Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to San Jose (Boeing 737-800)

In this review we will take a Copa Airlines flight between Panama City (PTY) and San Jose (SJO) on a Boeing 737-800 in economy class.

Boarding

When I left the disappointing Copa Club for my boarding gate, I realised just how crowded the airport became in the span of just an hour. While on my arrival in the early morning there were only a handful of passengers walking around, the corridors of Panama Tocumen International Airport were now teeming with activity.

There was quite a crowd at the departure gate as well, but luckily enough the gate agents strictly enforced priority boarding, which I could use as well courtesy of my Star Alliance gold status with Turkish Airlines.

I was curious how this Copa Airlines flight to San José would relate to my earlier Copa flight from Bogotá to Panama City, which was a pleasant experience.

panama tocumen airport
Panama Tocumen Airport. ©Paliparan
panama tocumen airport
The boarding gate for my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. ©Paliparan

Panama City (PTY) to San Jose (SJO) on Copa Airlines
Flight CM787 – Boeing 737-800 – Economy class, seat 21A
Departure: 7.54am
– Arrival: 8.17am
Flight time: 1h23m – Distance: 335 miles
Costs: 450 EUR, as part of an OTP-PTY return ticket

pty sjo
The flight from Panama City to San Jose takes just over an hour. ©Great Circle Mapper

Boeing 737-800

Today’s flight would be operated by a Boeing 737-800, which forms the backbone of Copa Airlines’ fleet. Copa has Boeing 737-800s of various ages and they come in two different configurations.

The plane which was used to operate my route was one of the newer generations of 737s and had a modern-looking interior, featuring Boeing’s Sky Interior and large stowage bins.

In business class there were leather recliner seats in a 2 by 2 layout. The business class cabin was separated from economy class by a bulkhead.

copa airlines boeing 737 business class
Business class on the Boeing 737-800 has comfortable leather recliner seats. ©Paliparan

A closer look at the economy seat

The seats in economy class didn’t look bad either. The cabin seemed more spacious than most other narrow-body planes and seat pitch and shoulder room were both above average. Each seat also had an individual USB charging port.

The Copa Airlines Boeing 737-800 also has personal entertainment screens, although being tired from the early morning departure I forgot to check out the contents and just watched the route map during this short flight.

Unfortunately, none of the planes in the Copa Airlines fleet is equipped with WiFi internet.

Overall, I thought the seats were comfortable – and certainly quite a bit better than those on board the short and mid-haul fleet of most European carriers.

economy class cabin boeing 737 copa airlines
The economy class cabin on the Copa Airlines Boeing 737-800. ©Paliparan
economy class seats boeing 737-800 copa airlines
Economy class seats on the Copa Airlines Boeing 737-800. ©Paliparan
copa airlines boeing 737 economy
Each seat has its own in-flight entertainment screen. ©Paliparan

Departure

Today’s flight to San José was quite full with an estimated load factor of about 90 percent. We left Panama’s Tocumen Airport on time and slowly climbed to cruising altitude.

Being seated above the wing I had a great view over the Panamanian jungle.

panama airport departure
Departing from Panama Tocumen International Airport. ©Paliparan
take-off boeing 737-800 panama copa
Ready for take-off. ©Paliparan
copa takeoff panama
Airborne! ©Paliparan
climb copa airlines boeing 737
We had a steep climb out of Panama Tocumen Airport. ©Paliparan
winglet
The clearly recognisable split-tip winglets used on the newer Boeing 737 planes such as the Boeing 737NG (Next Generation) and Boeing 737 MAX. ©Paliparan

Meal service

Just like my previous Copa flight, this flight also had a complimentary snack and beverage service.

Although you cannot complain much given the short flight time of just over an hour, the cheese and ham sandwich itself was quite disappointing and has to be the most sorry-looking in-flight meal I received in quite a while. Fortunately, it did taste slightly better than it looked like.

To drink, I had a glass of orange juice. If you fly at a later hour in the day (or want to start boozing early) it is good to know that Copa Airlines does offer free beer and wine in economy class.

copa airlines boeing 737 economy snack
The sandwich served on board my Panama-San Jose flight has to be one of the most sorry-looking snacks I had in a long while! ©Paliparan

Hello Costa Rica!

