Last fall when I was working in Senegal there were posts on Flyertalk about a great fare on COPA in Business Class from JFK to Lima, Peru for around $800. I mentioned it to a few friends, not really expecting anyone to bite, and I was prepared to book and do the trip alone when a friend of mine got really excited about joining me. We booked, and soon added a US Airways Shuttle ticket to New York, and we were all set!
The plan was to spend a few days each in Lima, Cuzco, and finally Machu Picchu before heading home. Time flew by, and soon it was time to leave. The trip started in DC from the airport I still refuse to call Ronald Reagan National Airport – it shall always be just National Airport to me. US Airways was asking well over $300 for these flights when we booked, but the same flights purchased at united.com were under $150. The only complication was that because we had the United codeshare flight numbers US Airways wouldn’t offer complimentary upgrades with my platinum status. However, at 24 hours before the flight when we checked in, it let me choose seats in first. Who knows if this is supposed to be how it works, but it did….
Check-in was simple with maybe a five minute wait, we dropped of a couple bags with the TSA, and headed to the US Airways Club to get some water before boarding. It was pretty empty mid-morning, and soon it was time to board.
US Airways Shuttle flight 2164
Washington DC, National (DCA) to New York, Laguardia (LGA)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 10:17, Flight Time 1:17
Airbus A319, Registration N732US, Manufactured 2000, Seats 2D and 2F
The flight was pretty uneventful. Economy looked to be about 75% full, and every seat in first was taken. Pre-departure drinks were offered, and in-flight there was one round of drinks along with the typical US Airways snack basket full of munchies. Nothing special, but completely solid for a 45 minute flight. Of course, there was time for a morning wake-up…after all, this was the start of a big adventure!
Landing at LaGuardia was a few minutes early, and after less than 15 minutes our bags were delivered and we were off in a taxi to JFK. For reference, with tip the trip from LaGuardia to JFK was approximately $40…and for those of us not used to it why can’t all taxis be as easy to use as New York cabs with their credit card swipe machines in the back seat!
The taxi dropped us at JFK Terminal 4, also known as the international terminal, where COPA flies from. There was a rather long line for economy check-in, but nobody waiting for business. When we checked bags the agent also offered us zip-ties to lock the zippers on our bags closed…I guess to protect them from luggage theft. Is this normally a big concern at JFK or Panama City?
COPA uses the common-use “Oasis Lounge” in Terminal 4, which had plenty of seating, great views of planes, and quite a well stocked food and beverage area. The WiFi was pretty fast, and I was able to get a good deal of work done while having some munchies and a couple of Red Strips while waiting. Boarding was listed as starting a full hour before the flight, but when we got there 45 minutes before departure they were nowhere near ready to board yet. Boarding finally started about 30 minutes in advance, and the door closed on time.
COPA flight 831
New York, JFK (JFK) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 14:05, Arrive 19:38, Flight Time 5:33
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1538-CMP, Manufactured 2009, Seats 2A and 2B
As most people know, COPA flies a fleet made up entirely of 737s (700 and 800 series) with a few Embraers thrown into the mix. It’s certainly not a cutting-edge business class product, but it’s solid and compares well to domestic airlines in the US in first class. I’d first flown COPA last year from Washington to Buenos Aires via Panama, and while a 737 was very awkward for a 7+ hour flight, it was perfectly acceptable.
A couple of overall comments on the COPA crews. They spoke “enough” English to get most things done with non-Spanish speaking passengers, but just barely and occasionally some mildly complicated requests would get missed. I would consider my Spanish very basic, but crews were still much more comfortable speaking Spanish slowly with me than working in English. Not a negative, just something to consider if you fly COPA.
Seats were the same you would get (more or less) on most domestic North American Airlines. Leather seats, some legroom but not much more than 37 to 38 inches of pitch, and no private tvs or power ports. Decent enough, but that was about it. COPA does a slightly unusual thing with meal services, taking your entire order on the ground. Cocktail to start, do you want the appetizer, cocktail with main meal, and which main would you like. I didn’t check if you could change your mind later, but that’s what it was. Speaking of cocktails, they came with a small bowl of snack mix:
This was followed about 15 minutes later by the appetizer service, which was a small salad and a seared tuna appetizer:
As soon as that was finished, it was time for the main course. There were three choices (one of which was a vegetarian pasta). I went with the steak which was decent and spinach, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Then came the best part…the best thing COPA learnt from the former Continental…the ice cream trolley! There were three choices of toppings, and there was also another small cake desert if you didn’t want ice cream. Perfectly acceptable, if not something to actually look forward to! I went with a bit of caramel topping, and it was the perfect end to the meal.
…and that was pretty much the last we saw of the flight crew for the entire flight. They’d come if you rang the flight attendant call button, but otherwise they were more or less completely missing in action for the last four hours. They were polite, and the job got done, but they were definitely not proactive on service. I spent most of the flight watching tv on my iPad, and soon we were landing in Panama City right on time.
There’s no need to clear security or passport control in Panama when in transit (unless you’re headed to the US), and even though our layover was barely 90 minutes we had enough time to enjoy the “COPA Club.” WiFi was pretty good, however, there was hardly anywhere to sit, and we had to search really hard to find an open seat near a power outlet, and even then could only find one. Supposedly they’re working on expanding this club, and it’s very much needed! We passed the time in the lounge checking email and enjoying a couple local Balboa beers before heading to our next flight:
COPA flight 337
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Lima, Peru (LIM)
Depart 21:04, Arrive 00:39, Flight Time 3:35
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1717-CMP, Manufactured 2011, Seats 2A and 2B
The most unusual part of the next flight is that there were actually 5 empty seats in business class! There were several bratty children in business class as part of a family of 6, and they spent most of the flight screaming, throwing toys and food, etc. Not the best behaved children, but not much that could be done about it. This was my second time on COPA business class that I saw a large family traveling together, something I’m not used to seeing in North America…and both times they were rather poorly behaved.
Food service was similar to our previous flight, with nuts and drink followed by appetizer, main, and desert. For some reason, there was an ad in the menu for sparkling wine, which was only unusual because they didn’t actually offer it on any of the flights we were on:
The appetizer this flight was a black bean soup along with a small salad:
Again there were three choices of main course. I chose some sort of chili chicken course, that was one of the most anemic and sad business class entrees I’ve ever seen. It was decent tasting, but just a few small pieces of chicken and the presentation was terrible. It left the impression that the crew had messed up part of the meal and just served what was left.
Dinner was followed by the ice cream cart again, and we spent the rest of the flight watching more movies on the iPad before landing in Lima about 20 minutes early. The line at immigration was rather long, and we waited well over 30 minutes to clear. Even with that, our bags took another 30 minutes to come off the belt, so it was over an hour from the time we landed until we got in a taxi to the hotel.