Revolting Copa Airlines Business Class – Delayed, Dirty Windows and Mold!

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Introduction: Sailing Celebrity Cruises’ Flora in the Galapagos

What to Pack for a Galapagos Cruise

Getting to Quito, Ecuador in Delta First Class

JW Marriott Hotel Quito Review

Exploring Quito, Ecuador on a Celebrity Cruises Excursion

Quito to the Galapagos and Back by Avianca Charter

Ship Review – Celebrity Flora

Cabin Review – Penthouse Suite 5125 on Celebrity Flora 2024

Celebrity Flora – Dining Review

Exciting and Unique Activities on a Galapagos Cruise

Terrible! – Copa Airlines Business Class

The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort, Panama City Review

Final Thoughts – Who Should Take a Galapagos Cruise?


For our flight back from Quito, Ecuador we chose to fly Copa Airlines Business Class as we had never flown them before and they had conveniently timed flights with an overnight in Panama City, Panama.  Well, boy did we regret our decision.  With that let’s begin our Terrible! – Copa Airlines Business Class Review.


It’s no secret that we prefer to fly Delta whenever possible, practical, and the price makes sense.  In this case it was possible, but was neither practical (short red-eye flight home in a standard recliner) nor reasonable with Delta’s pricing in dollars and SkyMiles bordering on obnoxious.  So that sent us searching for an alternative.  Ultimately we decided to go with Copa Airlines booked with Flying Blue miles.  Flying Blue miles is the joint program for KLM and Air France.  Fortunately, we had a stash of these from a canceled pandemic-era trip, so the 66,000 points + $138.66 wasn’t terrible for a flight from Quito to Panama City and Panama City to Atlanta, all in business class.  This would also allow us to try two different aircraft types as well as the Copa Club in Panama City their home airport.

On the Ground in Quito

Our flight departed at 6:30 PM giving us much of the day to explore Quito before heading the approximately 45 minutes from the city center to the airport.  Arriving at the airport in Quito we went to check-in.  There was a First Class line with no wait.  Great!  We asked if it was possible to check our bags to Panama, claim them that night, and re-check the next day.  We were told that this was not possible and anything we checked we would not have access to until reaching Atlanta, our final destination.  This was less than ideal as we only had backpacks for our carry-ons with most of our items in our checked baggage.  After some re-packing on the floor of the airport we checked our bags and proceeded to security.

There was no priority line for first class passengers clearing immigration or customs and it took about 45 minutes to get through security and headed to the lounge.  This was a very different experience from our Avianca Charter provided by Celebrity Cruises.  Unfortunately Copa Airlines does not offer a lounge at Quito International (UIO); however, there was a Priority Pass Lounge – Sala VIP Internacional.

a room with a plant and elevator

The Sala VIP Lounge is located one level above the terminal

a person sitting in a lobby
Seating divided by bookshelves to create distinct areas
a room with chairs and a wall
Variety of Seating Options
a sign on a wall
Lounge Contains a Spa (closed during our visit) and Restrooms

The Sala VIP lounge was surprisingly solid with a good looking space including an outdoor patio sponsored by Chevrolet (that was a first for us).

a glass door with a sign and a wood wall
Outdoor terrace
a patio with chairs and tables and umbrella
No One Was Using the Deck in the Early Evening
a sign on a wall
Sponsored by Chevrolet

a room with a television and tables

The food, while somewhat limited was reasonably tasty and marked for allergens including Gluten.  Alcohol was available, but only for purchase.

a man and woman standing behind a buffet

food in a container with a spoon on a plate
Chicken Curry and Rice Both Marked Gluten Free
people standing at a bar
Bar featuring South American Wines and Spirits from Latin America for Purchase

Flight from Quito to Panama City

We were seated in 2A and 2B in the second row of the first class cabin.  The cabin interior including the seats reminded me of United Airlines old 737s, but in a good way.  The seats were comfortable with tray tables extending from the center armrest.

