I just flew Copa Airlines Boeing 737-800 business class from Miami, a flight stuck at about three hours. Although I will have a full review soon, in this article I wanted to share my first impressions of the flight, as Copa is certainly a unique airline.
Forgetting the plane swap, what did I think? Well, there were some things I liked about the experience, but there were also some things that left a lot to be desired.
Copa is an original airline
I think a bit of background is needed on Copa, for those unfamiliar. Copa is essentially a cross between Continental Airlines (RIP) and Icelandair. The airline essentially follows the business model of Icelandair, using Panama as an efficient connecting point for travel within the Americas (specifically, to, from or within Latin America). So whether you want to fly from Los Angeles to Santiago or from Miami to Caracas, Copa has you covered.
Why am I mentioning Continental? Well, because in 1998 Continental (now United) acquired a 49% stake in Copa, which the airline held until 2008. Continental was not just a silent investor, but rather roughly everything about the Copa experience is based on Continental back in the day, from the livery, to the cabin interiors, to the Star Alliance-owned carrier, to the airline using Continental’s OnePass frequent flyer program at the time ( now Copa has its own loyalty program).
In terms of passenger experience, flying with Copa is really like flying with an American airline, for better or for worse. With that background aside…
What I liked about Copa Airlines Business Class
There were a few things I liked about Copa. First of all, the food was actually pretty decent. Yes, it was very much like the meal you would have on an American airline, but the quality was significantly better. Service started with a mix of warm snacks, served with drinks.
On my flight there were two dinner options and I chose the sliced chicken breast with rice and vegetables. Then there was a salad (not great), as well as a chocolate cake for dessert. The food was better than what you would get on American on the same route.
The service was also quite good. I mean, it wasn’t Singapore Suites or Air France La Premiere, but the stewardess working business class was really friendly and caring, and that’s all you can ask for on a flight like this -this.
What I didn’t like about Copa Airlines Business Class
What I didn’t like about Copa was that I felt like I was flying with an American airline…in 2006. The seats were almost identical to what you would find in domestic first class in the United States. United, which is quite sufficient. The cabin has been nicely updated, with the iconic Boeing interiors, so at first I thought “great, I’m sure the tech on board is good too”.
I don’t think much attention has been paid to this on the internet, but Copa has reduced business class seat spacing significantly over the years. At the time, Copa’s 737-800s were 49 inches tall in business class, far taller than what you’ll typically find in domestic first class in the United States. With the way Copa reconfigures the planes, the seats are only 38 inches apart, just like you’ll find on most US airlines.
However, I couldn’t understand the lack of amenities, especially in light of the recent cabin refresh. There were no power outlets of any kind. There was no Wi-Fi. There was no in-seat entertainment. There was no streaming entertainment. I can forgive that there isn’t one, or two, or even three of those things, but none of them…really?
It was really like a blast from the past. And some people might say, “Well, you don’t need those things on such a short flight.” Fair enough, but:
- Keep in mind that a large majority of passengers log on to Copa and may end up on another flight that has none of this
- Copa operates very long flights with Boeing 737-800s, including Panama City to Rio de Janeiro, which covers a distance of almost 3,300 miles and is stuck at almost seven hours.
- You want your electronic devices to be fully charged before you end up in the traffic jams of many cities in Latin America (Bogota, Sao Paulo, etc.) 😉
I believe some Copa 737-800s may have streaming entertainment, but that’s a roll of the dice. The only entertainment is destination-related advertisements on overhead screens. I felt like I was riding TED in 2006 (how is that a throwback?!).
At the end of the line
The Copa Airlines business class experience felt new (to me) but familiar. On the plus side, the flight had solid catering and friendly service. Copa’s 737-800s have interiors similar to what you’d expect in the US, minus all the advancements that have been made over the past 15 years – there were no power ports, no no Wi-Fi, no in-seat entertainment and no streaming entertainment.
It seems that Copa’s business model is basically to capture any market that other airlines can’t cover due to its vast network of routes in the Americas, but not much more than that. I guess that’s fair enough, but adjust your expectations accordingly.
And stay tuned, because I connected from Panama to Lima on another type of Copa Boeing 737-800, which had much worse interiors…
If you have traveled in Copa business class, what was your experience?