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Panama City Flights - Flyer's Remorse

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Written by Matt   
Sunday, 19 March 2006 10:40
Air travel in Panama is as dependable as a blind man in an Easter egg hunt. In National Survey, 87% of Panamanian Pilots Don't Know What A Runway Is:

The following are some select tidbits from a recent survey taken among Panama's top commercial pilots. The questions are valid—the answers are telling:

Question: What is a runway?

Answer: Well, that's what I tell my kids to do when a stranger gets too close?

Question: What is your favorite part about being a pilot?

Answer: I like switching on and off that little seatbelt sign. It's like a little trick. And its fun. The smoking one is fun too.

Question: What makes you most proud about your profession?

Answer: The plastic cups that never fall over.

Question: How would you explain to a customer that their bag has been lost?

Answer: I wouldn't. I would probably just ask them what it looks like, and then go buy a bag and fill it with some heavy things like rock clusters or steel, and give it to them, and then runway.  

Airports can vary from location to location. Panama City, for example, or Albrook (a closer domestic airport to Panama City) are relatively developed terminals complete with early morning coffee shops and overpriced magazine stands. On the other hand, airports on remote islands can more resemble driveways, with a simple runway of dirt and if you're lucky, a hut for shelter. At these more in-the-sticks airports, you're bound to find anything from 10 year-old reflector vest-wearing baggage boys to dog-manned security points. No seeing-eye urinals here fellas.  

The question that I always get is “are the planes safe?” to which I inevitably reply, “how would you define safe?” Granted, they haven't gone down...cough, cough, for a while now.  In reality, they're fine to fly and often times, the only legitimate way of reaching a location in a reasonable amount of time. There are also some wonderful views out of the windows if you're brave enough to fly with your eyes open.  

One of the country's two main airlines is Air Panama and it's, well, pathetic. The actual flights of theirs that I have experienced have been quite turbulent and their service hasn't been much smoother. Their fleet consists of planes with model names such as ‘grand caravan' and ‘friendship'—vehicles that sound like toddler play toys. You can check 25 lbs of luggage and up to 6 lbs to carry on. After you do check in, you'll be given an official Panamanian boarding pass—a rectangular piece of plastic with a number etched on it—which you then give to the representative before you get on the plane. These wondrous displays of modern technology never cease to amaze me. 

The other option in Panamanian air travel is Aeroperlas, where your vacation is theirs to mess up. That's not their official slogan, but it's pretty accurate. Their communications are terrible, their customer service is practically non-existent, and their organization is worse than my junk drawer. It is an airline nonetheless, and for lack of other options, I've used them several times. One trip, I spent 6 hours desperately gazing into the sky, just to eventually find that the plane took off 5 � hours late. I've heard of similar stories of planes being delayed/canceled without notice and the general idea of informing the customer tends to slip through the cracks.       

Nature Air is a Costa Rican airline who is beginning to fly into more parts of Panama—most often Bocas del Toro—the perfect two day getaway for Tico-implants to renew their tourist visas. They are similar to their Panamanian counterparts—so don't think you're getting anything super exotic or more modern just because it's from the north.

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 21:47