I arrived at ORD at around 730am for my 909am departure to PTY. The J check-in was empty and we were taken immediately. Our group was split into 2 reservations so the other J agent simultaneously checked in the rest of us. Check-in was quick and efficient and soon we were off to security. The F/J line was deserted at this early hour and we were thru quickly. I opted for the other line without the nudeoscope. Copa uses the Swissport Lounge at ORD, which is shared with Turkish, Virgin Atlantic, and Swiss. Swiss actually has its own lounges at ORD and I'm surprised that they don't send their pax and Turkish pax to the Swiss lounge. SAS also has a ORD lounge.
The Swissport Lounge had nice furniture but substandard food offerings. The free wifi was reasonably fast. Drinks on offer were Miller beer, Heineken, canned sodas, bottled water, red wine, white wine, and a few bottles of alcohol. There were pots of coffee on warming trays. No fresh food was on offer only packaged snacks. Doritos, Planters nuts, nutrigrain bars, cheese Danish, muffins, and cheese crackers. After a short time in the lounge, the attendant announced that we were boarding.
Upon boarding there was no one at the door to greet us so we just sat down and settled in. A small pillow and blanket were waiting for us at our seat. No amenity kits were offered on this flight. Menus were handed out a few minutes later as were landing cards for Panama. Pre-departure drinks of water or orange drink, but not juice, were offered in plastic cups a few minutes before take off. Meal orders were taken and we were informed that they only had 5 of our 6 KSMLs.
After take off, hot towels were offered and blue tablecloths were placed on the trays. The menu seemed to be a lunch service despite our early departure and had a heavy focus on the alcohol. I did notice that it had hot chocolate, something I've only seen on BA. The distributed menu had both the ORD-PTY choices and the PTY-ORD choices. 15 minutes after tablecloths were put down, meals still weren't out yet although the kitchen smelled like it was in full swing.
My diet coke was quickly served with a bowl of snack mix, which was spicy and good. My coke was in a business class branded glass and no can was offered. The food came out and sure enough was labeled "business class dinner". It contained a plate with peppers and fish, a piece of lemon coconut cake, couscous and olives, and a hot main of meat and potatoes. Food was catered by Borenstein. The food was mediocre, normal KSML fare. But I actually found myself missing Y on AA. Another glass of Diet Coke was served with the meal. Trays were cleared quickly after I finished. I ordered the rum of the month, which was from an unfamiliar brand, but very good. The movie started not long after the service completed. There was no in-seat entertainment, just overhead screens. Nor was there in-seat power. My 3rd flight in a row without personal TVs. The FA working J passed thru the cabin regularly top refill drinks and clear empty cups. I spent most of the flight catching up on reading I had to do. One thing I noticed was that the galley had curtains which were kept closed the entire flight.
Around an hour before landing, I ventured to the back to check out the Y product. It seemed decent by Y standards. An FA was doing a water service. I was curious to see if J would have any pre-landing service. The FA serving J entered the cabin to take drink orders. I asked for a club soda, which came in a plastic cup and was mostly flat. I suppose they ran out of clean glassware. The flight ended uneventfully.
Verdict: Copa J is a lot like domestic F. The service however is better and it comes with lounge access. I would definitely recommend this product and is the only nonstop service between ORD-PTY
Aug 13, 12, 11:39 am
We booked 2 rooms, at the cost of 12,000 SPG points per room, per night. When we booked we didn't realize that Playa Bonita was a 20 minute drive from the city. The area is very small. The only other strictures are the Intercontinental and the Casa Bonita, luxury apartments going up in the Westin complex. All 3 establishments on Playa Bonita are owned by the same developer, Bern Hotels and Resorts. Theres nothing around for miles The Westin opened in mid-December and many online reviews said that they were still getting their act together do we didn't know what to expect coming in.
When we arrived at the Westin, we came to an elaborate security gate, where a guard checked our names against the reservation list before permitting our car to pass thru. When we pulled up at the resorts front curb, 2 bell-men came to our car to help us unload and wheeled the cart to check-in and waited for us. The lobby was nice and large with modern design there were a few couches and little areas with a couch, tables and chairs. The lobby had large floor to ceiling windows with a sweeping ocean view. Across from check-in was the concierge. Another thing I liked was that across from the lobby bar, next to the gift shop they had a tank of water with sliced citrus fruits in it giving the water a nice taste.
