Last week, Panama’s Copa Airlines touched down in San Francisco, the carrier’s 12th U.S. destination.
TravelSkills was at the airport to welcome the airline to town, and grabbed a quick interview with Fernando Fondevila Leyton, Copa’s commercial regional manager for North America who was as eager to answer our questions as we were to ask them.
Here are some interesting points we picked up in that conversation.
First a little history. Does that livery look familiar? It’s because at one time, Continental owned 49% of Copa Airlines, and at that time the carrier adopted Continental’s look and its OnePass program as its own. Continental eventually divested itself of its interest in Copa, but the carrier kept the look (which now looks almost like United) and has no plans to change it.
Until earlier this year, Copa used United’s MileagePlus program as its own, but launched its own program, ConnectMiles last summer. The big deal here is that ConnectMiles will match the your elite status with other airlines– all you have to do is join ConnectMiles and then send them a screenshot of your current elite statement and a copy of your card, and you are in.
And get this, once you get your status matched, Fondevila explained that it’s good all the way through February, 2017. What’s best for members of United’s MileagePlus program is that gold status on a foreign Star Alliance partner carrier means you get access to United Clubs when flying domestically– something you don’t get as a U.S. member.
To get the status match, you must first join Connect Miles, then email the screenshots of your other-airline elite card or statement to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t get an answer, call them at 1-844-287-0304 to inquire about your status.
Now, let’s talk about Copa’s planes. The first thing you need to know is that Copa does not offer lie flat business class seats on its flights. Instead, you get big roomy recliners with leg rests. That’s fine for the relatively short duration of most flights from the US to Central America. But it’s tougher on the 6-7 hour overnight flights from SFO or LAX to Panama City (PTY). The same goes for connecting flights deep into South America to cities such as Buenos Aires, Montevideo or Rio de Janeiro, many of which are overnight flights where competitors like United, American, Delta and LAN offer lie flat seats.
Plus, there is no premium economy class product and seat pitch is the standard 31 inches. However, there’s some good news for those flying in economy class– Copa does not charge economy class passenger for the first two checked bags. It also offers complimentary hot meals, full bar and individual in-seat in-flight entertainment on all flights. Here’s what SeatGuru says about Copa’s 737-800.
Copa has one Latin America’s youngest fleets– most of its 737-800s are less than four years old and have the popular “Sky” interiors with oversized luggage bins and mood lighting. There are 16 business class seats and 138 economy seats on each plane.
Fondevila says that Copa has one of the best on-time performance records in the industry, most recently at about 91% ontime.
Some other tidbits about Copa that we picked up in our chat with Fondevila:
>Copa is short for Compania Panamena de Aviacion.
>Copa is a Star Alliance partner, but it does not yet have a code share agreement with United on the SFO-Panama City (PTY) route. Fondevila said that they two airlines are working on that, though.
>Copa flies to 55 cities in Latin America, including eight in Brazil and nine in Colombia using Boeing 737 and Embraer 190 aircraft.
>Why fly to Panama City on business? Well, for one thing, the expansion of the Panama Canal is due to open in spring 2016. Also Panama City is home to the largest container port in Latin America, so shipping is big business
>Copa’s Panama City hub at Tocumen International Airport, which it calls the “Hub of the Americas,” is a key connection point– Fondevila said that 60%-70% of its traffic is connecting, and only 30%-40% is local traffic. Transit passengers do not pass through immigration and customs at PTY, which makes connecting at the small airport fast and easy.
>PTY has a new airport terminal under construction which should open in 2018.
>The 10,000 square foot Copa Club at PTY (and elsewhere in the region) is open to United Club members as well as nonmembers with Premier Gold status.
>Copa’s San Francisco-Panama City flight is a red-eye, departing SFO at 11:19 pm and arriving in Panama City (PTY) the next day at 8:32 am- good timing for business trips. The early arrival also connects to a big bank of Copa flights headed elsewhere in the region. Returning from Panama City the flight departs in the morning at 9:41 am arriving SFO at 2:54 pm.
>Right now, fares are great, considering the distance of this flight. You can fly round trip SFO-PTY for as low as $400 in economy class or about $1,200 in business class, depending on the season.
>Copa has been flying LAX-PTY since 2000 and now offers 3-4 daily roundtrips.
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: SFO could get world’s longest flight + PreCheck: Fewer free rides + Plight of the tall traveler + Photos: New United first class seat + 6 secrets for snagging low fares