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Panama City is not quite Dubai, and Copa Airlines isn’t quite Emirates. But using that Middle Eastern hub — and its well-known airline — as a point of reference might help travel agents understand how Copa operates in Central America.
Like Emirates, Copa Airlines is based in a fast-growing city with a thriving economy and an airport that’s a showplace for the region. Both carriers focus heavily on connecting passengers from different regions of the world (more than half of Copa’s passengers are connecting, according to Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines). Both airlines also maintain a singular focus on growth.
Certainly, Copa Airlines operates on a smaller scale than Emirates, flying narrow-body aircrafts between the Caribbean and North, Central and South America. But the airline — which serves 67 destinations in 29 countries — is growing quickly. Earlier this year, Copa announced new service between Panama City and the following destinations: Montreal, Canada; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Georgetown, Guyana. In addition, the company announced plans to increase its capacity by 10 percent through the addition of eight new Boeing Next Generation 737-800 aircraft this year, thus increasing its total fleet to 98 planes. Copa keeps its fleet remarkably consistent, operating only two aircraft types: the Boeing 737 and Embraer 190.
Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport is the crown jewel in Copa’s network — a modern, expanding facility that the carrier likes to call the “Hub of the Americas” because of its central location between North and South America. It’s also the connecting point for Copa’s passengers from the western United States. With three flights per day linking Los Angeles with Panama City and recently expanded, twice-daily service from Las Vegas, the carrier now has five daily flights designed to whisk West Coast travelers to Central America and beyond. A new south terminal at the airport, which Heilbron said will open in less than three years, will increase Copa’s number of gates from 34 to 54.
Opportunities for Travel AgentsTravel agents are a big part of Copa’s plan to reach more passengers in the western U.S., and Heilbron sees growth opportunities for those who sell Latin America.
To help travel agents in their efforts, the company offers incentives and commissions, net and wholesale fare agreements and joint management of corporate accounts. In addition, Copa maintains sales offices in both Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and coordinates educational fam trips for travel agency sales forces.
One of Copa’s goals, of course, is to convince travel agents that they should be selling Copa Airlines instead of other carriers, by highlighting what makes the Panamanian carrier different.
“If [travel agents] have not discovered Copa yet, they should,” he said. “They will be surprised by the vast North American network that we have, and how we connect through Panama to the rest of Latin America. They’ll be surprised by our onboard service and the quality of our aircraft and our operations, and then our alliance with United Airlines, which goes back to the days of Continental, with codeshares, MileagePlus benefits and more.”