a plane with seats and windows
First Class Cabin
a row of seats in an airplane
No Seat Back Entertainment on Copa Airlines Short Haul 737s

a seat in an airplane

There was no seatback entertainment; however, there were the flip down screens every few rows that played the safety video and then played advertisements for the balance of the flight.  There were headphone jacks presumably in case you wanted to listen to the ads…

a screen on a plane a close up of a blue panel

Pre-Departure beverages were limited to cold water served in paper cups.

a cup of water on a napkin
Pre Departure Water in a Paper Cup

We departed on time and the service began before we reached 10,000 feet.  Once in the air the flight attendant provided complimentary wine and beer.  I had a white wine and it was decent ( René – it also came out of a glass bottle!)  Unfortunately dinner consisted solely of turkey sandwiches.  There was no option with Copa Airlines to order ahead or to register any dietary restrictions.  Given my wife and I are both Gluten Free we had no choice but to abstain, opting instead for a second glass of wine.

a glass of liquid on a napkin
Drink Options Were Red or White Wine or Several Regional Beers

Before we knew it the 1 hour and 55 minute flight was coming to an end and we were on approach to Panama City.  Unfortunately, because this was a regional flight we were also flying into the old terminal.  I had hoped that our flight the next morning to Atlanta would depart out of the new terminal.

Once on the ground in Panama a few minutes ahead of our 8:24 scheduled arrival we were routed through customs and immigration and with only our backpacks we were in an Uber headed to our hotel in under 30 minutes.  Pretty impressive!

We had a short overnight at The Santa Maria, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Golf Resort that we’ll cover in our next post.  After less than 10 hours in Panama we were up and heading back to Panama International (PTY).

On The Ground in Panama

Well, my hopes of getting to fly out of the new terminal were dashed when I went to check-in online using the Copa Airlines app only to find that we were departing out of the same terminal to which we had arrived.  We arrived a little more than two hours ahead of our scheduled 9:26am departure for Atlanta.  I must say signage was fairly limited and not at all intuitive, but once we found our way to immigration and security it went very quickly as the airport was still waking up and were headed to old Copa Club.

We were able to check-in to the Copa Club in Terminal 1 next to gate 130 fairly quickly and were able to find seats.  The lounge is open from 5:30 am to 9:00 pm, has a capacity of 248, and is approximately 11,700 square feet (1,300 square meters).

a glass door with a sign and a suitcase in it

Access is for First Class passengers, Star Alliance Gold, and Priority Pass as well as business class passengers flying on Air France, KLM and Iberia.

a desk with a phone on it

Luggage storage was available behind reception, but no one was utilizing it.

a room with shelves and shelves

The lounge has a variety of areas, none overly appealing including the TV area and a children’s play area.

a group of people in a lobby a room with chairs and a television on the wall a hallway with a glass door

After settling in we went to check out the food on offering and boy was it limited and picked over.  Passengers were waiting as staff would place out a tray of slightly stale bagels or pastries and within a minute they would all be gone.  Gluten free options were limited to cantaloupe or watermelon.

a tray of bagels on a table a tray of food on a metal shelf

The coffee machines were in desperate need of service; however, I was finally able to get one to work as long as I wanted a cappuccino without milk (I know…).  I appreciate the water bottle filler available in the lounge.  I’d like to see more of these so people don’t try and fill from the beverage dispensers (gross).

a water dispenser with glasses on a table

There was a bar; however, there was never anyone in it providing service.  Admittedly it was before 8:00am.

a bar with several tvs and bottles
Unstaffed bar in the morning

Overall, the lounge was a little rough and not really a place that I wanted to spend time.  I’m hoping the lack of maintenance means that there’s a plan for a new facility.  I’ve never seen dirtier windows at an airport.

a group of people sitting in a room with large windows

However, things were about to get a lot worse.

