA United Airlines and if you need to, beware you need to get a neg COVID test within 48 hours until they rectify their mistake.”

At the time, this seemed like a one-off situation with an over-zealous United employee misinterpreting the rules.

And then today, we saw similar situation in Houston.

John Mills, a 30-year veteran in the aviation industry himself, posted the following on the Costa Rica for Expats Facebook group:

“I am traveling DEN IAH SJO this morning. BIG problems in Houston. Several are being denied boarding. United says the following:

The CR Migración updates were sent to United yesterday at 3pm stating that:

  1. ALL travelers including RESIDENTS MUST have a COVID PCR test.
  2. The PCR test is within 48 hours NOT 72.

“The lead supervisor who works this flight daily showed me United’s boarding instructions. CR Citizens can enter without PCR test. I am happy I got the test yesterday as a resident. I only did this to avoid the quarantine. Otherwise I would not be seeing my family this afternoon. I hope we can all get an update for future travelers.”

According to a United directive, “All customers traveling to Costa Rica will be required to receive an electronic health pass with a PCR COVID-19 test showing a negative result no more than 48-hours before arrival.”

This WAS true from August 1 when Costa Rica first reopened to tourists. Back then, they required a 48-hour COVID test result. Then on August 27, they relaxed that to a 72-hour test result.

The reason they relaxed it was because a 48-hour turnaround was (is) nigh-on impossible to obtain.

Why on earth is United saying the rules have changed from 72-hours back to 48-hours? Is there some confusion in the wording of their directives? Or are they as confused as everyone else? For example, they seem to be saying that residents of Costa Rica also need the test. Say what now?

Let’s be very clear here. This a direct result of Costa Rica’s ultra confusing and everchanging entry requirements during this pandemic. We wrote an editorial weeks ago asking Costa Rica to simplify all this.

At the time we were talking about the whole insurance debacle and the cherry-picking of US states to enter. But it seems to be one debacle after another, so confusion over the COVID-19 test is no real surprise.

It’s not surprising United is confused and doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing.

I’m not taking any blame away from United here – there’s clearly incompetence at play.

But if Costa Rica made their entry rules as straightforward as every other country in Central America is doing, this would not be an issue.

In the meantime, just as Costa Rica is trying to breath life back into its flatlining tourism industry – its most important industry – confusion like this will only serve to create a bad impression and keep people away.

Again, Costa Rica, please simplify your entry guidelines during this pandemic. That would put a halt to this type of confusion and incompetence we’re seeing from United Airlines. Every other country in Central America can do this. Why can’t you?

And United? Get your act together.

James Dyde is the editor of He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.

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