By Albert Kuan
Copa Airlines’ Dreams Business Class – Flatbed Seats on a 737 MAX 9
Panama-based Copa Airlines has boasted one of the world’s best hubs for connections, being such a convenient springboard to major cities and destinations across Latin America. At Copa’s home base (PTY), or ‘Hub of the Americas’, bags are checked directly to their final destination and travelers simply walk to their next flight without needing to go through customs or immigration. In most cases, a security check is not even required to board the next flight.
With the return of the Boeing 737 MAX to the skies, Copa is now raising the bar for travel with its new flatbed business class product, Dreams. Dreams is the newest showstopper in business class travel in Latin America, a flatbed seat exclusive to Copa’s new, fuel-efficient 737 MAX 9 jets. Flatbed seats are a rarity on narrowbody jets like the 737, especially in Latin America, but they make sense for Copa, which flies some of the longest 737 routes in the world through Panama.
Copa’s Dreams business class provides a more enjoyable and relaxing travel experience for travelers. The new business class seat is capable of reclining completely flat and comes complete with upsized blankets, plush pillows, noise-canceling headphones and a 16-inch touchscreen. On select routes, Dreams travelers also receive premium amenity kits, which include an eyemask, socks and moisturizers.
Copa’s Boeing 737 MAX 9 jets currently operate on some of the airline’s longer routes which are between Panama and Montevideo (Uruguay), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Los Angeles, and very soon, San Francisco (starting October 15). More than 60 MAX jets are on order, meaning once MAX comes to be more widespread in their fleet, a seamless Dreams experience to more of South America would be possible. This is all thanks to the well-defined arrivals and departures at Tocumen Airport.
So what’s it like to fly on Dreams? On behalf of Copa Airlines, we jumped onto one of their twice-daily MAX services from Los Angeles to find out what’s it like to fly in Latin America’s latest flatbed product and connect in Copa’s ‘Hub of the Americas’. The Los Angeles – Panama City route is one of the longest in the airline’s network, just under 7 hours, and operates twice daily to and from Panama.
LAX Star Alliance Lounge
A prelude to the slumber on Dreams, travelers have access to the well-attended Star Alliance Lounge (Business Class) at LAX – now back in operation after a 16-month hiatus. Upon checking-in and clearing security screening, travelers only need to present their business class boarding pass to the lounge attendant to enter. The lounge is located on Level 6 of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, past security, near the clock tower in the central atrium area.
The lounge features a relaxing, contemporary design and a well-stocked buffet (under current local regulations, self-serve buffets are once again permitted). The buffet offered a sizable selection of small bites, a salad bar, desserts and multiple hot and cold foods. Liquor, wine and beer were all self-serve as well.
The lounge had plenty of individual and group seating, including outdoor seating, lots of outlets, and plenty of open space to stretch out before the flight. Flight announcements were made, however the decibel level was kept to a minimum. Periodicals and reading material are no longer stocked in the lounge however during Covid-19.
Copa Airlines operates two flights per day to Panama City from Los Angeles, and as they are some the last Star Alliance flights for the day, the lounge is nearly void of other travelers by the time Copa travelers complete check-in and security. The lounge operates until 1 AM, or until the last departure of the night. This was enough time to for me to rest and grab a quick bite and drink before walking over to my gate for boarding. Boarding began promptly an hour before departure time.
The Dreams product appears only on Copa’s Boeing 737 MAX jets. These planes feature a total of 16 reclining, lie-flat business class seats, spread across four rows in a 2-2 configuration. All seats are forward-facing. In addition to the premium seats, the MAX jet also features oversized bins for carry-on luggage, quieter cabins and comfortable mood lighting to help travelers adjust and arrive in better shape.
The Dreams seat truly reclines all the way down to a lie-flat position and can be adjusted to a variety of positions to suit your comfort. If your goal is to go immediately to sleep, each Dreams seat converts into a lie-flat bed at the touch of a single button. The crew also makes sure to take care of business toward the beginning of the flight so they can let you get to snoozing right away.
The seat can be reclined and adjusted to different positions using the seat control panel. The seat also has two preset controls as well: upright for taxi, takeoff and landing, and fully flatbed mode when it’s time to get some shut-eye.
Overall, my nearly six-foot frame fit perfectly in all the positions and I was very comfortable being able to stretch out, watch a documentary, and eventually, fall asleep.
