Jun 102014

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:



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Jun 032014

After Judd and his wife dropped me at the airport, they were also kind enough to wait while I checked in to made sure there was no drama…which of course there was. A “VIP” decided they wanted my pre-selected seat, so it had been given away. I was having absolutely none of this, and made it known…and did get my seats back. Said our goodbyes, I changed a little bit of leftover security, and headed for the gate area.

I had been warned there was no lounge in the international terminal, so made a point not to arrive too early to the airport. By the time I’d cleared immigration and the painfully slow security checkpoint it was only about 30 minutes until boarding. There was a fairly nice waiting area filled with outlets for charging phones/etc so that was nice. There was also a small, but decent variety of places to eat and shop. Overall not bad for a smaller airport. We boarded about 20 minutes late, and only about 15 minutes before scheduled departure which was worrisome, since I had barely 40 minutes to connect in Panama.

COPA Airlines flight 646 operated by COPA Airlines Colombia aka Aero Republica
Medellin, Colombia (MDE) to Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Depart 13:22, Arrive 14:38, Flight Time 1:16
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration HP-1562CMP, Manufactured 2007, Seat 2A

Even more shocking for a short flight once we were airborn, there was not just a meal on this flight with a flight time of 52 minutes, there was a choice of meals! I went with the chicken.  It was decently tasty.  One thing I remembered on this flight, COPA always makes a point to turn the glasses to face you when they serve, so you can read the writing.  Small touch, but adds a tiny bit of class!



I asked for a second glass of wine after the meal, but it was too close to landing…but that wasn’t a problem.  They just served it United-style!


Landed in Panama right on time, and of course with a short-ish connection the flight was clear across the airport, about a 15 minute walk away.  Wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, except even with the air conditioning it was hot.  And with the humidex it felt downright nasty:


We boarded right at scheduled departure time, so there was really no reason I had to rush. I was only slightly concerned, because in my experience COPA is incredibly punctual, and even though it’s a small airport I figured they would almost certainly be on time.

COPA Airlines flight 159
Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Quito, Ecuador (UIO)
Depart 15:24, Arrive 17:20, Flight Time 1:56
Boeing 737-800, Registration HP-1531CMP, Manufactured 2006, Seat 2B

Boarding took…forever. Business was supposed to be full, but it appeared there were only 4 seats taken in total. How odd. Boarding was delayed because there was a group of 50+ American teenagers and their chaperones going to do some sort of missionary work in Ecuador. Packing away their giant backpacks, guitars, combined with the typical inefficiency of boarding planes for Americans, meant we finally left the gate about 30 minutes late. Would have only been 20, except we waited another 10 for the remaining six business class passengers who were all connecting from the same delayed flight. Turned out I really didn’t need to worry!

First things, up in the air, immigration forms were handed out.  Straightforward, but I wasn’t sure what the “date of bird” was?  Is this like a Chinese Zodiac thing?  😉


Once again, there were two choices. I don’t remember the other one, but it sounded unappetizing, so I went with the generic “salmon” which turned out to be a salmon bagel. It was quite mediocre:


Once again, however, the glasses were turned properly!


Landed in Quito just over 30 minutes late, and had a relatively short walk to immigration.  The line was nearly an hour long, and I ended up chatting up a mid-50s Canadian couple from Regina (who made sure to inform me how to pronounce the city…yes, yes, I’m not an ignorant American) who were on their second trip to Ecuador.  They’d gotten bad altitude sickness the first time, and had to abandon the trip and head home rather than go to the Galapagos.  Up until this point, I hadn’t realized that Quito is still at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level.  Coming from Bolivia it felt absolutely wonderful to be able to breathe easily again!

Rather chatting immigration agent, but soon I was through and in a taxi to the hotel in a torrential downpour….which took nearly two hours since it was rush hour.  Oh well, that’s one way to get a brief preview of the city I suppose!

Mar 052013

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!


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Dec 152011

I chose to spend the night in Panama instead of a 7 hour redeye down to Buenos Aires on a 737 – and it was definitely the right call.  For some reason, my life seems to be revolving around Panamá in late 2011.  Went there in September as part of the giant around the world trip, and was my first visit.  Just over a month later, I went there on a milage run.  Now, I was overnighting there in order to save the company lots of cash.  Funny how these things work out.

