Back in 2015, Copa Airlines, a member of the Star Alliance, started operating direct flights from San Francisco to Panama City, Panama. In a marketing ploy, Panama City has named itself the Hub of the Americas, but this advertising campaign is not far from the truth. An approximately 7.5 hour flight away from San Francisco, Panama City provides unparalleled access to South America and several islands in the Caribbean (such as Aruba), which has truly changed the way I travel.
In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed how Central and South America have become favorite destinations of mine as a freelance/remote worker. My clients are on Pacific Time, so most of my trips needs to take this into account. I prefer traveling to time zones which are ahead of California, mostly because I don’t really start working until 11am or so (I am decidedly not a morning person).
Copa Airlines’ model is quite simple – because their flights are almost always less than 8 hours, they don’t offer lie-flat seats. But, as most of the travel I book is heavily discounted, based on deals that I find, I’m always riding in economy, so this isn’t an issue.
I would rank Copa Airlines economy well above Delta, American, United, and even Alaska for a few reasons, the main one being that every flight originating from the U.S. has a dedicated TV screen, with entertainment you can access for free, and a working USB port to charge your phone. This might not sound like a lot, but I’ve found that a lot of my long-haul flights on United, American, and Alaska (haven’t taken many on Delta recently) often come without in-seat entertainment and often have plugs that don’t work. With Copa Airlines, I am always sure I’ll be entertained and leave the flight with a fully charged phone.
Notably, Copa Airlines does not currently offer WiFi on its flights, so it’s not the best for business travel.
Also importantly, Panama City’s Airport, while not perfect, makes connections very easy. I’ve landed with as little as 45 minutes before my next flight, and had no issues making the connection. The airport is aware that a large percentage of visitors are coming in on a connection, and the airport is set up (nearly) perfectly for that – with only a few terminals so far away that you have to hurry to reach your connection.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve booked flights on Copa Airlines to Santiago, Chile, Medellín, Cartagena, and Aruba. All of these flights came in at below $500, which is insane for round-trip travel from SFO to these destinations.