As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to split this trip report up in a more thematic fashion instead of doing it chronologically. It was a long trip, so I suspect the day by day could put some people to sleep of boredom! Right, on to the flights!
I’d initially booked United non-stop in both directions to Buenos Aires, but when the travel folks came up with an option that was 1/3 the fare on COPA…I couldn’t say no out of corporate responsibility. Plus, it still earned miles/EQM with United Continental so I couldn’t really complain. Best part of all, but splitting things wisely I could completely avoid redeyes which I attempt to avoid whenever possible. I sleep well on planes…but why should you if you don’t have to!
Once I agreed to the COPA fare, travel attempted to wisely book me with a 10-11 hour layover on the outbound in Panama and a 737 redeye to Buenos Aires. Oh H-to-the-E-L-L no! If I’m taking the low-cost option to save money, I’m going to at least overnight in Panama and take two back-to-back daytime flights that I can work on and be well-rested when I arrive. The approving authorities on-board, it was booked, and off we go.
Arrived at Dulles, and this is where mild trouble began. Checked in and checked bags no worries, and then asked which lounge they used since they’re in the A/B terminal where United/Continental isn’t. “um, the only lounge is United in the other terminal – you can’t have everything when you get a free upgrade!” Excuse me, this is a paid business fare…”Oh, well, you can go to the other terminal if you want a lounge. I’m sure United will let you in.” Major customer service fail, but felt like the United I know. Assume all your passengers are upgraders so you don’t have to provide much service. Bummer. I killed time at my second home (aka Starbucks) instead, and boarded more or less on time.
COPA Airlines flight 357
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 9:32, Arrive 14:22, Flight Time 4:50
Registration HP-1713CMP, Manufactured 2010
This was a completely full flight, and boarding was completely surprisingly quickly. My expectations were low (remember, low cost option involving 6,000 miles one-way on 737s) and thus I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t really remember much of the lunch on this flight – which is to say it was neither good nor bad. Entertained myself by doing prep work on the laptop, and everything was pretty solid if unremarkable. Sometimes, that’s the best kind of flight….until you get to baggage claim and only one of your two bags arrives. Of course, the other one shows that it arrived…but no sign of it. Someone else likely walked off with it. Grrrrrrreat!
COPA Airlines flight 279
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE)
Depart 11:06, Arrive 20:16, Flight Time 7:10
Registration HP-1713CMP, Manufactured 2010
After a good lay-in it was time to head back to PTY for the onward flight to Argentina. Check-in was pretty swift, bags re-checked, and PTY security was quick as usual. Only note – they don’t permit scissors with small blades like the TSA does. Just an FYI… we boarded the flight…and then waited. Seemed the volcano in Chile was acting up, and since this flight was at the very very edge of the 737 range they opted to wait to ensure we wouldn’t divert somewhere embarrassing. Then, they took 6 folks off for weight limitations. Then another 12. Then another 14….then 22. All in all, they removed nearly 50 passengers (and most luggage) from the flight and we eventually left two hours late. Not the best start to this trip!
So, let’s eat! Having not yet been spoilt by Argentine beef I decided to go with the beef option which was decent if unremarkable. Actually, like the previous flight, that pretty much describes the whole meal. Solid, filling, but nothing I’d write home about. So, I’m going to leave it at that. Crew was good, food was good, seat was good for a 737, and really – nothing to mention. I guess all things considered the outbound trip exactly met my expectations given the fare that was 1/3 United’s…and I arrived well-rested with absolutely no jet leg and got lots of work done on the flights. All in all, I’d recommend this unless you have an unlimited budget.
So, the return. Check in was rather slow with four folks queued in front of me. Also, the COPA agents insisted on zip-tying all bags shut, and then wrapping them in giant plastic bags before checking them for business class. I’m guessing either Buenos Aires has a major theft problem, or there are customs issues, but either way that slowed things significantly. Was given a pass to some lounge called Club Americas VIP or such, but it didn’t sound promising, so I did my usually wandering around the terminal plane and people spotting.
Then…I spotted an American Express Lounge. Hmmm, let’s check it out. Walked in, presented my card, and asked if it would grant access. Oh, si, of course! Some clicking on the keyboard, and the agent hopped up to escort me into…not the lounge. Seems for my card there was a special room off to the side that had table service. Very nice…and I was the only one in that room. Semi-awkward, but the peace and quiet was very much appreciated!
Soon it was time to board the flight up to Panama. Seatmaps looked pretty empty, so I was hoping there just might be an empty seat next to me. But, since they offered complimentary upgrades to all OnePass elite members – silvers included – I had little hope. That said, we were booked to 7 of 16 and after I moved seats it was a success! Hooray!
COPA Airlines flight 278
Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 11:11, Arrive 16:36, Flight Time 7:25
Registration HP-1721CMP, Manufactured 2011
So with the empty seat, this was bound to be a comfortable flight – even if it did mean 7 hours on a 737! This was the new interior configured 737, and was actually quite nice. Great air vents and nice mood lighting – can’t complain too much at all! Meal service began pretty promptly with cocktails and nuts. I finally got to see where the COPA nuts come from – a giant Costco-sized multi pound bag that they empty into the individual ramekins without heating. Oh well, was still tasty!
Next up, the starter. Some strange marinated peppers and mozzarella with artichoke hearts. Rather un-awe-inspiring, but edible at least. The salad, however, was quite a disaster with a tasteless italian dressing and some rather sad romaine.
The main was what passed for chicken. With cinnamon-infused rice. Yes, it tasted as strange as it sounds, and the chicken was as odd as it looks. Again, however, it was protein and edible so I went with the chicken and passed on the rest of the rice.
Ice cream – yes, the highlight of the meal. My limited Spanish couldn’t explain that the Baileys should go ON the ice cream, so the result was having to do a bit of work, which honestly wasn’t such a big deal. Desired effect achieved, and it was good!
Landed about 10 minutes early, and spent time in the COPA Club recharging electronic devices since the COPA planes don’t have power ports to enable you to work. Clearly, this is not a business travel airline if you have things to get done. However, again, it passed for the fare level. On the way to the next flight, there were dancers in front of the Duty Free store. Quite what their objective was I’m not certain, but I didn’t go in…
COPA Airlines flight 278
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Washington Dulles (IAD)
Depart 18:42, Arrive 23:32, Flight Time 4:50
Registration HP-1719CMP, Manufactured 2011
Honestly, the less I say about this flight the better. 13 of 16 seats in first/business were occupied by a family/friends group from El Salvador headed to DC for a wedding of someone or another. Shoes off, bare feet on the bulkhead, yelling from rows 1 to 4, three carry-ons each – acting like they owned the plane. Fortunately after takeoff they quieted down to the point they could be ignored with noise-canceling headphones, but honestly it felt like a circus. By far the most disappointing flight of the four, but can’t really blame COPA for this.
What I can blame them for, however, is getting to row three and announcing no more pollo – it’s gone. You have beef! Status and fare be damned, it’s first come first-served on COPA, so if you want your meal choice you best sit in the first two rows. I decided not to eat in the end…until my seat mate changed her mind when her friends in row 1 and 2 loudly started complaining about their chicken and she demanded to change. Kudos to the crew that they were nice enough to do the swap for me, and actually the chicken wasn’t awful. Again, tolerable.
Overall thoughts on COPA Business: for the price, it’s a solid product and with reasonable expectations it’s well worth the price. You can avoid redeyes, be relatively comfortable, and with a decent laptop battery and layover actually be semi-productive.