Anyways, for the overnight I chose the same hotel I’d stayed at the past two trips, despite the fact it was in excess of our allowed travel budget.  I decided I’d rather pay the difference out of the per diem and stay at a hotel I knew I liked and would be comfortable in rather than risk something new on a short over night.  It was definitely a good call from my perspective.

Le Meridien, Panama City

The last two times here, we discovered the hotel car to the airport was only $3 more than the shady taxis at the airport, so we’d used that.  This time, I decided to call ahead and see if the same rates applied from the airport.  Yes they did, and they’d meet me in baggage claim.  Sweet!  Uneventful drive to the hotel in yet another Panamanian  downpour.  Driver was reasonably good, not reckless, spoke good English, and no complaints at all.  Well worth the extra 10%.

Check-in was quick, and just like the last to trips was upgraded to a “Gold Suite” – actually to the exact same room I’d had the previous trip.  No complaints there.  When checking in, I made a point of asking the hours of the executive lounge, because I planned a couple glasses of wine before dinner.  No problem, she told me the hours, etc.

Headed to the gym for a quick workout, and have to say it was quite disappointing.  Bare minimum hotel gym with 3 or 4 cardio machines and just about as little in the way of weights.  I managed to get in a (barely) adequate workout, but I guess I can’t complain too much.  I just hoped a higher-end hotel like this would have a better gym.  I’ll give it adequate at best.

Showered up, and went to the lounge…which was locked.  Went to the front desk and…surprise…it’s closed today.  Huh?!  On a Monday?  “You can drink at bar.”  Ok…went to bar, had a glass of wine, then decided to make sure at the desk:  “what is included at the bar?”   “You have drink.”  I decided this was getting nowhere, so I switched to my rather poor spanish and didn’t get much farther.  “If you want drinks, you have drinks.”  “Can I have food?”  “Yes you can have food.”   “Do I have to pay for food?”  “Yes, you have to pay for food.”

Ok, this was productive, lol.  Ended up sitting at the bar nearly two hours doing work on my laptop, and had three glasses of wine, and was never presented a bill…so I guess it’s whatever you want to drink?  Never did figure that out, but never did get billed either.  By this point the downpour still had not let up, so I decided it was a room service night.

Ordered a burger and ice cream from room service, which came with the incredibly low tab of around $15 and was tasty…no complaints.  It was quick, good quality, and all-in-all great value for room service.

On the room, it was great with an absolutely huge bathroom.  Based on my last two stays this was why I came back here, and as usual wasn’t disappointed.

The lounge was open again the next morning for a light breakfast, which was just enough to get moving.  Despite being empty, however, like my previous stays service in the lounge was quite slow.  I’m not sure how much is a factor of only one person working, and how much is a factor of them just being casual, but every time I’ve been in this lounge it’s been pretty empty yet service has still been incredibly slow.

Then…the checkout drama.  I feel I need to explain.  The last two stays, a couple days after checkout, my AmEx was hit for a charge of just over $2 for a room service Snickers I’d never touched.  First time, fine, accident.  Second time exact same thing?  I got the feeling they were operating a scam.  Not sure the reason (maybe because of my loud complaints the last two times) but this time…no Snickers charge so far.  Whew.  Overall, this will still be my #1 choice should I end up back in Panamá.

Park Tower, Buenos Aires

I was debating between this hotel and the hotel I’d stayed at my previous trip – the Sheraton Libertador.  Actually the debate was if I should hotel hop every night to get a 500 point SPG platinum bonus.  Then, SPG offered a triple points promo for longer stays, and my decision was made.  Our local office advised against this hotel, saying it was in a boring area, somewhat dangerous, and there were just much nicer choices.  Well, we’d see.  A few thoughts…

The Room

Was informed that for a 10 night stay there were no suites available, but they’d upgraded me to an “executive corner deluxe” which was actually as big as the junior suites on the second to top floor.  I have to say, if this wasn’t a suite, you sure could have fooled me.  It was bigger than many junior suites I’ve seen in other hotels, and the layout was very perfect  I have to give the room (and upgrade) a 9 out of 10 minimum…almost a 10.  The only thing (as you can see below) are the extremely strange paintings in the sitting area!  Lots of Luxury Collection hotels feel too “grandma/old lady” for me, but this one was actually quite a good balance.

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Dec 132011

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
Seat 3E
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
Seat 2E
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!

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