Copa Panama

Flying on Copa Airlines feels suspiciously the same as flying on Continental Airlines. The interior looks the same, the seat pitch is the same (cramped 32-inch pitch in coach, decent with leather seats in business class), and the logos are similar. None of this is coincidental: Continental had a 51% stake in the airline at one point. They sold off shares a bit at a time until May of this year, when they sold the remainder for a tidy profit. Copa Air passengers still earn United OnePass miles on all flights, with the same (recently hacked down) bonus levels for elite members.

There’s a big difference in one key area though: service. The gate agents are noticeably less harried, the flight attendants are more pleasant, and you don’t have to pay for a cocktail or glass of wine in coach.

Here’s what happened to me though on my last trip to Panama though that really showed me what a great airline this is. Through my own fault, I had said “go ahead” to an agent who sent me an itinerary, not noticing that my flight back was returning to Miami, not my connecting airport of Orlando. A well-tipped concierge at the Bristol Hotel worked it all out for me with Copa on the phone so I could switch the flight with no charge.

At the gate, however, the system wasn’t letting the switch happen without a fee, despite gate agent Cecilia’s attempts to make it right. She spent ten minutes trying to work it out, another ten with her supervisor, then headed to a back room. Another ten minutes went by, but she returned with a smile, handing me my boarding pass, and said, “Please enjoy your flight.” All set, and upgraded to business class on my Y-up fare.

That Cecilia was dedicated! Somehow I can’t imagine any U.S. carrier’s gate agent working that hard to help a customer avoid an extra fee. Even more rare, there were plenty of agents on hand, so there weren’t people behind me in line ready to throw their suitcase at my head.

Don’t expect to get blown away by lie-flat beds, seatback entertainment consoles, or amazing cuisine, but considering that Copa’s fares usually deliver better service at a lower price than others competing on the same route, check them out when comparing options. Business fares and Y class fares are a downright bargain sometimes. Copa flies from five U.S. airports to destinations in Panama (their hub), as well as Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

Copa has been named Best Airline in Central America and the Caribbean for the five consecutive years by the aviation-industry research company Skytrax.

Oddly, this is one of the few airlines that hasn’t released its data to, so you’ll have to rely on the sites own seating chart when booking online.

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