The shell of the seat helped provide a sense of privacy and personal space, especially when the seat was reclined all the way. Each seat also has an armrest that can be lowered or raised to allow for even more space to stretch out. This was perfect for when I wanted to sit cross-legged to watch a movie.
Above the shoulder in each seat was a reading light in addition to the overhead light. The reading light was perfect for use when I didn’t want to disturb my neighbors who were sleeping in the dark cabin. There are also intact privacy partitions in between the center armrest, as well as air nozzles above the seat for individual climate control.
A compact storage nook next to each seat provides a handy space to keep your phone and other small gadgets within reach. One USB outlet and one universal power outlet is located here as well to keep your devices charged. There is also a narrow tray storage space right under the seat-back monitor which comfortably fits my laptop, glasses and other loose papers without sliding out during turbulence.
The Dreams seat also features adjustable lumbar support, which was especially useful for when it came time to work. This was ideal for when I wanted to provide support for my back and sit upright to get some work done on my laptop. Each seat features a retractable tray table in the center armrest large enough to accommodate a laptop and a drink sharing the same surface. There is a dedicated literature space tucked away under the center armrest as well, not obstructing any personal space.
Depending on their destination, travelers flying in Dreams will surely notice the upgraded amenities onboard their Dreams flight.
Dreams travelers are given upgraded amenities consisting of noise-canceling headphones, larger pillows, soft, duvet-like blankets, as well as a sleeping kit, which includes a sleep mask and socks. Bottled water was also passed out to travelers before they fell asleep.
The sleeping kit, navy blue with light blue accents, was aesthetically pleasing. Inside were a number of standard offerings for sleeping and staying refreshed including apple-scented hand lotion, almond flavor lip balm, a dental kit, eyeshades, socks, mouthwash, and a souvenir postcard of Copa’s 737 MAX jet.
For the aviation geek, one will notice the emblem of Copa’s “Hub of the Americas” subtlety emblazoned on the amenity bag. It is an updated, and more stylish version of the early 2000s emblem and features two inbound arrows and two outbound arrows to demonstrate that Copa’s business model is based on connecting traffic.
There’s one standard-sized lavatory for Dreams travelers at the front of the cabin. Consistent with the sleeping kits provided, the lavatory was also stocked with the same apple-scented hand lotion, in addition to apple-scented facial mist.
Each Dream seat is fronted by a 16-inch touchscreen, one of the largest business-class screens in the industry, loaded with a solid selection of international movies, TV shows and music channels. A touchscreen remote is tucked away under the center armrest and was very useful for navigating the entertainment system and peeking at flight information without ever exiting a program. Nevertheless, the screen is very responsive if you chose to use your fingers to navigate.
There’s no Wi-Fi service on Copa flights, unfortunately, however, the decision to forego Wi-Fi service can most likely be explained by the number of business travelers that began dozing off once the sleep mood lighting was activated. Once the cabin lights were entirely dimmed, almost every Dreams traveler I saw had donned their eyeshades and reclined their seat to the lie-flat position for the remainder of the flight. This is how red-eye flights work!
In addition to well-known films, TV shows and artists, some of the unique highlights of the inflight entertainment system include award-winning Spanish language films and documentaries from Panama’s International Film Festival, as well as local Panamanian TV shows and music by Panamanian artists. Foreign language films and television shows are shown were either dubbed in English or shown with English subtitles.
Being an aviation and geography geek, I found the flight information system to be very detailed and entertaining. The flight map provided adjustable navigation features and different viewing modes for understanding the flight path. Connecting gate information was also provided on the screen near the end of the flight, although in Dreams, the flight attendant will come to deliver the information to you in person most likely.
If you’d prefer to use your own laptop or tablet, Copa also provides the same onboard entertainment system through Copa Showpass. The same wide range of films, television series, magazines, documentaries, music and flight information can also be accessed from your mobile device by connecting to the aircraft’s intranet network.
Although Copa doesn’t provide hard copies of its Panorama in-flight magazine at the moment, the magazine is still released bi-monthly and available in an e-version through the in-flight entertainment system or Copa Showpass. Panorama still features a number of high-quality articles and features, including useful information about Copa’s services, however, the eye strain and lengthy screen navigation involved with reading an e-magazine would probably discourage you from taking a peek.
As with every Copa flight during Covid-19, face masks were mandatory throughout the flight except when eating or drinking. Many items onboard, including pillows and blankets, and snacks, were either sealed or individually wrapped. Copa Airlines also plays a video before takeoff explaining the biosafety measures taken before and during the flight to keep travelers safe onboard.