About 45 minutes before our scheduled boarding time we went down to the terminal to look for some gluten free food to bring on the plane as we didn’t eat in the lounge and didn’t have high hopes for the food we might get on the plane.  Well let me tell you, in the old terminal, the options for snacks are basically limited to candy or candy or perhaps candy.  There was nothing healthy or even a bag of potato chips on offer.  We walked and walked until eventually we gave up and headed to the gate.

Flights departing to the US required additional screening, so you had to go through a metal detector, put your bags through an x-ray and then you were cordoned off in a secure gate area without any amenities.  This is fairly standard and wasn’t overly surprising, other than the area we were cordoned into contained approximately half the seats of the aircraft we were going to board meaning half of the crowd that assembled had to stand.

Approximately 30 minutes prior to departure we began the boarding process starting with First Class.  We were seated in 2A and 2B and were promptly served mimosas.  Boarding was completed in about 20 minutes but then two mechanics boarded the aircraft and were speaking with the pilots.

a man and woman in a yellow vest standing in a doorway
Copa Airlines Mechanics on Board

This went on for about 10 minutes with people coming and going, presumably to look at whatever issue the pilots had brought to the attention of the mechanics.  Well, the dreaded announcement was made that there was a problem with the aircraft and we would need to deplane.  We were told to wait in the gate area for further announcements.

After about 15 minutes milling around the gate I noticed our pilots were making calls from the podium.  Multiple calls and still no announcements, and before we knew it we were 30 minutes past our scheduled departure time.

a plane with a large engine

It was then that I noticed our pilot taking a picture of the aircraft out of the window.  I went over to see that mechanics were taking the housing off of the starboard side engine.  Not good!

Well, eventually an announcement was made that there was good news.  Hooray!  We had been assigned another aircraft and we would only be delayed two or so hours.  This meant that we should be boarding in about an hour at this point.  We were told our new gate number and then were sent into the terminal.

When we got to our new gate we were all waved past the metal detector and x-ray machines and into the holding area.  Well, after about 10 minutes we were told that we would all have to go back out and get re-screened.  Fine, I guess.  Maybe someone acquired some contraband on our walk between gates.  So we all line up again trying to go through the screening process, but now it’s more than 100 of us all trying to do it at the same time.  This time we are told we have to take off our shoes and belts, take out our liquids, and remove our electronics.  We didn’t have to do any of this at either the main security or at the previous gate.  But OK, sure, why not, we have time to kill, right???  Well after about 10 people made their way through the new secondary screening a supervisor came up and shut down the process.  Turns out we didn’t need to do a secondary, secondary screening.  Well alrighty then.

Back we went to find (dirty) seats.  Again there were too few available for the number of passengers.  We then proceeded to watch the deplaning passengers from our newly assigned aircraft.  Well, the last passengers came off and the gate agent made an announcement that we would be delayed an additional hour to allow for a cleaning of the aircraft, taking our total delay to approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes.  We sat in our seats thinking just how OLD the old terminal is.  We made a bit of a game out of looking for a ceiling tile that was not producing copious amounts of mold to kill the time.  With a game like this no one wins.

a close up of a seat
Filthy Seats
a vent on a ceiling
The Petri Dish of a Ceiling
a close up of a tile floor
You can see what ceiling tiles are supposed to look like next to ones that make you want to mask up

I should mention that Copa Airlines has a somewhat serviceable app when things are going right as they did for our first flight.  However, when things went wrong, the info from the app was not to be trusted.

a screenshot of a message
App working as intended for our flight from UIO to PTY
a screenshot of a phone
App was hilariously wrong during our delays with the final push notifications well after we had already arrived at ATL letting us know our flight was about to depart from PTY.