We were assigned to 809 and 815. 809 was a king bed room and 815 had 2 queens. Both were forest view rooms and not ocean view. 809 had no balcony. The bathroom had a sliding door which didn't lock, a bathtub, and glass enclosed toilet and shower stalls. The shower stalls were nice and large with a rain shower head. The towels were Westin Heavenly Bath and there was also a robe having in the bathroom and an additional one in the closet. Bath products were the standard Westin white tea amenities. The room also had a flat screen TV, desk, and chair. The closet had an iron, ironing board, safe, and the usual overpriced minibar. There was also the standard in-room coffee maker with Panamanian coffee.
The resort had 5 pools. One was under construction during our stay and was set apart from the other 4 next to the spa. I assume it was meant to be a spa pool or adult pool. There was also a tiki hut by that pool with a black bar style counter top which I assume was meant to be a bar. The biggest pool had a swim-up bar, though was only open once during our stay. Between pools 1 and 2, there was a pool bar. Drink prices were $3-8 which is what you'd expect at this type of resort. There was also an all-inclusive package that offered unlimited basic alcohol, soda and some food. Across from the bar was the towel station which also handed out bug spray towelettes.
Side note about bugs; There are A LOT of tropical bugs in the area, some you will see. The majority, however, you won't notice until you've been bitten. The hotel handed out bug spray towelettes called Defender. I didn't did that they were too effective and instead used Off Deep Woods that we brought from home. I recommend bringing your own bug spray. If you stay here or at the IC down the road. Even with Off and Defender we still got plenty of bites.
The pools were great and we spent a lot of time in them. Can't say the same for the beach. The sand had a lot of pebbles and shells and was uncomfortable. The water was chalky looking and the swimmable area was small. There were buoys a few feet out. The great thing though was that the resort sat at the entrance to the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and thus, there were always views of boats lined up at the canal ad coming thru which was fun to watch. The spa was under construction during our visit but it looked massive. The only open part was the fitness center. The spa at the IC was open to Westin guests and the hotel provided a complimentary car to transport guests to and from the IC.
As I noted earlier, Playa Bonita is pretty much the middle of nowhere and as such there are limited dining options. The hotel had about 6 restaurants and 4 bars. We never really looked into the restaurants as we keep Kosher and wouldn't have eaten there. We ate food from home and at kosher restaurants in Panama City. We did go to the lobby bar most nights for after dinner drinks. Domestic Panamanian beer was $3.75 and very good. Daiquiris were $8 and also excellent. I tried strawberry and mango. Blueberry and banana were also available. While all bars handed out free water, the bottled water in the room was $4. The fitness center had free bottled water and we went there to stock up before going out. The lobby had free coffee and tea from about 6am-11am every day and we definitely overdosed. Panamanian coffee is excellent.
Other notes about the resort:
Internet: Wi-Fi was free thru out the property. The signal was pretty good even on the beach. I only recall it going down once and it was back up 20 minutes later. I don't know what the cost was for wired Internet.
The staff: All staff we encountered they out the property were very helpful ad friendly at all times. All staff were eager to assist us anytime we asked. However, most staff only spoke limited English and sometimes it was an issue for us. I'd say that was my only complaint about the staff.
Transport: Traffic in Panama City is awful. I wouldn't recommend renting a car. Taxis are fairly cheap and that's the way to go in my opinion. I don't know of the resort charged for parking or of valet parking was available.
Club lounge: The 19th floor has a club lounge which the sign says is open to club level guests and SPG Plats. The sign said that for a limited time, Golds were also welcome. I went to check it out as my dad is SPG Gold. It was nice, when I went all I saw on offer were drinks and nuts. The views were very impressive.
Aug 13, 12, 11:41 am
For the weekend, we moved from the Westin to the city center as we wanted to be near a synagogue. We got 3 rooms at the Four Points as its costs was less than the Westin. We got 2 queen rooms and 1 king room. The hotel was kind of tired looking and had a small lobby. The front desk staff barely spoke English. Breakfast was included in our reservation despite it being an award booking. Wifi was free in the entire hotel though it was very weak in the lobby. The lobby had a 24 hour free coffee/tea station.
