To Panama! Boats, Canals & Beaches. Getting There: Copa Airlines And Rental Car Fun

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Booking A Trip To Panama

It’s been a whopping two months since we got back from Panama.  Wow, time flies! I need to get off my butt and get these posts done!

This would be my first trip on Copa Airlines, the flagship carier of Panama.  They’ve been a longtime partner with Continental (now United), going so far as to replicate their logo and replace their mileage program with MileagePlus (originally, they were OnePass when that was Continental’s program).  When searching on United’s website, Copa has plenty of availability to places in the Caribbean.

The Copa cabin is pretty similar to the old Continental Airlines cabins.  To Panama

We were on a 737-800 with 3 rows of business class.  These are an older generation style seat that is/was common in older domestic US first class cabins.  The flight to Panama is only a bit over 4 hours, so these seats would do fine. Especially for Charlie, who seemed perfectly content.

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Pillows and blankets were on the seats when we boarded, again a quality level similar to domestic US flights.

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The cabin crew came around to ask about a pre-departure beverage and passed out menus.  I chose the grilled chicken salad and the filet.

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Chicken salad isn’t my favorite, usually because it’s made with too much mayonnaise.  This one was actually pretty tasty, especially with some mango mixed in.  The steak surprised me.  It wasn’t as good as the last couple steaks I had on American (who seems to have really done a great job of nailing a steak with some red in the middle of it), but there was a touch of pink in the middle and it had a good amount of flavor for a filet.  All in all, one of the better meals I’ve had on a flight that wasn’t to Europe or Asia.

A quick bit of inside baseball for airline enthusiasts.  Take a look at the picture of the salt packets:

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It’s worth noting that Copa left Skyteam in 2009 when Continental did.  So, either Copa bought a LOT of salt packets way back in the day or someone needs to update the artwork on this piece.  FWIW, I did use some salt on my steak and it still appeared to pour just fine so if they are 4 years old they’ve at least been kept dry.

Even though the menu had red velvet cake on it (and my daughter was excited to try it) it didn’t end up getting catered for our flight.  So, ice cream was it.  The normal ice cream service didn’t get catered either, based on the sundae we received on the ride back.  It was a small cup of Haagen Dazs, which my daughter totally loved.  A few minutes after the flight attendant brought us the ice cream he also found chocolate sauce and caramel, though not a whole lot of extra dishes to serve.  A small cup of ice cream, and some wine glasses with chocolate and caramel made a decent makeshift sundae for our little girl.

 

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A short while later we were off the plane in Panama.  Customs was a reasonably short line given that there was no line for premium passengers.  We walked outside to the Hertz counter to pick up our vehicle.  Now, I generally rent from Hertz, especially when I leave the country.  They’re generally more expensive than comparable options outside the US.  But I’ve found that they tend to have better vehicles and be more reputable on whole in an international market where pretty much everything is a franchise where the individual locations have a lot of leeway in how they operate under a popular brand.

I’m not sure about the alternatives in Panama, but if the Hertz franchise is the most reputable of the bunch it’s a really low bar they set for service.  We had a reservation that I had made ahead of time using my Hertz Platinum status.  As a general rule, I use a credit card that provides me with car insurance coverage so I generally decline the insurance options offered by the rental car companies.

Even though I was first in line it took about 10 minutes to get someone to help us.  After another 5 minutes or so I had some paperwork in front of me.  When I noted that I wanted to decline the insurance coverage she presented me a form I hadn’t seen when traveling internationally before.  It said very clearly that I was authorizing my credit card company to pay directly (and charge to my card) any amount the Hertz location in Panama told them I had rung up in damages.

I’ve seen my fair share of forms like this in the past, but this one was very specifically worded, and I’m not a big fan of signing authorization forms for unlimited amounts.  So, I objected.  She told me my other choice was to pay for the insurance from them, which amounted to almost $300.  She also wouldn’t let me change the card I was paying for the rental card with, which meant I was also going to get billed for insurance by my credit card as well.  We went back and forth a few times and it was pretty clear she wasn’t going to budge.  I tried calling the Hertz Platinum desk but they confirmed the decision was up to the local franchise.

I decided to play it safe and take the insurance option from Hertz even though it was a bit of highway robbery.  I wasn’t wild about the fact that the price of insurance wasn’t detailed accurately beforehand but this felt like the right choice.

That was when she brought out the second form. In broken English, she told me I needed to sign another blank credit card slip and a similar form to the first one for “the warranty”.  When I asked her to explain further, she said something like “if the car is damaged”.  Now I was starting to get worried.  Why do I have to sign another form and credit card slip for damage if I just agreed to pay a ton of extra cash for insurance that was supposed to cover those damages?  She told me the rules were everyone had to sign these forms or they couldn’t get a car.  I was openly contemplating asking another rental car company about renting from them while still respectfully pushing back against the Hertz agent’s claims that I needed to sign yet another credit card slip in case there was damage to the car.

I finally just decided to tell her I refused to sign it to see what would happen.  She relented and let me have the car.  It took almost 45 minutes but we were on our way.

I don’t recall the last time I ever sent an e-mail to Hertz complaining about something, but I did send them a note when I got back expressing my displeasure at the lack of accurate disclosure on the total insurance price and the questionable process.  To their credit, I quickly received a reply back apologizing for the experience and lack of disclosure as well as a promise of a full refund of the insurance money I paid.  A truly impressive resolution to a painful experience.

Next up will be a post about checking in at the Westin Playa Bonita and some pictures from around the property.

 

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