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Raleigh-Durham Welcomes Copa Airlines: First Look at the Inaugural Flight

A full review of the airline's inaugural ceremony and flight from Panama City to Raleigh-Durham International Airport in Business Class

Photo: Courtesy of Copa Airlines

Copa Airlines inaugurated its first flight from Panama City to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) on Friday, marking the airline’s 16th destination in the United States.

The Panamanian flag carrier is expanding its presence in North America and now serves 18 destinations in the U.S. and Canada. With the addition of the new route to Raleigh-Durham, Copa’s network now spans 85 destinations across 32 countries in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean.

Raleigh-Durham has joined a distinguished list of U.S. cities that Copa Airlines serves, including Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Tampa, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

In addition to its U.S. expansion, the airline has also recently launched flights to Tulum, Mexico, and Florianopolis, Brazil.

Convenient Flight Schedule

Copa’s new operations to Raleigh-Durham will operate with an initial schedule of four weekly flights from its hub in Panama City. The flights will depart at 8:56 AM, arriving at Raleigh-Durham at 2:28 PM. The return flight will leave at 4:20 PM and land back in Panama at 7:46 PM.

The service will be available year-round on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, providing business travelers with convenient and flexible travel options to and from Panama City and Raleigh-Durham.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

“This new route to Raleigh-Durham strengthens our presence in the United States, allowing our passengers greater connectivity and access to the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, the state’s hub of innovation and technology,” said David DeFossey, Regional Commercial Manager, North America for Copa Airlines.

“Serving a new destination allows us to offer our passengers quick and convenient connections to an ever-growing network across the continent, increasing commercial exchange opportunities and tourism development in the region.”

Michael Landguth, president and CEO of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, added, “RDU is thrilled to welcome Copa Airlines and the new gateway its Panama City service provides to Latin America and the Caribbean through the Hub of the Americas. The route opens up new possibilities for business and leisure travel from the Research Triangle region to Panama and points beyond.”

Photo: Courtesy of Copa Airlines

Claudio Dutary, General Manager at Tocumen International Airport, remarked that the addition of this route “has greater meaning for Panama as we’re linking our country to a growing area of science, technology, and research,” he said. “This enhances the development and connectivity of our country to yet another destination thanks to Copa’s efforts.”

Raleigh-Durham, already host to 17 other airlines, will welcome its 18th carrier, solidifying its position as a key hub for international travel. Copa now joins Aeromexico, Air CanadaAir France, Bahamasair, Icelandair, and Lufthansa as the seventh foreign carrier at RDU, contributing to the airport’s diverse range of airlines and destinations.

The Inaugural Flight

Following the traditional inaugural ceremony, which included speeches from the airline’s executives and the Tocumen airport director, a ribbon-cutting ceremony followed, leading to the on-time boarding of Copa’s first-ever flight to North Carolina.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

Upon boarding the impeccable cabin, our flight attendants introduced themselves and greeted every passenger in the business class cabin with their choice of water or orange juice.

The Seat

Copa has at least four different kinds of business class cabin products, and my flight was operated by a Boeing 737-800 with a refreshed seat, often used on most of its longer flights to North America. Business class consisted of 16 recliner seats spread across four rows in a 2-2 configuration.

The seating on this particular aircraft was quite comfortable, offering a generous 38 inches of pitch, comparable to what you would normally find in domestic first-class seats in the United States.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

Additionally, these seats featured impressive amenities such as 11 inches of recline, extended legroom measuring 49 inches, and a convenient footrest.

Passengers can manually adjust the seats using a side panel, and the center console provides both power and USB ports, adding to the overall comfort of the experience during the 4-hour flight.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

Individual screens are available for inflight entertainment (IFE), flipping out from the center console. Disposable headphones were also provided after takeoff.

The IFE system included on-demand movies, TV shows, and audio options; however, there were only about a couple dozen movies and TV shows available.

The Flight

Right on schedule, our 737-800 was pushed back from the gate. We smoothly took off from Tocumen’s Runway 03, ascending gracefully and then turning northward as we climbed to our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet. The captain announced a total flying time of 3 hours and 55 minutes, setting the stage for a comfortable and enjoyable flight.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

About 20 minutes after takeoff, the flight attendant approached to take breakfast orders. In flawless English and Spanish, he offered two choices: an English muffin with eggs and turkey bacon or an omelet with potatoes. I opted for the English muffin, along with a cup of black coffee and sparkling water. Ten minutes later, my meal arrived, beautifully presented on a tray.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella

The English muffin, a first for me on a Copa flight, was absolutely delicious—hot, soft, with comforting and moist eggs. The black coffee, a staple of Copa’s service, was as rich and satisfying as ever.

After breakfast, we encountered some turbulence as we crossed over Cuban airspace. The captain kept us well-informed, providing updates in both Spanish and English and reassuring us with regular arrival time estimates for Raleigh-Durham. His calm and informative announcements added to the professionalism of the flight.

Arrival

After three hours and ten minutes, our Boeing 737 began its descent into Raleigh-Durham. The hot summer temperatures made for a bumpy approach, but the excitement of reaching our destination overshadowed any discomfort.

As we neared the airport, both business class flight attendants personally thanked each passenger for being part of Copa’s historic inaugural flight.

We touched down smoothly, and as we taxied to the gate, we could see a crowd of at least 100 people gathered on the tarmac, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the airport’s newest operator.

 

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When we reached the gate, two fire brigade trucks showered our aircraft with water—a traditional christening for inaugural flights. Inside the cabin, passengers celebrated with enthusiastic applause, marking the end of this memorable journey with a joyous flourish.

After deplaning, we faced a short walk to immigration and customs. However, with only four CBP agents available and the arrival of a Lufthansa Airbus A330-300 just before us, the line quickly grew to over 500 people, making the entry process quite cumbersome. This experience underscored the challenges of inaugural flights and highlighted areas for improvement at Raleigh-Durham.

Verdict

Copa continues to expand its impressive network, adding yet another route to its extensive map. This flight to Raleigh-Durham showcased the airline’s exceptional, punctual operations and outstanding business class service, creating a remarkable experience.

Best For

Copa Airlines offers unmatched connectivity through its hub in Panama City. With 16 destinations in the United States, traveling to South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, couldn’t be easier. The addition of Raleigh-Durham enhances accessibility, making it even simpler to reach these regions. This new route exemplifies Copa’s commitment to connecting people and places with efficiency and style.