The room had a TV, desk, chair, and 2 queen beds. The minibar wasn't as overpriced as I was expecting. I liked my bed and found it quite comfortable, though my 5 family members all hated their beds. The bathroom contained a toilet and bath tub with standard shower head. Amenities were Four Points branded and I didn't personally like them. The room also had 2 bottles of free Four Points branded water and 2 bottles of expensive Panama Blue water.
The hotel had a pool and hot tub. The hot tub was emptied out and we didn't use the pool. There was also a fitness room. The restaurant had cereal, made to order omelets, breakfast meat and hot food. All we ate was the diced fruit and yogurt. There was also orange juice, melon juice, watermelon juice, and 2 unidentified tidied juices. Waitresses came around offering fresh brewed Panamanian coffee which was delicious.
The hotel was pretty centrally located and close to all the major sites of Panama City. Overall I was happy with the hotel though I wouldn't stay there longer than the 2 nights we did. On Sunday we returned to the Westin for the final 3 days of our trip.
Aug 13, 12, 11:43 am
We left the Westin at 2pm for our 634pm flight fearing awful traffic in the city. We got to PTY at 250pm and the Copa J desk had no line. We were checked in pretty quickly and proceeded to the pre-security document check. There is no exit immigration. Security was fast and we were thru quickly. We then attempted to locate the Copa Club. Security was like the US. Shoes off, belts off, liquids out, laptop out. They also asked me to take off my kipa, the Jewish skullcap, to confirm I wasn't hiding something under it. I found this practice offensive, but I understand the motivation.
The Copa Club seems to be the only lounge in the airport. The sign at the entrance listed the Star Alliance carriers as well as KLM, Delta, Air France, Priority Pass and a few others. I didn't see AA though. The club is medium sized and had a lot of seating. There was pre made coffee in a warming pot, hot water, cold water and packaged snacks. There was also a bowl of apples wrapped in plastic. There were 3 containers of various snack mixes. There was a bar with a sign saying that only people over 21 will be served. The soda was available only at the bar. There was a small magazine selection, with lame and un-interesting titles. After more than 2 hours in the Copa Club we made out way to the gate.
We arrived at Gate 33 to see that all carry-ons were being searched and people were being patted down. A few minutes later boarding began. As on our inbound, there was no one at the door to greet us so we just took our seats. 10 minutes later menus were offered. That was the only crew interaction before take off. No PDB or amenity kit was offered. Shortly after take off drink orders were taken. 50 minutes after take off not a single person had been served. On a 5 hour night flight when people want to sleep slow service is unacceptable. 55 minutes out my sister complained that she was very thirsty and no FA had been spotted in over a half hour.
One passenger pressed a crew call button and an FA walked out of galley, glanced in the cabin and returned. Unacceptable in J. About a second later an FA came out offering hot towels. I'd rather have my drink first. They were mint scented and were refreshing. Hot towels were collected and blue table clothes were set down. I'd rather have my Diet Cole on an uncovered table if it would just come. Finally, exactly one hour out the first drinks arrived. The Big Bang Theory came on randomly and unexpectedly with no announcement that the entertainment was beginning and I missed 5 minutes trying to get my earphones in and volume to the right setting. Once the meal service began it was good. A meal box was placed in front of me containing lemonade, margarine, and a chocolate cupcake with plastic ware. A few minutes later the hot main was served. It was roasted chicken and pasta. The chicken was a little on the dry side but it was good. FAs passed thru the cabin to collect empty cups and refill drinks. The cabin lights never went off for some reason even though it was late and people wanted to sleep or enjoy the movie.
There was no personal video monitors or in seat USB ports. One of the 2 if not both is necessary. I tried getting some sleep on the flight and I woke up after an hour to a dimmed cabin. The screens were up and most passengers appeared to be sleeping despite the screaming toddler in row 1. I requested some water and nuts and enjoyed a nice snack.
Landing was smooth and the fight was nice.
Verdict: For this medium haul flight, my experience was pretty good. I do believe that CM needs to standardize its service offerings and ensure that night flights have fast service delivery.