Service throughout the flight was first-rate, with the attentive cabin crew in good spirits and welcoming travelers individually upon being seated. The Dreams cabin has its own dedicated flight attendant, a chief purser who was able to speak both English and Spanish. Some cabin announcements were also made in Portuguese as well.
Despite being a redeye, the chief purser was readily available to take requests throughout the flight. I wasn’t asleep until much later into the flight, but she was happy to take my requests for more snacks and drinks, and even answer questions about the 737 MAX 9 we were flying on.
I didn’t push the flight attendant call button for most of the flight, as a crew member seemed to also pass through the cabin every 10 minutes. A curtain and dividers provided separation from the Economy and Economy Extra cabins, but a crew member was always passing through discreetly.
The service was very professional and attentive. Each traveler was well taken care of from takeoff until landing, and upon arrival, the chief purser even came to bid farewell and see if I enjoyed the flight. She also checked on the information for my connecting flight before landing at Tocumen.
Due to the timing of my flight, only breakfast was served on the flight – served two hours prior to arrival. This was the only hot meal service during the flight, while snacks and beverages were served on request throughout the flight.
Most travelers in the business class came on board the plane ready to go into a deep slumber, however, so they didn’t really mind not having a hot meal at the beginning of the flight. if you tend to get hungry instead of sleepy during a redeye flight, I advise planning time for dinner at the Star Alliance Lounge before getting onboard, otherwise, you will only be limited to packaged snacks and beverages until arrival time nears.
The breakfast order was taken prior to takeoff and each traveler was given a choice between two entrees. As I was already hungry, I opted for the choice with more protein – scrambled eggs, with hash browns and sausage.
After meal orders were taken, the chief purser came around with a snack tray laid out with a variety of packaged snacks consisting of cheese pretzels, almonds, cookies and granola bars. Drink orders were also taken, and I was advised by the chief purser to accompany the snacks with a fruit juice – which she suggested their apple juice. The apple juice was natural and had a great taste complementing the scent of the hand cream from my amenity kit. Thus it became my drink of choice for the rest of the flight, including breakfast.
Drinks were served in a glass from the galley with ice, however, snacks were still served in packages. Alcoholic beverages were limited to white and red wine, and beer; soft drinks included sparkling water, Coca-Cola and different fruit juices.
By request, I was woken up for breakfast and the chief purser verbally confirmed my breakfast choice before the meal was actually prepared. Breakfast was delivered on a single tray with sides. The main entrée came accompanied by a Greek-style yogurt, granola oats and assorted fruits. The main course of scrambled eggs was perfectly sized and not too filling.
Business class meals are now served plated on ceramic dishware, but they are still served covered. Stainless steel cutlery are also now provided, as well as a disposable cloth napkin and sanitizing wipe.
Ground Experience at ‘Hub of the Americas’
Tocumen Airport is one of the most convenient airports for connections if you have an onward destination. Copa’s ‘Hub of the Americas’ is fundamental to its business model and the airport is built upon offering a very simple transit experience for travelers.
In my case, I only needed 10 minutes to get from my arrival gate to the boarding gate for my next flight. My bags were checked directly to my final destination, and there was no need to clear security, customs or immigration at any point.
At Tocumen Airport, travelers simply walk into the international area from their arriving flight and walk over to their next boarding gate as if they were connecting from a domestic flight. I would say the only roadblocks at the Tocumen were the sizeable number of arriving travelers like me who were also rushing to their next flight.
Most flight connections are often around 90 minutes at Tocumen, and for Dreams travelers, that allows enough time to make a stop at Copa’s Copa Club to recharge before the next flight. The lounge is also accessible to Dreams travelers whose final destination is Panama as well. The Copa Club, located near Gate 130, currently only provides packaged snacks and some beverages, but it suffices for a short transit.
Copa’s Dreams product is a game-changer in Latin America. It not only exceeds what is offered in business class by other Latin American carriers – such as Aeromexico and Avianca on their narrowbody jets – but also it is one of the only few flatbed business class seats in the region. If you also consider most Copa travelers connecting in Panama are flying more than 10 hours in each direction, the flatbed product definitely is a must for such a long journey.
For business travel, Copa is definitely one of the most comfortable ways to travel into Latin America. The comfortable seat, attentive service, and simple connection at Tocumen Airport definitely set it apart from the competition.