While Copa Airlines isn’t the flashiest airlines, and doesn’t feature a true first-class cabin, their business class product is solid all around and their hub in Panama makes it a convenient option for traveling to the Caribbean or South America.
Airline: Copa Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800 (738)
Flight #: CM 472
Route: Panama City, Panama (PTY) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Date: September 3rd, 2018
Departure Time: 12:40pm
Arrival Time: 5:35pm
Duration: 7 hours
Cabin: Business Class
Seats: 1D, 1F
Miles Used: 30K United miles each
Taxes & Fees: $65 each
Typical Cost to Purchase: $1,700 ($600 AUA-PTY + $1,100 PTY-LAX)
Value: 5.5 cents/mile
How We Booked Business Class Aruba to Los Angeles
This was the last leg of our flight home from the ABC Islands. We spent a week eating, drinking, exploring and diving through Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba.
There are a few different point currencies to use to fly from the Caribbean to the United States. Most cost around 30K points (or more) for a one way business class trip, while American charges 25K on their own aircraft and 27.5K on partner flights (good luck finding availability though).
The award availability from Bonaire was nonexistent, while both Curacao and Aruba offered multiple options back to LAX. We flew into Curacao, so it made sense to fly out of Aruba.
Copa had decent availability, so we decided to use 30K United points each to fly back. Copa’s hub is in Panama City, Panama, which allowed us to do an overnight layover to see the Panama Canal and experience Panama City for the first time.
Our final routing was AUA-PTY, PTY-LAX. The cash cost of the tickets was around $1700 each, but good business class fares from Aruba to LAX can be found for ~$1200, which would still give a value of ~4 cents/mile.
Remember most Copa flights don’t feature lie-flat seat. You will get something that looks like domestic first class within the United States.
(update 9/20/20) Well lucky us, two weeks after returning home, Copa released their 737-8/9/10 MAX aircraft with true lie-flat seats! These aircraft are being rotate through various routes from Panama to Los Angeles!!! (LAX), Tampa (TPA) and Miami (MIA). Now that would be a great use of points if you can secure booking one, however my feeling is that it will be difficult to find award availability for the lie-flat seats.
The new 737 MAX aircraft will feature 16 lie- flat business class seats, with a 2-2 configuration spread across four rows. They will be using the B/E Aerospace Diamond seats (now known as the Rockwell Collins Diamond seats), which are perfectly comfortable enough and currently found on American Airlines A321T transcontinental business class routes.
These are not to be confused with the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats (now known as the Rockwell Collins Super Diamond seats) which are found on American’s 787-9 and some 777-200s in a reverse herringbone configuration.
Check In at Panama Tocumen International Airport
Well this was probably one of the most stressful check-in experiences we have ever had! Let me start by saying don’t forget your passport in the hotel lockbox.. Yeah..
We arrived at the airport about 2 hours before our flight giving us plenty of time to check-in, clear security and enjoy the lounge. Upon getting to the check-in counter we both pulled the oh crap look and then the usual “oh you brought the passports right love?” Nope. Neither one of us brought the passports. They were safe in a lockbox in the hotel.
We freaked out for a minute and then went into go mode. Brandon jumped in an Uber back to get the passports from the Waldorf Astoria Panama and on the way over called the hotel for them to unlock the safe and bring the passports to the lobby. The other option was to call the Waldorf and have them call a Taxi to deliver the passports. But being Panama we didn’t quite trust anyone enough to deliver the passports without us physically being there.
Now the second issue was that the drive each way was about 30 minutes, meaning Brandon would return with 50 minutes until boarding. Copa stops checking bags on international flights 60 minutes prior to boarding.
Jess worked on this at the airport. It took a conversation with a manager and pulling up images of our passports for them to bend the rules a little and allow us to check bags without showing our physical passports. They wouldn’t give us boarding passes until the passports were at the airport however. Fair enough.
Pro tip – email yourself all important travel documents you may ever need (passport, drivers license, visas, diver certification etc. Then create a gmail folder with all these documents. You never know when you’ll need it!
Well Brandon made it back with the passports about 45 minutes until boarding, our bags were checked and we got our boarding passes. It was definitely stressful, but we appreciate the Copa Airlines staff allowing us to check bags and the speedy Uber driver. Security took about 10 minutes, so we went straight to the gate and didn’t have time to check out the Copa lounge. Next time!
Boarding Copa Airlines 738
Boarding went smoothly, we ordered a much needed pre departure beverage that was served with a small plate of assorted nuts and savory snacks. We appreciated that they served a decent (for the price) Cava.
Business Class Cabin Copa Airlines 738
The current business class cabin on most Copa aircraft features 16 recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration over four rows.
Copa 737-8 Business Class Seat
Each business class seat has 38 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width. These are similar to most domestic first-class seats in the United States.
The tray tables are located in each outer armrest.
The center shared armrest houses the seat controls, an international charging outlet and the IFE monitors.
The IFE monitors are pretty small, about the size of a standard tablet with half the resolution, but at least they could be rotated closer to you for better visualization.
The headphones were fine, but a little on the low end for business class and didn’t feature any noise cancelling feature.
The amenity kit came in a white sort of Mayan themed pouch. Included were an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, hand lotion and socks. No slippers were included. This was decent enough for a 7 hour, non-red eye flight.
Food & Beverage Copa Business Class
The fight attendant came around to take our orders. Jess ordered the fish while I ordered the beef filet.
The starter was a Waldorf salad with chicken. It was a sort of potato salad with chicken on the side. We’re not huge fans of potato salad, but the chicken was decent enough.
The main course was next. Jess’ fish filet appeared to be tilapia on a bed of coconut rice. The fish was flavorful and tender, no complaints by airline standards.
My beef filet was cooked medium well (slightly more than the medium I had asked for), but was still flavorful and tender. It was obviously not as good as something from a steakhouse and there was no “searing” of the edges, but still better than expected for airplane food. It was also a generous portion of beef so I was pretty full after.
Dessert came next and was the best part of the meal. The flight attendants came around with a build your own ice cream sundae tray. There were options for different ice cream flavors and various toppings such as mixed nuts, dried fruit, caramel and chocolate. What really completed the experience was adding a splash of Baileys Irish Cream to top it all off!
Our seven-hour flight from Panama City to Los Angeles was comfortable and enjoyable. We had a great overall experience and appreciated the staff at the check-in counter being flexible and allowing us to check bags before our passports arrived at the airport.
Now that Copa has lie-flat beds on certain routes, I would try to book those if possible, especially for a red eye flight. The recliner seats we had on our flight were comfortable enough for short nap though. Either way, Copa Airlines remains a convenient way to travel to many spots in the Caribbean and South America for Star Alliance travelers.