Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Copa Airlines and our trip to Lima.

Awhile back some friends of ours asked if we would like to go to Lima, Peru over the Thanksgiving holiday this year. As we have never been before we started giving it serious thought. I even found $500 tickets on Copa Air during that time. We've never flow Copa air and thought we would give it a try. The only bit we didn't like when booking was the transfer in Panama but thought it shouldn't be too bad.

Now I'm platinum elite in the Onepass program so I purchased the tickets under one record locator so that I can get my partner (who has no status on Copa ) a chance to be upgraded with me. This in turn made me do some research on the whole upgrade process for Copa Air, and by default Continental, on flyertalk. I found that I needed to split the record locator into two to make sure that I would get the upgrade four days out and that it would be a lottery at the airport as to whether we got my partner upgraded.

So the day of our trip out to Peru we show up at Dulles at 4:30 am to get him put on the "list" as my guest. We ask the agent to make sure he's on the list on the connection from Panama to Lima. She says that yes she has done this but somehow I don't think she did. I want to add that a 5:55am flight out of Dulles is an evil thing. We're getting ready to board and there is no indication that my partner will get the upgrade. I then go to the ticket counter and ask. The guy looks at me and asks if I'm Platinum and I pull out the card and show him. Va-voom, my partner is in the business class cabin. Two very happy people at this point.

We make it to Panama with only an hour between flights. We get off the plane and then realize we will be getting on the same plane for the leg to Lima. I got to the gate agent and asked about the upgrade for my partner. Business is checked in Full at this point and it stayed that way. So for the last 3 1/2 hour leg he had to sit in back. Which wasn't horrible. The only thing is I'm really sure the agent in Dulles didn't bother to add him to the upgrade list on the second let at the time of check-in at Dulles.

I also have to say that flying a 737-700 for 8+ hours is not my idea of fun, even if you are in the front of the bus. The seats barely recline, there are no foot rests so it’s not that much easier to get any sleep up front then it is in back and after getting up at 3am to catch the first flight sleep is what I wanted. I ended up reading "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" instead.

As for the food on the flights I can say it was actually good. I'm amazed at what they can get out of that small galley. It was tiny and yet they were able to get out drinks and nuts first, then appetizers, mains (a choice of two) and a dessert cart. The wine was good and they had a decent brandy. The only time they failed in my opinion was with the coming around for refills of wine and such. It wasn't automatic like most other airlines I've flown. Not really a problem. You just asked for more if you wanted it and they would have no problem getting it for you.

Entertainment was just a joke. Bring your own iPad or Kendle if you want to be entertained. The small screens that came down from the ceiling could barely be seen, my jack for the headsets didn't seem to fit the plugs to the head sets they had given me. The purser tried to fix it too and couldn't. It was fine because there really wasn't anything on that I wanted to watch. I ended up finishing my book and then purchasing the last in the series "The Girl who kicked a hornet's nest" which I read on the flight back.

Immigration is easy and took next to no time to get through. We had the hotel's car service pick us up for a rush hour trip to Meraflores the Thunderbird hotel Belevista.

We stayed in Lima for two days before going to Cuzco. The highlight was eating at Astrid y Gaston, a chief Guston restaurant. We had found it by just walking around the night before to get our bearings and knew some of our friends highly recommended it. It was an amazing 3 1/2 hour, 14 course dining experience and we loved every minute of it. Two bottle of wine later we stumbled back to the hotel so that we can get up and go back to the airport for a 6am flight to Cuzco.

I'm really going to have to stop these morning flights. They are evil.

We arrive in Cuzco to 10,000 feet up. I think that something I ate had made me sick and then I couldn't breathe either. I ended up going back to the hotel and spending the day in bed while everyone else went sightseeing. The thing is we were going to Manchu Picchu the next day and there was no way I was going to miss that. I had dreamed of seeing those ruins for years and never thought I would actually have the chance. I had chills and a fever but the best thing that I could have done was stay in bed all day. And it worked, I was fine for the trip the next day.

Manchu Picchu, there is no description. You've seen the photographs but it doesn’t prepare you for actually being there.

