Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Trip Report: Copa Airlines, Orlando to Panama (January 2015)

A Trip Report: Copa Airlines (January 2015)
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I have flown Copa Airlines twice – once in 2010 and again more recently in December 2014.  In between there have been some differences between the flights but the basic concept remains: Copa charges a lot less than its competitors so for a lower price you get a lower quality product. The question is – is the lower quality product worth it, especially on long-haul vs short-haul?  Hopefully my review will help you with that.

The two times I booked my flights it was never through the Copa website; it was always through a third-party website (orbitz or expedia).  That is because either their website never worked all the time, sometimes I would get ‘system down’ messages, while other times the airline did not match with their alliance partners on their website.  After I had booked my travel on another site, I always went to Copa to ensure my information was correct and there I could change my seats and add my FF#’s but again sometimes the site worked and sometimes it did not.

The first time I flew Copa was in December 2010 from Washington, D.C. to Buenos Aires via Panama City and all segments were flown by Copa.  The first segment, from IAD to PTY, was a 5-hour flight on an older Boeing 737 (looked like a Continental Airlines hand-me-down).  A meal was served but there was no in-flight entertainment so while it was a not a great flight, it was decent for a short-haul.  The second flight was a much longer 8-hour flight from PTY to EZE flown again on an older plane that did not have a lot of leg room, a meal served, and no in-flight entertainment.  I was not overly impressed with the planes, the seat quality (which were poor), the meal quality, nor with the in-flight service.  Nothing was bad, but nothing was good either but could I really complain?  Copa beat out their competitors in terms of price by at least $200 so for a lower price how much can you expect?!  A decent plane with decent service and a low price is what Copa offered and delivered on that.  The only bad thing was that I could not earn any FF miles – Copa was a mileage earner with Continental and at that time Continental was part of SkyTeam but Copa itself was not part of SkyTeam so you could not earn miles on any SkyTeam member.

Things were a bit the same but a little different when I flew Copa again in December 2014 from Houston to Panama City via Orlando.  Copa does not fly directly to Houston, which to me is strange because they have a large Latin-American population, but I guess the Houston to PTY route was reserved for Continental and now for United.  The route that was most cost-efficient, again by at least $150 compared to their competitors, was IAH to MCO via United connecting to Copa to fly MCO to PTY.  As Copa is now a member of Star Alliance, they can partner with Star Alliance members for easy connections as well as mileage accrual. 

From IAH to MCO, I flew on a new United Boeing 737 with updated seats and interior lighting; there were no IFE’s but the plane was decent.  From MCO to PTY, I flew on a new Copa Boeing 737 that had new seats, interior Boeing lighting, as well as personal IFE (free to use).  The odd thing was the United and Copa plane were the exact same plane with the only difference that Copa had installed IFE’s (they are in the process of installing them so some planes have them and some do not).  This 3-hour Copa flight was a lot better than the flight I took in 2010 mainly because of the seat quality – the new seats were more comfortable and definitely more bearable to sit on.  The addition of the IFE was a nice touch – the IFE was not very extensive but was sufficient for a 3-5 hour flight as it had about 10 TV show episodes as well as about 4 movies (updated movies as well).  The airline passed out free headphones to all passengers so that they could use the IFE.  The also had a USB port to help with charging electronic devices.  A light meal service was provided and again the in-flight service was decent with a definite improvement in the quality of service from 4 years prior.

The return was the complete opposite as from PTY to MCO it was an older Copa plane that did not have any IFE or other entertainment in the plane.  A light meal was served and service was decent once in the air (we sat in the plane on the ground for about 2 hours before we took off; the captain made the announcement only after an hour of waiting).  Even though it was an older plane, the seats were comfortable enough for the 3 hour flight.  From MCO to IAH, I flew on an updated United plane with updated seats and IFE (that you had to pay for).  The seat pitch was rather tight so the 1hr 40min flight felt longer (and the service was on the lower side of average with the flight attendants barely caring). 

Overall, there is a definite marked improvement of Copa Airlines from 2010 to 2014.  The product is being updated and, more importantly, the service is being updated to a better quality.  The hub of Copa is Tocumen International Airport which is located about 30 minutes outside of the city center – and this has also had an upgrade within the last 4 years with better services for the passengers (more improvements are still needed).  The improvements are welcomed but overall the planes, the seat comfort, and the service are great for short-haul but I am not sure they are good or comfortable for anything long-haul.  With Copa, you get a basic service for a basic price.