The Americas in their entirety and in whichever demographic one decides to divide them are a huge place, the Western hemisphere is populated by a giant landmass that virtually stretches from pole to pole and getting around can be quite a distance from major cities. Often the bigger and more dynamic airlines are those that establish major hubs. While one traveling from the United States to parts of Latin America might be looking at U.S. carriers which often have good routes I would still like to propose for consideration a carrier based out of Panama which is one of the most centrally located and highly connected options around, I’m referring to Copa Airlines. I had the opportunity to fly this airline recently and it really impressed me, it has all the reliability of a major world airline with stunning in flight service, ease of access and virtually limitless possibilities to connect all over North, Central and South America.
Copa was founded as a national airline of Panama in the late 1940’s and began to expand to major cities in Central America over the next few decades and into Colombia as well. By the 1980’s it served some of the bigger Caribbean islands and made its way to Miami as well. By 1992 Copa established for themselves what would arguably become the deciding factor for the airlines massive success, Tocumen International airport was established as a major hub for connections all over the Americas and the official Hub of the Americas was born. Throughout the 1990’s more and more destinations were added and an alliance was formed with Continental Airlines by the end of the decade. This was a beneficial mutual relationship as the mileage program was shared and travelers from Latin America and the U.S.A. could benefit now going both ways. Other benefits such as a fleet upgrade and shared standards of service launched Copa to new heights. Throughout the 2000’s the airline began adding almost an exhaustive list of Caribbean islands to its destination list and having reached almost every capital city in the Americas began to add other major cities in many of the countries it serves. Today the airline has 74 aircraft, has 144 daily departures, employs almost 7,000 people and carries 6.2 million passengers a year for a total sales revenue of 1.3 billion a year. This achieved success was most recently awarded and upheld in June of 2012 when Copa Airlines was added to the Star Alliance network, an elite partnership of airlines with many benefits both for the company itself and its customers.
My experience with Copa began from a flight leaving New York. First off I was traveling with a friend and we were of course bound for the hub of the Americas, Panama. As my friend has a high status in Star Alliance and with United he was able to book most of his journey on points and points that went much farther than they would go on other airlines, this is a good tip to remember if you have mileage plus points to use and are looking to fly a Copa route. I was also upgraded to business or clase ejecutiva as Copa names it, so I knew that no matter what this was going to be a fun experience. The airplane boarded on time and set to the skies with no problems or delays. From the moment we sat down our very personalized cabin crew took snack and drink orders and orders for the main meal. They were so efficient that we were able to have some water and juice even before takeoff and this was of course only in business class. I do have to interject here that I also flew Copa in regular economy class on a few other legs of the trip and I have to say that the meal and snacks were of superior quality and the staff got them out very quickly as they often need to with some connections only being an hour or so from Panama. Back to this journey however, the in-flight meal was a three-course affair with a nice selection of main dishes and desserts and an exhaustive wine and drink menu. Food was gourmet and cooked to order, it has been the best airline dining experience I’ve had so far, having flown to over 60 countries and counting.
The Central American region and especially the Caribbean can be a difficult place to fly on summer afternoons because of the evaporation that leads to small and intense storms that crop up. My flight was relatively calm but what turbulence we felt was well avoided by the captain and during the flight we were constantly forewarned about any possible bumps and given helpful updates about where we were and how long time remained to our destination. For one who travels regularly it is often quite disappointing to switch from Asian and European carriers where the standard for the most part is still founded on that old school method of customer service, passenger amenities and an overall pleasant flight experience to the often stressful and dull routine of airlines in the Americas. I can say without a doubt that I am thoroughly impressed by Copa, it does not fit that utilitarian model which has infected so many other carriers in the Americas. My experience with Copa both on long haul flights and on short puddle jumps was one of high quality and industry leading standards, both in executive and in economy class as well. The most impressive part for me was the Hub of the Americas. It was so amazing to experience such an efficient transfer terminal with flights going everywhere many times a day and expanding all the time.