We end up taking a taxi to the train station. We decided, along with our posse, to take the high-end Orient Express Hiram Bingham to Manchu Picchu. It was amazing. We had pre-departure Champaign to start with at the train station. As we got settled into our dinning booth we noticed the dancing on the platform. They had indigenous people doing a local dance for us. It involved incents and a human skull. It was fascinating. After watching for a while we went back to the dinner car and sat down and the train started its four hour journey. We had announcements and then they came and took our order for brunch. We were then sent back to the bar car to be entertained and wined until we got to Manchu Picchu.

The journey went quickly and the next thing we knew we were there. This part of the tip will need to be seen in person. It's too hard to try to describe it and give it justice.

At around 6am we headed back to the train for the dinner trip back to Cuzco. Once again it was about the same as the way to Manchu Picchu but with dinner being served. After dinner we went to the bar car and proceeded to get somewhat drunk on Peruvian wine, beer and Pisco sours. By the time we got to the hotel it was definitely time for a good sleep and I was actually able to breathe again.

We stayed in Cuzco for another day in a half sightseeing. We found another Gaston restaurant in Cuzco and proceeded to have a fantastic lunch there. We also got to have an amazing dinner at an old Converted Monastery that was run by the same people who ran the Orient Express train operation.

The next day we head back to Lima on a flight that doesn’t leave at 6am in the morning. Thank God. We used Peruvian airlines for these flights and they were easy and cheap. The main difference between US local carriers and other counties' local carriers is that you still get service on flights internally. This flight was just about an hour and they had a drink service (with booze) and served food. Impressed me a little bit.

Once we went back to Lima we checked into the same hotel we were in the first few nights. In fact we were able to leave our big suitcases there so we didn't have to take them to Cuzco with us which made it much easier on our travel. The room was big, clean and the staff very friendly.

Now in lima we did a few things with the family of the friends we went with. We had a drinks party one night at their house, we had Chinese food one night, we went to an award's ceremony where my friend's father got a medal and then went to a cocktail party on the top of one of the nicest hotels in Lima for a book launch party and hobnobbing with the local who's who of lima. The vice president of Peru was even there.

Then on Saturday we went out to the country house to celebrate the father's 76th birthday. This house and country side were absolutely amazing. It was situated out in the dessert in the middle of a poor area where all they had was dust and brown everywhere. You drove down a dirt road and then came to a gate. Once they opened the gate there was a sea of green. On the inside of the wall of the compound it was a completely different experience. Lush green, a pool, three houses, a wine cellar. Truly amazing the whole thing. It had been set up with tables and a tent, there was a dance area and full bar service. We arrived at 1pm and didn't leave until around 1am. The food was traditional Peruvian stews of all kinds with rice. We had Peruvian doughnuts for dessert served with honey. This was another highlight of our trip.

The next day was the Bull Fight.

I tried to get out of this one. Watching something die for other's entertainment just isn't really my thing. We ended up going because the hosts had gotten us box seats and it seemed rude not to.

I will forever have the images of the fights (how do they call it that?) etched into my brain. The first bulls death traumatized me. I had to watch, kind of like a car wreck. I can still close my eyes and see in vivid detail something I will not discuss here.

Am I glad I went, yes for the cultural experience. Will I ever do it again, no.

The next day we headed back to Washington.

This time our flight left Lima at 2 something in the afternoon so we could sleep a bit. I had already been upgraded four days before. We get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The traffic was just bad and not horrific like usual so it didn't take nearly as long to get to the airport as we thought it would. We check-in at the Elite Access desk and I immediately get Dave put on the upgrade list. The woman takes a while doing it but she gets Dave wait listed on the first flight and on the connecting flight. I'm impressed because I was sure that didn’t happen on the way day.

Now at this point I ask for lounge access. The person says that I can go in but Dave can't. They only let the one with the Elite Access in but not with a guest. This makes the privilege practically worthless in my opinion. We do get to pay our airport departure fee at check-in and don’t' have to go through to another queue to pay it. Security was relatively painless. I tried once more to get us both into the lounge but it was a no go. Dave is a Star Alliance gold card member which gets him lounge access in most cases if he's flying on a Star Alliance flight on the same day. Well Copa air is a strange animal, they use Continental's Onepass program for their mileage program but they are not officially a Star Alliance member yet like Continental. This means that Dave can't use his gold status to get him into the lounge in Lima. We shrug our shoulders and heard to the gate.

