Copa: So This Is What International Business Class Used to Be Like

Last century the height of international business class was a recliner seat. You can live that nostalgia on a Copa flight.

Copa Business Class 01

I needed to get to and from Brazil at very specific times and only Copa worked. Many of Copa’s flights are short, however my JFK – Sao Paulo – Las Vegas, trip included four 6+ hour flights to and from Copa’s hub in Panama City.

3 of the flights were on Copa’s ‘next generation’ 737-800 which is reasonably comfortable as limited recliner seats go, with personal AVOD and power outlets.

Copa Business Class 02

The last segment was on the old 737-800, with limited recline, no AVOD and no outlets. Think grim United domestic first class, with dark, crusty seats.

Copa Business Class 03

No wonder Copa priced $3,000 less that its nonstop, life-flat competitors.

Meal services were decent. Each flight had one full meal and one cold snack. The pre-arrival meal or snack is served, with all cabin lights on, 2 to 2.5 hours before arrival, even what that means 4 am. Why? “Because we have to.”

Service is inconsistent. The post-flight survey includes a question, “Did the flight attendant smile?” On my flights down neither had amenity kits, but both on the way up did. They are stingy with water bottles, too: I missed the handout on one flight and when I asked for a bottle, the flight attendant peered around my seat to make sure I was not stashing one. While on my Panama City-Las Vegas leg the flight attendant was a delight.

A friend said to think of Copa as a regional airline and that is the right approach. Panama City makes a nice hub with a good, modestly sized airport in good weather. They share MileagePlus with United, and United elites are eligible for Complimentary Premier Upgrades. Even with upgrades, none of my business class cabins were full, so for revenue tickets or economy awards to the region, Copa is a a good option for United elites.

Just don’t expect the full recline pampering we are now being spoiled by so many airlines.

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  • P T

    Reminded me of China Eastern…..

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @P T – that’s exactly what Lucky just said to me…

    How was your trip otherwise?

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  • Joey

    Full-recline pampering for flights from USA to South America? Which airlines offer that? I feel most flights use regional planes with the exception of maybe flights going to/from Sao Paulo.
    Anyway, I like Copa and have always flown them from NYC to South America when I was a 1K. I’ve always gotten an upgrade and I felt the product they offered in business class was similar to its competitors (this was when I went to Cartagena, Manaus, Asuncion, etc.)
    I feel the only city in South America that would get modern full-recline seats on flights ex-USA would be Sao Paulo and Santiago. Otherwise, that regional seat is what you get! 😉

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Joey – yes, I should have clarified that I was only talking in the context of the competitor Brazil options which I think all the major US airlines have the top-end products now.

    Northern South America and Central America indeed I have only seen regional style.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Recliner seats? For a 6+ hour flight? Oh, the humanity!!
    Waaah, waah, waaah!
    Back in the day (1992), we were happy to get a recliner seat to Asia – a 12+ hour flight. In 2005, the height of luxury was a “angle flat” for the same routing.
    Surprisingly, nobody died.
    Now, is a lie flat better? Of course! But those come at a price – in your case, $3,000.

  • John

    Yes, I remember the recliner seats that Varig flew on their DC-10s back in the day, and the FAs were smoking hot (yeah, back in the day when the smoking row was one away from the non smoking section). Come to think of it, I don’t think American’s F flagship seat in those days reclined 170 degrees or even 160 degrees…

    Can’t see myself flying Copa to GRU though. There gotta be better connections out there than via Panama City.

  • Eddie

    It’s possible that the flight attendant looked to see if u had an empty one she needed to get out of ur way before bringing a new one. She could also have looked to see if u were close to finishing the one u had which could have meant she could have kept going down the aisle to see if anyone else needed anything before coming back to you.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – my issue getting to GRU was most of the NYC options depart late night and arrive mid-morning, while I needed to pick up a 9:30 connection from GRU-REC-FEN, otherwise aboslutely would have done another optipn.

    @Eddie – sure, all, possible, though not in line with her activities throughout the flight and everyone else was dark and asleep. For whatever reason, they seem to think bottled water is quite precious, it is every prominently advertised as a business class benefit on its website. For me, I like to drink fruit juice on flights, however Copa is one of those fruit nectar airlines, so water for me.

  • John

    @RTC, ah yes, this was part of your FEN trip. Too bad you couldn’t make a quick stop in REC or SSA. You will need to visit one (or both) of those two towns at some point.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – a few years ago wife and I did visit SSA and had an excellent time. This trip original plan was to have a day layover in REC but just couldn’t make it work.

  • john

    Ha, just flew COPA and was somewhat surprised how crappy PTY was. freezing in one wing, hot in another, lots of damaged floor sections, no restaurant!!

  • john

    I assume that when you go to Cuba you wont blog about it…. anyway, I was just thinking recently that since Copa uses mileage plus like United….. does that mean you can book rewards through the Copa website instead of the United website…. and does that mean that you can book PTY-HAV… or is that too risky?

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @john – there is a huge foodcourt on and upper level however it is set off from the main walkway and hard to access. If I recall corretly there is escalator one-way and elevator the other. Fast food and two sit-downs with the typical tourist staples. The Copa Club is mobbed. Indeed the airport is a bit of dumpy shopping mall.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @john – interesting, some sites like Air Canada block any US IP address from the Cuba flights and any airline of which I have verified reports block US credit cards so a non-US card may be needed in this case to pay the fees on the award ticket?

    Probably not a trip you would find in the blog archives.

  • Danny Panzer

    I’ve got a Copa itinerary of JFK-PTY-EZE then LIM-PTY-JFK, so a total of 4 flights on 737-800’s all business class. Is there any way to tell which of these flights will be the new upgraded ones and which the old (I suppose calling customer service might be one option, but I try to avoid that as much as possible). It would be a real bummer now to have power outlets the whole time…

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Danny Panzer – sorry, I do not know of a way to ensure it. You might try the Copa expects on FlyerTalk, if not a sure-fire way, they may know specific route patterns.