Flight from Panama City to Atlanta

Boarding the aircraft we noticed this decal naming Copa Airlines #1 for Punctuality in Latin America.

a white door with black and white stickers on it

On board we checked out our seats – 2A and 2B.  This aircraft had entertainment screens, a USB charger and headphone jack in the armrest, and a leg rest that came out of the bottom of the seat.  A bit of online research indicated that their long-haul configured 737s have both seat-back (the first plane we boarded) and pull-out IFE screens (the plane we actually flew to ATL).

a metal object with a metal handle a screen on a stand a map of the united states

This time we were offered a choice of a mimosa or a water.  We opted for Mimosas and received them in paper cups (this was a bit of a theme for this trip).  I guess looking on the bright side we received two pre-departure beverages.

The passenger across the aisle from us found a “spare” life jacket under his seat.  The flight attendant took it and put it in a cabinet in the galley…

a man holding a package in an airplane

Meal service again began soon after we were air born.  We were offered beer and wine and were served our selection (white wine for me) as well as water in glassware along with a pretzel and nut snack mix in a pottery bowl.

a plate of snacks and two glasses of water on a tray

Headphones were also handed out at this point.  The food options were limited with only one item that I was hoping would be gluten free the chicken and rice with hummus.  I knew the crackers would be out, but I took my chances on everything else.  The food was served on one tray and was surprisingly good.  (Delta please steal the recipe)

headphones on a table a tray with food on it

For dessert everyone received two macarons in small glass bowls.

a bowl of food on a table

After lunch (we were originally supposed to be on a breakfast flight) I worked on my laptop a bit while scrolling through the IFE options which were decent with a dozen or so new-ish movies and some television episodes.  I settled on watching The Duke which fit the mood. I’d recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of British films, it’s currently available for rent or purchase on Amazon.

a screen with a movie on it

Before we knew it we were back in Atlanta.  Unfortunately so apparently was everyone else as the 3.5 hour delay meant we were arriving in the very late afternoon along with flights from what seemed like a dozen Caribbean destinations.  The lines, even Global Entry were long, and only hinted at the horrendous traffic we would face on the roads.  Remember when I noted that the Copa flights were better timed than the Delta options, it was because we were supposed to land around 1pm which is one of the slowest times of day for international arrivals at ATL.  Well the delay negated that advantage.


If I were to judge our Copa Airlines experience purely on the two flights we took I’d say it was fine and put it on par with AA.  However, given the really poor communication with Copa Airlines both about the checked baggage and the rolling delays, the inability to guarantee that we can actually eat something gluten-free on the plane, and the sad state of affairs in the old PTY Terminal 1 I just wouldn’t recommend Copa.  Unless and until PTY does something with Terminal 1, I’m just not willing to chance having to spend any amount of time there again.  The terminal is among the worst we’ve flown through in Latin America or really anywhere.

That’s the end of our Terrible! – Copa Airlines Business Class Review.  No bonus wildlife photo for this post has already run long.  Questions for you all.  Have you flown Copa Airlines?  If so, what did you think?  Let us know in the comments. – Michael








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  1. We took Copa to and From JFK via preferred seating. I did the research and had found that while the Business class on the Max 900 was two angled seating, it wasn’t necessarily worth the bidding process of maybe an extra $150, and it was 3 of us. The lack of wi-Fi was annoying, but the flight was smooth and we landed In Terminal 2, the Néw terminal. It’s like night and day! Going back, we did the Olive Garden and had some drinks, but yeah, the secondary search at the gate is a PAIN IN THE ARSE!!! And don’t buy too much duty free or if you purchase something while on vacation there, pack it in your suitcase! They are very strict on what goes onboard. Hopefully you can try again to make it into Terminal 2. I like the nonstop option for JFK-PTY for Copa.

    • @Andresito – Glad your experience was better than ours! If I could guarantee a Terminal 2 experience it might be a different story, but for now I’m not interested in getting on a Copa plane again anytime soon. Thanks for the tip on Duty Free at PTY. We were in BOG last year and had a similar experience where they were extremely picky about what could be brought on board and how Duty Free purchases were handled. My guess is that has more to do with US Customs than local rules for US bound flights.


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