We ask about his upgrade there and we're told that the front had checked in full, sorry. Ok, fine. I'll just get him to board at the same time as me. They call for the Elite Access to board and I have him in tow. The gate agent will not let him board with me, only Elite Access. Not guest or spouses or children. The agent will not bend. So I get out of line with Dave just long enough to get his bag so that I can put it above his seat. And then get my seat. Not a very pleasant experience.

Once on the plane I proceed to have this man sit next to me. But before he could actually sit down he had to get a grill, a pink Barbie bag full of god knows what, and another bag (just a bag, almost looked like a garbage bag) stowed. While doing this he has stopped anyone from passing him so they can go to their seats in the back. He finally gives them a little room by standing almost directly on me with his ass in my face. As this point I've put down my book and am actively giving him an evil eye that could melt diamonds. He finally sits down only to get up by way of tap-pushing my legs out of the way. I am not happy with him at all now. Who was this guy and how did he get in first class and not my Dave? Grrrrrr.

A little while later a girl comes in and takes the last seat in business class across the aisle from me. I'm not even sure she was supposed to be there but she sat there anyway. I was getting ready to try and get the seat for Dave when she jumped into it. She and the guy sitting next to me then decided to have a very loud conversation in Spanish across me.

Ok, I've had enough at this point and make the girl change places with me so she can sit next to her friend and talk all flight long if they want. I finally got some peace and quiet and could work on my book which had gotten my attention big time at this point.

The service was about the same as on the way down so nothing new to report here.

Once we got to Panama we went straight to the departing gate for our Panama-Washington flight to make sure Dave was on the upgrade list after a little floundering we see that he has been put on the list and is the first on it but that business class has checked in full again. At this point he's given up hope on the upgrade but I still have hope in the back of my head. Just because people have checked-in doesn't mean they will actually get on the plane.

I then proceed to take him to the actual Presidents Club there in Panama after we try to use the public bathroom and it has a line down the corridor to use it. This time the agent looks at my boarding pass and doesn't have a problem at all letting Dave in too. Seems the other lounge is contracted out so there are different rules. We get in and sit down for a little while, go to the bathroom and then I visit to the bar. I ask for a glass of red and a glass of white to take back to Dave. Sorry, we don't have red wine. How about a beer, sorry we don't have that either. Solamente vino blanco. Ok then two white wines please. There was some booze but didn't want that. Took it back to Dave and at this point he started making a tag line for Copa air, you get what you pay for. Made me laugh out loud.

After finishing our wine we go down to the gate again. Now I forget this is a plane going to the US so now you have to get your bags checked-searched at the gate. Also at this point any semblance of an Elite line is gone so it's everyone for themselves. In Latin America that can be daunting. We finally get through having our stuff searched and having my water taken away (I got it at the airport, I mean really!) and we make it to our seats. Dave is in row 14, I'm in 2.

I'm watching things carefully now. I watch as what seems to be the last people get on, and then a couple of more get on, this happens about five times. I then see the gate agent come in and tell the crew that boarding has finished. I look and see one open seat upfront. I got up and asked the purser about it, he looks at his papers and David's name to see that his seat is now 4b. I go back and grab Dave to come up. He didn't know what I was saying at first because he was resigned to be in the back. Anyway he soon got it and grabbed his stuff and came on up.

As before the inflight experience was the same as the trip down.

Once we got to Dulles we hopped off the plane pretty fast. Dave and I have GOES which is the finger print USA entry system so when everyone else goes left to stand in line we go right and are through boarder control in three minutes. Which is great if you only have a roll aboard. We ended up waiting an hour+ for our luggage. At this point it's 1am and I'm getting tired and cranky. We finally get our luggage and get the heck out of Dulles. I ended up getting to sleep at around 3am so I came into the office just a little bit late this morning.

In conclusion. Would I fly Copa again, probably. Will I like it, probably not. Nine hours of flying on a small plane is a little bit tiring. So this is my trip on Copa Airlines to Peru this last Thanksgiving.

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