I was recently in Panama for work. While I prefer to fly on American whenever possible, mostly did so here too, even though flights schedules were far from ideal, requiring 2 connections in each direction. For getting back home, flying on American would have required spending the night somewhere and getting home the next day. Only 2 flights a day from Panama to Miami, both in the afternoon, so I instead opted to fly Copa part of the way home. I departed Friday night, had a very short night of sleep, then arrived home Saturday morning. Not great for sleep patterns, but a much better use of my time, and best of all I made it home to volunteer at an activity with my daughter. The bid for business class on Copa worked out well. More than I wanted to pay, but comfort was worth it.
Booking my ticket
A usual for my business trips, I used my corporate online booking tool (SAP Concur), and while difficult, I eventually was able to book a mixed Copa/American reservation. Despite being separate tickets, seemingly neither airline system could figure out these were separate, so my options were limited. The booking tool put me in A fare class for the Copa ticket from Panama to Miami. I didn’t think much of it, until seeing that it said business class. That seemed dubious, and of course it was. A class on Copa is basic economy. Sigh!
Realizing this meant no seat assignment without paying, I was annoyed, but content to buy an extra legroom seat for around $50. And I could have expensed that. Note this flight is around 2.5 hours in the air, departing after 9pm (10pm at destination). Despite multiple attempts, I was unable to get payment to process for a seat assignment. I could get a seat for free inside the 24 hour check in window, but I didn’t want to risk a middle seat in the back. I’m tall, and appreciate more space, especially on a flight where I would hope to get some sleep.
Bid for Business Class on Copa
Finally the day before departure, after frustration with securing a seat, I changed my strategy and decided to bid for an upgrade. Prior to travel, I received a few emails soliciting bids, but mostly ignored them. Ultimately I decided to bid the lowest possible amount, a “Poor” offer per their sales tool. $145 is a bit rich for such a short flight, but the seat is the Collins Aerospace Diamond seat familiar to many travelers as one of few flat bed options for narrow body planes. American and United use this seat for business class on their A321T and B757 fleets respectively. On Copa 737 Max-9 there are 16 seats configured 2-2.
Just over 24 hours before departure, I got an email that my offer was accepted:
Hopefully I wouldn’t regret it. I talked to James (who took several of these photos in his own Copa business class experience) about this seat. He didn’t exactly give a strong recommendation, especially about the tight seats, but at this point I couldn’t back out. I just wanted to get some sleep. I was able to select a bulkhead seat hoping for slightly more legroom.
ProblemSSSS checking in
Once inside the 24 hour window, I checked in. Well, kind of. I couldn’t get my boarding pass. I thought maybe it was due to a secondary screening, or maybe just some sort of IT issue. American wouldn’t let me check in for my onward flights either. Annoyingly, the error message said I couldn’t check in. After I landed in Miami, online check in wasn’t even available, so I had to go to a kiosk, which thankfully was uneventful.
Once at Tocumen airport in Panama, my suspicions about secondary screening were confirmed. The dreaded SSSS on my boarding pass. No one seemed to notice this at all during my initial screening, in fact, I later realized I had a half-full water bottle in my bag which no one noticed when going through security. Then I went to the Copa Club, had a drink, and left to get food, as the options there are pitiful; tiny cold cut sandwiches, and snack mix. At least the bar is fully srocked. There I tried a few Panamanian rums.
The new terminal 2 at PTY airport is quite nice, architecturally, at least. The Copa Club is a nice space a level above the departure hall. Leaving the club to get a more substantial meal, because I was planning to just sleep on board. Unfortunately, the terminal options were very limited. Only one restaurant open that I could find, which was packed, so I got a sandwich at a small snack stand.
Onboard Copa Business Class on the Boeing 737 Max9
For my flight to Miami, there is additional screening at the gate. There the SSSS on my boarding pass was noticed, and I was pulled aside before I could board. The secondary screening consisted of an officer taking my passort as I walked through a metal detector, my bags scanned in the magenetometer, and then writing down my passport number. I was quickly on my way. At least that is all the additional screening I noticed. Thankfully the SSSS experience was basically an non-event.
Once on board, I found my seat, 1A. Not exactly luxurious, but pretty nice for a narrow body, especially on a short flight.
Not a ton of legroom, but slightly more space than on seats in other rows. Here is an image from another row:
I am generally a side sleeper anyway, so even at 6’3″, I fit relatively well into the seat. It certainly isn’t spacious, but enough for me to sleep for most of the short flight.
I intended to sleep the whole flight. But I care about my readers…Blog research…something like that. I opted for the meal. My Spanish skills aren’t strong, but sufficient to know my preference between pollo o pasta? Chicken and rice was actually quite tasty. Macarons were nice too. If I wasn’t already tired and at the edge of my language skills I might have tried asking about the onboard rum options. I certainly could have asked in English too, but prioritizing sleep, vino tinto (red wine) seemed a good choice.
I ate a few bites of my food. Okay, more than a few bites, but I only finished the wine and the dessert, reclined my seat and went to sleep. I didn’t sleep all the way through, but i was at least dozing until final approach, when I had to put my seat upright.
So was it worth it?
In general, I’m cheap, and rarely would spend $150 for a better seat for a few hours. It is a flat seat, but a very short flight. In hindsight, I’m pretty content with the decision to buy this upgrade. I got a head start on sleep before landing in Miami. There spent a few more hours in a hotel within the airport terminal, and then flew home on American, where I slept some more. Thankfully the upgrade on Saturday morning was not hard to get. Not the best night of sleep, in 3 separate sections, but once I arrived home, I was rested enough to get through the day.