After 1.5 weeks in Texas and Panama, it was time for us to move on to our final stop – New York. Without any fifth freedom flights from Star Alliance, I am left with either Copa Airlines or United Airlines. While United Airlines had a slightly better timing, redeeming a ticket can be rather challenging. Copa Airlines on the other hand can be redeemed directly from the Krisflyer portal without any issue. Although there are 3 flights into JFK, neither is good and only CM 804 was available for redemption (for my travel date). The redemption cost is 30,000 miles per person in Business Class.
Tocumen airport is undergoing major expansion – a new Terminal 2 is under construction. Flights still operates from Terminal 1 mainly. The airport was certainly crowded in the afternoon and evening hence the expansion comes rather timely.
Once dropped off, Business Class passengers has a Preferred Access check in counter. Once checked in, walk towards the end of the terminal for the Star Alliance Gold track instead of the regular departure lane.
Once through, you will come to the duty free shopping area and getting to the Copa Club can be a little challenging. One word of advice though – avoid Copa Club! (I shall come to that on another post).
As mentioned, Tocumen in the evening is fairly busy. The line at the gate can be quite long but fortunately, there is a Preferred Access lane for each gate.
Copa Airlines operates only narrow bodied jets – on routes only within the American continent. The bulk of their planes are 737 – including their latest addition of 737 Max sporting their new lie-flat seats. These aircrafts as we know have been grounded until further notice due to the 2 737 Max 8 crash involving Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines.
The 737-800 uses typical recliner Business Class seats. Each seat come with foot and leg rest and a personal entertainment system. The seats are comparable to those on Malaysia Airlines and Silkair while more comfortable than the seats on Air Canada and even my recent United Airlines First Class seats on UA 1045!
The TV is stowed in the hand rest which needs to be stowed away during take-off and landing. Hence, there is no gate to gate entertainment for the older Business Class seats. The entertainment system has a very limited selection of movies. Headphones are provided and although not noise cancellation headphones, it is better than what Silkair provides in their Business Class.
Compared to the breakfast menu, lunch and dinner offers significantly more items. On top of the usual boarding and post take off drink service – snacks were served before meal. The meal consist of 3 courses.
First was the soup and salad course, followed by the main and dessert.
The salad and soup were nothing special but tasted alright. The beef was surprisingly good, much better than I expected. Tt was not too tough nor overcooked. The fish on the other hand was rather dry (according to my wife). Dessert was either the cake or ice cream with choice of topping. The dessert were pushed out on a cart with choice of sauce for you to select and nuts as topping if you desire. Again, nothing outstanding.
There is no champagne on the flight, just sparkling wine. I did not try it as the only alcohol I took on board was the Bailey Irish Cream.
The crew were efficient, responsive and generally friendly (not particularly warm). This was the first time that I had all male flight crew!
Despite being the first to disembark, it took us almost 1.5 hours to clear the immigration! There is not pre-clearance in Panama City and despite arriving at 1230am, the queue was long and slow as there was only 1 (and later 2) CBP officer clearing the queue who had cleared the automated clearance (those who did not get a big X on their clearance form).
Although just a regional carrier, Copa Airlines is a good way for Star Alliance redemption into Latin and South America. I would rate their planes much better than the narrowbody jets of United Airlines and certainly with much better service. Their new lie-flat seats would have been great if not for the fact that 737 Max is not particularly safe thanks to their MCAS issue.