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Copa Airlines Pilots to Strike on February 2

Copa Airlines might face massive disruption due to a pilot strike organized by UNPAC citing poor working conditions

by Fergus Cole

January 23, 2023

Photo: Boeing 737-800. Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Pilots working for Panama’s national flag carrier Copa Airlines voted to go on strike on February 2, following months of unresolved talks to improve working conditions.

The workers union representing Copa’s pilots—the Panamanian Commercial Aviators Unions (UNPAC)—has been in talks with the carrier since October 2022.

Luis Alcala, the general secretary of UNPAC, said the two parties have failed to come to a “fair and sustainable agreement'” and confirmed that the airline’s pilots would take part in a strike beginning at 7:30 AM on February 2.

The strike, if it goes ahead, will involve around 1,200 pilots. The expected disruption will not be limited to domestic flights within Panama, however, with many international services—especially in Central America and the Caribbean—set to be affected.

Photo: Boeing 737-800. Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Copa’s hub at Tocumen International Airport (PTY) is a major regional transit airport for flights between North and South America. Many U.S. carriers fly directly to PTY, including Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Spirit Airlines, along with many international carriers, such as Air Canada and Turkish Airlines.

UNPAC has made several demands during its talks with Copa regarding its members’ working conditions. The pilots claim to have lost significant purchasing power since the pandemic, primarily driven by the airline’s reduced flight schedule, wage cuts, and inflation.

The union is also demanding that Copa contributes more to their pilots’ health insurance scheme and improve the conditions of their retirement plan.

Other demands include improving overnight accommodation for pilots while on a layover, better food on board, and enhancing the working conditions and rights for pregnant pilots.

“The list of requests we are making is not exorbitant or utopian – it is very realistic,” said Alcala.

Copa Airlines has not responded to the strike’s threat, which, according to UNPAC, could be avoided if the airline responds positively.