From its “Hub of the Americas in Panama”, Copa Airlines, a member of Star Alliance, will begin four times weekly nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale on July 11. This will be Copa’s fourth Florida destination and part of the airline’s rapid expansion plans for this year. Recommend’s associate publisher, Terence Murphy, recently sat down with Copa Airlines’ sr. v.p. of commercial and planning, Joe Mohan, and Fernando Fondevila Leyton, Copa’s regional manager, North America to talk about this new expansion.
Terence Murphy (TM): Tell me what this new service to Fort Lauderdale means to Copa’s overall expansion.
Joe Mohan (JM): The common assumption in the past is that Miami and Fort Lauderdale were one market, and what we have seen over the years is that every day Fort Lauderdale becomes more unique and a very separate market with great expansion in Broward and Palm Beach counties, so with the connectivity that Copa provides to 55 destinations in the Americas, we felt the time was right. It goes in line with the overall expansion success we have had in recent years in North America—we have added Tampa, Boston, and Chicago, and we felt Fort Lauderdale was the next logical step. We now have nine gateways in the U.S. (Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston).
TM: How is Copa doing as a company? The airline industry has been volatile for the past few years how has Copa remained successful?
JM: Just last year we celebrated our 65th anniversary, so I think the staying power of the company has been built around three important things. First, we decided over 20 years ago to be the principal airline connecting the Americas and we have not wavered from that mission. Secondly, operational efficiency, making sure our completion rates never dip below 99.5 percent and on-time performance is always around 90 percent. And thirdly, being a world-class airline. When you look at the relationship we had with Continental, that was a turning point that took us to another level, to the point that we could compete with any other airline in the world. So those three things have translated into strong financial performance.
TM: Does your success parallel the growth Panama has seen as a nation?
JM: Not only Panama but Latin America in general, and the one thing we talk about is connecting the Americas, everywhere from Rio to Buenos Aires to Los Angeles. So we are covering a huge range of destinations and there are very few cities in Latin America that we don’t fly to. And in Latin America there is a lot more commerce, a lot more tourism that was just not possible before because it wasn’t easy to connect. In the past, it often required coming to the U.S. to connect. In Panama, you have seen huge growth in services, infrastructure, construction. We also have the second largest duty free zone in the world after Hong Kong, and Panama has been very stable for many, many years.
TM: What are some of the features that set your standard of service apart?
JM: One of the things that people may not realize is that we still offer hot food, free drinks, on-board entertainment—all at a competitive price because we are able to manage our costs in other places. We can be competitive on price with any airline but offer more value. The other thing that differentiates us is our Panama hub, which offers the largest number of destinations in Latin America than any other airline together with the ease of connecting from gate to gate, without going through immigration—the average is about an hour for connecting flights.
TM: What are your future plans?
JM: We can fly to new places and there are always opportunities to add new cities, and we look at what are those cities that are in need of better connectivity. And secondly, we can add frequency to those destinations that might not have daily service. Miami, for instance, has five flights daily.
TM: If you were talking to a group of travel agents right now who may not be familiar with Copa, what would you tell them and what would you want them to remember?
JM: We don’t do much advertising and we rely upon our reputation, and increasingly it’s easier for customers to distinguish between good products and bad products based on personal experience and word of mouth. They can be confident that Copa is one of the world’s top airlines.
TM: Tell me a little about the Star Alliance relationship and what that means to your customers?
Fernando Fondevila Leyton (FFL): The Star Alliance enhances the level of service by sharing the connectivity with the 29 airline members of Star Alliance, which is the largest alliance network. It has given us the opportunity to spread the name of Copa to other regions and they get the benefit of baggage check-in, mileage accrual—these are the types of things our customers are always looking for. One important thing our agency partners should be aware of is that we offer a free stopover in Panama whether your clients are going down to a Latin America destination or coming back from it, so this presents an opportunity to get to know our country. When an agent is ready to book a client they merely have to call our call center and relay that the client wishes to have the free stopover and the information will be entered and it won’t affect the fare. In addition, agents should be aware of the 30-day free health insurance program offered by the Tourist Authority for all visitors. Again, connectivity is very important to highlight. From Panama, we have more that 280 flights a day so the network that we now put in the hands of Fort Lauderdale residents is very vast. Panama offers more international destinations than any other regional hub or other airline.
For more information, call (800) 359-2672 or visit copair.com.