Quito to Washington DC on COPA and US Airways (via Panama, Cancun, and Philadelphia)
I’d ordered a car from the hotel the night before, and it was maybe $10 more than the going taxi rate if I remember right, but could be charged to the room and would be ready…so was more than worth it. Checkout was nice and easy, and soon we were on the way to the airport. Contrary to the trip to the hotel, the roads were absolutely empty, and my driver decided he was auditioning for a formula one race. Ran one right light and FLASH…he started cursing up a storm. Who knew that Quito had red light cameras?! Did this stop him though…no, about 15 minutes later, he decided to run another red light…and FLASH…another red light camera ticket. Some people just don’t learn their lesson.
Got to the airport in plenty of time, but unfortunately the agent was only able to print out my boarding passes as far as Cancun. Since US Airways had left Star Alliance, they said they were unable to check me in for their flights, and with only 1:42 to connect, change terminals, clear immigration and security, and check-in in Cancun, I knew my chances weren’t very good of making the connection.
Immigration and security in Quito were a breeze, and I had about 30 minutes to kill in the business lounge. Nothing special, but had a decent coffee machine and lots of bottled beverages as well as adequate outlets, so it more than met my needs. Soon, it was time to head to the gate to board.
This is where I saw my very first…what I can only assume was local, complete with headdress and military surplus jacket complaining about his seat assignment. Note in the background of the (sorry blurry) pic a few African guys also waiting for the flight. They were from DR Congo, didn’t speak a word of Spanish or English, and were a group of 9 who were “in Ecuador looking for houses to buy” based on the translation I tried to help the gate agent with. She was holding their passports as well so I’m not sure of the full story, but by the looks of them when they boarded they’d never been on a plane before. They couldn’t understand, for example, that 22F meant 22 rows back…no matter how many times it was explained to them. The concept of numbered places was completely foreign. How they got to Ecuador in the first place was beyond me….
Boarding was pretty quick, and we pulled back from the gate right on time.
COPA Airlines flight 210
Quito, Ecuador (UIO) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 6:08, Arrive 8:04, Flight Time 1:56
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1539CMP, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2B
Although the flight was only booked to 8 of 16 in business class when I checked in, we ended up leaving completely full. The breakfast choices were “eggs” or french toast, so decided to go with the eggs, which came scrambled in some sort of a pastry shell that was completely unnecessary. Definitely one of the less amusing and tasty meals I’d had on COPA.
Not too much else to say about this short flight, as I slept most of the rest of it. We arrived in Panama right on time, and I had a little time to spend in the absolutely packed COPA club. I tried again to check in for my US Airways flights here, but there was once again nothing the agent could do. I also Skyped US Airways Chairmans Preferred line, but try as they might, the best they could do was note my record that I was on a tight connection. Something to do with the COPA flight not leaving yet was preventing them from checking me in either. I would just be trying my luck once I got to Cancun.
The lounge was packed, so I used the rest of my short connection to walk around the airport a bit and just people watch, until it was time to board. At least we boarded on time, and pushed back from the gate 10 minutes early.
COPA Airlines flight 324
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Cancun, Mexico (CUN)
Depart 9:45, Arrive 12:28, Flight Time 2:43
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1536CMP, Manufactured 2009, Seat 4A
Luckily, there were only 8 of 16 seats taken on this flight, so I was able to move back to row 4 and have the entire row to myself. Made for a nice, quiet flight up to Cancun. So, why Cancun, Panama, etc? When I booked with miles, this was the only routing available. After booking it, I actually sort of was amused at the strange, but not all-that-out-of-the-way routing that would take me back. Then, US Airways upgraded Cancun-Philly to an A330 and I was actually excited for it. That is, until I saw that changing planes in Cancun is not straightforward. Oh well, at least it would be an adventure.
View on takeoff from Panama:
In an unusual mood for me, I wanted a mimosa. However, this was a concept my flight attendant was unfamiliar with. She was also quite uncomfortable with English, so I attempted to explain it to her in my not-so-great Chipotle-grade Spanish. Claro…es sumo de naranja y champagne! Ahhhh, that made it easy. She clearly knew what the drink was, but had just never heard it called a mimosa. Is there another spanish name for it? I’m pretty sure she’ll remember going forward since I might have consumed a few of them…
Once again, it arrived with the label on the glass facing me.
Lunch was “beef” or “fish” so I went with the beef. It was pretty close to shoe leather, but I was pretty hungry after the eggs failure earlier so I ate all of it…plus, after a couple mimosas almost anything tastes good.
