Flying to Costa Rica with a Large Dog

We had done our research. We had put boots on the ground by traveling to Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Riviera Maya. I’d already spent 5 months in Belize then moved to the Southern Zone of Costa Rica for 5 months. Now I had finally convinced Kristie that this was the place and this was the time. The final steps were in place, we had done our research and had everything lain out.
We are both in our 40’s, with degrees in Science, had analyzed everything and made lists to cover all aspects of the move; renters in place, stuff sold or stored, financial affairs settled, etc. I have 5 grown children that are independent and capable of taking care of their selves. Kristie has two kids that would be going with us on the move, however they are of the four legged variety. And that is what presented itself to be our final, toughest and most stressful hurdle.
I know you are thinking “Why? People fly dogs everyday”. Well, Dexter is a 3 year old 27 pound Puggle mix, and he was not the problem. But Salomon is a 120lb Great Pyrenees, and he is 11 years old. His breed’s life expectancy is 8 but he is still an active and lively senior citizen. And these are Kristie’s children. There was no chance of leaving him behind. The only other option in her head was to wait longer until the big boy passed over Rainbow Bridge. Salomon shows no signs of slowing and I had been away for almost a year already. Let’s get the boys on to Costa Rica.
But this is the problem, large breed dogs and airline restrictions. We had started the research while I was in Belize. First of all we “knew” he couldn’t fly up front with us. Secondly, we lived in Michigan so that restricted the airlines we could use and made it so we had a connection. But you can’t fly a dog in the “baggage” hold during the summer and have a connection in a warm weather city. Yep, you guessed it, our connection options are Atlanta, Texas and Florida. So now we are limited to “when” we can fly. Got it.
There are different rules for dogs as big as Salomon. He is almost considered livestock. In order to fly dogs in cargo holds in a kennel, the kennel has to meet certain size restrictions to allow the dog to stand up and turn around. The size kennel required for Big Boy will not fit on Boeing 737s or MD-80 series that are flown into almost ALL Central American countries. Only random flights during the high travel and holidays use larger aircraft. So now we are restricted even more. Oh, wait, during high travel they won’t ship large cargo items. Sigh.
This continues on with phone calls to each and every possible airline. Maybe we can just drive directly to one of the cities. Maybe we can fly him as cargo. Can we drive all the way from Michigan to southern Costa Rica? Can we put him on a cruise ship with us and just get off in Costa Rica? Can we charter a plane? Who do we know that has a plane? A boat? How hard can this really be? Every corner turns up a “NO” because of the size restriction and the dates.
There is only one option to do it the “right way”. We can fly Salomon via Delta Air Cargo directly out of Atlanta. Using this route we are NOT on the plane, he has to be received as cargo, go through customs and immigration with a broker instead of us AND it will cost $1400. Holy cow!
Now it’s time to get serious. Two very close friends are flight attendants. They can’t help. Two other friends are airline pilots. No help. This is where we become desperate and move past the grey area into the dark side. We are law abiding, rule following types. I am an Army Officer and Kristie is an Air Force brat. We are down to two options at this point. One is to follow the rules and put this old man through a day of living hell while paying through the nose… the other is to tell a big fat lie.
Social media, blogs and the internet are powerful information highways as we know. You can find out ways to buck the system. We found ours. We don’t encourage this. We don’t advise this. This is NOT a primer on how to do it. I am just relaying our experience in moving to our new life in Costa Rica. So, yes, we told a lie.
Service dogs fly for free in the cabin. Sorry. We are not bad people, rather good people forced into a bad situation.
All it takes is a note from your doctor saying the passenger requires assistance, a paper downloaded from the internet showing your dog is a service dog and a vest with service dog patches you can also buy online. The airlines cannot question you because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Of course you need all the required vaccinations and health records as well but that is easy and normal.
This is where we feel bad. Flight crews hate people like us. It is a well-documented situation that many people are taking advantage of lately. At least we have very well-mannered pooches and this was not to just take our dogs with us on vacation. This was a permanent move.
You should have seen the look in the eyes of our fellow passengers when Salomon walked on to the plane with us. He sat quiet and mostly content at our feet throughout the flight. Dexter sat on Kristie’s or my lap. We had a flight delay right off the bat and barely made our connection so the boys didn’t even have time between flights for a potty break. We got to Costa Rica and breezed through immigration then got to Customs. What would they say? Did we have all the right paperwork? The manager had to come over to inspect our paperwork. He looked at it and only asked one question. “When are they going back, or are they staying here?”
“They are staying here.”
“Gracias.” Stamp and papers handed back.
Welcome to your new home boys. They love taking walks to the beach by the way with all the new and strange smells.


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