The flight went by fast and before I knew it we were on our final descent towards San José. Views over the rainforests, mountains and the Central Valley plateau on which the Costa Rican capital is located were great.

We landed on time at San José’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, where our plane connected to a jet bridge to the main terminal.

san jose arrival
The flight went by fast and soon we were already on descent towards San Jose. ©Paliparan
descent san jose
On descent towards San Jose. ©Paliparan
san jose central plateau
The Costa Rican capital of San Jose is located on a plateau in the centre of the country. ©Paliparan
final approach san jose
Final approach into San Jose. ©Paliparan
san jose juan santamaria airport
San Jose’s Juan Santamaria Airport. ©Paliparan

Immigration

I had purposely chosen the early morning flight to San José as it would give me a full day stopover in the Costa Rican capital before catching my connecting KLM flight to Amsterdam in the evening.

Yet at passport control, I had a curious talk with the border guard who was initially reluctant to stamp me into the country. After he asked me how long I was staying in the country, I of course answered with “just a few hours until the KLM departure”.

He then wanted to see my onward flight ticket and told me I had to back to the transit area to wait for my flight!

I was quite puzzled by this and said that I did not want to stay at the airport, but would like to enter the country and see San José, to which he again said it is not possible.

I politely reminded him that I do not need a visa of any sort to enter Costa Rica and I was fulfilling all entry requirements into the country, it being irrelevant whether I stay just for a few hours or for two weeks.

When he still did not want to budge, I asked if I could speak to a supervisor. At that moment he started to browse again through my passport and finally after a full minute he took out his stamp. Under the Costa Rican entry stamp, he wrote the words “transito” and “8h50 hours” on the line indicating the amount of time I was allowed to stay.

Why he did not want to do this in the first place is still a mystery to me.

Finally being stamped into the country, I first exchanged some US dollars to Costa Rican colones, bought a bottle of water, and headed for the public bus stop for the ride downtown.

san jose airport bus
Frequent buses connect San Jose Airport with a city centre bus terminal. ©Paliparan

In short

I again had a pleasant flight with Copa Airlines. To start with the positive, the cabin of the Boeing 737-800 was modern and fresh, and the economy class seat was certainly comfortable enough for this short-haul flight.

In-flight entertainment screens and USB power ports are an added plus, although Copa decided for some reason not to equip these planes with WiFi internet.

Even on a short flight like this, you will get a complimentary snack and beverage in economy class. Unfortunately, the sandwich was one of the worst-looking meals I received in a long while, although it was actually edible.

Overall, Copa Airlines runs a reliable operation out of its Panama City hub and makes for a convenient option to travel through the Americas. If the price is right, I would not hesitate to fly them again.

Trip report index

This article is part of the ‘A Piece of Panama With a Bit of Bogota and a Slice of San Jose‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:

1. Review: Air France Economy Class Bucharest to Paris (Airbus A320)
2. Review: Air France Business Lounge Paris CDG Airport Terminal 2E – Hall K
3. Review: Air France Economy Class Paris to Bogota (Boeing 787)
4. Review: Hotel Morrison 114, Bogota, Colombia
5. A Short One-Day Stopover in Bogota, Colombia
6. Review: Copa Club Bogota Airport, Colombia
7. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class Panama to Bogota (Embraer RJ-190)
8. Review: Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro
9. How to Visit the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal
10. Into the Casco Viejo – Exploring Panama City’s Old Town Centre
11. Isla Taboga: A Day Trip to the Island of Flowers
12. A Panama Day Trip to the Portobelo Forts and Tropical Isla Mamay
13. Review: Copa Club Panama Tocumen International Airport
14. Review: Copa Airlines Economy Class (Boeing 737-800) Panama to San Jose (current chapter)
15. A day in the Costa Rican capital of San José
16. Review: Santamaria VIP Lounge San José Airport
17. Review: KLM economy class San José to Amsterdam (Boeing 787)
18. Review: KLM Crown Lounge (Non-Schengen) Amsterdam Airport
19. Review: KLM economy class Amsterdam-Bucharest (Boeing 737-800)

Koen

Koen

Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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