After a few episodes of House of Cards, we were approaching Cancun:
Unfortunately, we were almost 30 minutes late, cutting my connection to barely an hour:
See, normally an hour would be fine. In Panama it would be fine. However, in Cancun, it’s definitely not fine. This is because it would involve:
1) Long walk to immigration
2) Waiting for immigration
4) Finding the shuttle to the other terminal
5) Checking in at least one hour prior to flight (I had 18 minutes to get to this step from landing)
6) Clearing security
Piece of cake, right?
Well, parts 1 and 2 went quite smoothly, and there was no queue for immigration…but I got the chatty cathy officer who wanted to know why I was coming to Cancun. When I told him (again, my horrid spanish) that I had a connection…oh and can you tell me how to get to terminal 3? he wanted my life history and why in the world I would connect in Cancun. I got a little short with him at this point, and told him I have less than 10 minutes, and can we please just hurry. He complied, gave me my stamp, and I ran to customs….ut oh…this is one of those “press the button, and if you get the red light we’re going to search your bags” places. Please green, please green….GREEN!
Ran to the shuttle bus stop and….it was 10 minutes until the bus, meaning I would have exactly 10 minutes to make the check-in deadline. Not good. But, the bus was there….the driver was a very nice lady, and I asked her if there was any possibility we might leave NOW because me and my friend were going to miss our connection. She was persuaded to leave early, and off we went!
Got to check-in with 5 minutes to spare, and the very nice US Airways agents couldn’t understand why I was so rushed. Clearly they don’t take the 1 hour checkin deadline very seriously here. Got my boarding passes, and life was good!
Long line at security, and no AC, so it was a hot and humid mess, especially after running for the bus, running through the airport, etc, but I’d made it…and right next to my gate was a Starbucks. Things were looking up, even if I was a hot sweaty mess by this point!
Boarded right on time, and was never happier to be in an air conditioned plane!
US Airways flight 805
Cancun, Mexico (CUN) to Philadelphia, PA (PHL)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 18:39, Flight Time 3:29
Airbus A330-200, Registration N281AY, Manufactured 2009, Seat 3H
Ended up switching from my pre-assigned 2H to 3H so a honeymooning couple could sit across from each other, and I was rewarded with a flight attendant who decided I was the nicest person ever and made a point not to let my wine get empty for the entire flight…danger danger!
…I became even the nicer guy when I said I didn’t really care about the entree, just give me whatever is left after everyone else has their choice. She couldn’t believe she was hearing this…and honestly by this point in the trip I was so over airline food that it seemed like the right thing to do. The pasta was actually quite tasty, and the meal was of an impressive quality for such a short flight. Certainly better than anything United could ever dream up on a regional flight!
…plus, dessert was AMAZING!
Arrival in Philly was right on time, and immigration had no line at all. The big disappointment was that TSA Pre-Check was closed. “We don’t have much demand for it on Sunday evenings.” Seriously?! Isn’t that one of the businest travel days of the week? There was no point in arguing, and hardly any line for regular security anyways, I was just not in the mood still being all hot and sweaty to have to take my shoes off, etc. Oh well!
Got to the US Airways Club, and this is where it got fun. I was met with a lounge dragon, who was perhaps the most unpleasant airline employee I’ve ever come across. I told him “I just arrived on an international flight, am a Chairmans Preferred / OneWorld Emerald, and have the American Citibank Card with Lounge Access. Which one of these would get me upgraded drinks with lounge access.” He got really nasty and went off on “I haven’t even decided if I’m going to let you INTO the lounge yet, don’t assume you have ANY right to be here. Mexico ain’t international.” on and on….so finally, I just gave him my mastercard, and asked to please use that for access. He finally grunted, gave in, wrote the number down (seriously? you can’t scan it? I’m not thrilled with you writing down my credit card information) and let me in. Ugh, unpleasant.
The lounge itself was fine for an hour, but with a long connection I was over it. I ended up walking the airport for over an hour, checking out the other terminals, and just trying to figure out the layout of the place. I’ve connected in Philadelphia a handful of times, but usually it was just run from gate to gate, so I never really got a sense of how the place was laid out…which it turns out the answer is: poorly. Hah!
Got to the gate for my flight to DC, and they announced it was overbooked. They were offering a $200 voucher to go the next morning, and weren’t getting any takers. They announced they would not be increasing it, and would be involuntarily offloading people next…but I boarded and didn’t wait around to see how it played out.
US Airways flight 3305 (Operated by Republic Airlines)
Philadelphia, PA (PHL) to Washington, DC National (DCA)
Depart 21:15, Arrive 22:19, Flight Time 1:04
Embraer ERJ-175, Registration N107HQ, Manufactured 2007, Seat 3A
What’s there to say about a 35 minute flight? We did get a pre-departure beverage of choice:
…along with one refill and about 10 minutes of WiFi once in the air. Can’t ask for too much more on such a short flight! Arrived nearly 20 minutes ahead of schedule, and was very glad to be home after what was an incredibly long day!