My Copa Airlines Aircraft Swap, With A Plot Twist

My Copa Airlines Aircraft Swap, With A Plot Twist

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My review trip isn’t off to a good start, as Copa Airlines swapped planes on me last minute. There’s a silver lining, though…

Copa Airlines swaps 737 MAX 9 for 737-800

Yesterday evening I was scheduled to fly from Miami to Panama City on a Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9. I specifically booked this flight because of the plane that was scheduled to operate it, as the 737 MAX 9 features Copa’s new business class product, with fully flat beds.

When I checked in online the evening before my flight, the flight still showed the 737 MAX 9 as the aircraft type, featuring the fully flat business class.

Copa’s 737 MAX 9 business class seatmap

I’m a bit of an avgeek, so I always track inbound planes. I noticed that the inbound plane for my flight showed as a Boeing 737-800, starting about an hour before it was scheduled to depart Panama. I did some digging, and here’s where it gets strange. Copa has two flights from Miami to Panama that are just 26 minutes apart. At the very last minute:

  • The flight 26 minutes earlier got upgraded from a Boeing 737-800 to a Boeing 737 MAX 9
  • The flight I was on got downgraded from a Boeing 737 MAX 9 to a Boeing 737-800
Copa has two flights that are 26 minutes apart

Admittedly plane swaps happen at all airlines, but the passenger experience difference here is drastic — the 737 MAX 9 has flat beds in business class, Wi-Fi, power outlets, streaming entertainment, and seatback entertainment, while the 737-800 has… no flat beds, no Wi-Fi, no power outlets, no streaming entertainment, and no seatback entertainment.

Copa’s not-so-great Boeing 737-800 business class

I think the most frustrating part was the lack of communication about this. There was no email about the change, I wasn’t informed at check-in, there was no announcement at the gate, etc. Fellow business class passengers boarded and expressed surprise that this wasn’t the 737 MAX, because clearly they hadn’t been told. That’s a terrible job on Copa’s part with managing expectations.

Fortunately this was just a fairly short flight, but imagine how much it would suck if you were on a six hour overnight flight expecting a 737 MAX 9, but ended up on a 737-800.

My flight ended up being operated by a Boeing 737-800

I’m also really curious about the logistics of this. I totally get that operational issues can necessitate aircraft swaps, but usually when airlines swap planes, it’s not to a flight on the same route that’s just a bit earlier. I wonder what caused that.

I was feeling super bummed, until…

About that Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9…

The flight I was on departed on-time, and we had quite a queue for takeoff, as there were about 10 planes ahead of us. As usual, I was gazing out the window. Suddenly I noticed seven vehicles standing on the taxiway parallel to the one we were on, including some emergency vehicles. I figured something must be going on.

Vehicles on the taxiway at Miami Airport

Well, a moment later the Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 that I was initially supposed to be on taxied back toward the terminal, in the opposite direction of the runway, followed by fire trucks.

Copa Boeing 737 MAX 9 taxiing in Miami
Copa Boeing 737 MAX 9 taxiing in Miami

At first I wondered if this was some sort of a celebratory thing, like a water cannon salute, either because a pilot was retiring, or because Copa was celebrating its 75th anniversary (the airline had a big party in Miami the day before). There was even a rainbow!

I quickly pulled up Flightadar24, and saw that the plane had taxied all the way to the runway before turning around. That’s not good, especially with nearly a dozen emergency vehicles around! The plane ended up taxiing back to the gate.

Copa Boeing 737 MAX 9 returning to gate

When I landed in Panama, I saw that the plane was still on the ground in Miami. Then when I checked again this morning, I saw that the flight did eventually operate… arriving 268 minutes behind schedule! The flight that was initially supposed to depart at 5:33PM only ended up departing at 10:27PM. Ouch!

Talk about a flight delay!

So yeah… I’m bummed I didn’t get the chance to fly Copa’s Boeing 737 MAX on this trip, but I’m not bummed that my flight wasn’t delayed for well over four hours, so I guess I should be grateful for the aircraft swap?

Does anyone know what actually happened to this 737 MAX 9 at Miami Airport that caused it to return to the gate and have emergency vehicles dispatched?

Bottom line

Unfortunately my goal of reviewing Copa’s Boeing 737 MAX 9 and Boeing 737-800 on this trip won’t happen, as Copa swapped planes at the very last minute. While operational issues arise, it’s odd that the flight from Miami right before mine got upgraded to a 737 MAX 9, while the flight I was on got downgraded.

The lack of communication from the airline left a bit to be desired, given the massive difference in passenger experience. Forget flat beds, Copa’s 737-800s don’t even have power ports or Wi-Fi in business class.

While I was initially frustrated by this, I guess it worked in the end, because I saw the 737 MAX 9 I was supposed to be on returning to the gate in Miami, as it then suffered a delay of well over four hours.

Has anyone else dealt with a Copa aircraft swap? Anyone know what was going on with this Copa 737 MAX 9 in Miami?

Conversations (26)
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  1. ADSBTracker Guest

    You didn’t miss much either case without WIFI since it is an intranet service for IFE only. No emails, no nothing

  2. Elizabeth Guest

    I've traveled with Copa quite a few times. There are not great with communication, good mostly great no. There website / phone apps don't function well and you must wait an amazing amount of time to speak to a human via phone. When landing in Panama City,Panama as well David, Panama. I've encountered issues at their desks, misunderstandings as well having to return on following next day to board the same flight. The attendant's at...

    I've traveled with Copa quite a few times. There are not great with communication, good mostly great no. There website / phone apps don't function well and you must wait an amazing amount of time to speak to a human via phone. When landing in Panama City,Panama as well David, Panama. I've encountered issues at their desks, misunderstandings as well having to return on following next day to board the same flight. The attendant's at Logan Airport Boston could not assist with paperwork for traveling during pandemic. Language barrier, partly and no communication between ground crews and CDC.... Good company but they do need a bit of up grading with technology and communication.

  3. Francois Guest

    Wouldn’t it just be easier to pick a flight on an Airbus?

    1. XPL Diamond

      Copa is an all-737 airline.

  4. polarbear Member

    So is J priced differently on the flights which are scheduled to be operated by 800 and MAX?

  5. Willem Guest

    4 hours delay would mean extra time to review the product LOL

  6. James Guest

    Change in capacity is termed as a change in gauge, so the correct term to the aircraft swap would be upgauge / downgauge.

  7. JayC Member

    hopefully you get to review the other products that you wanted to review this trip!

  8. Charles Graham Guest

    Well lucky it's a 2 hour flight, not like Dallas to Incheon South Korea 15 hours

  9. Josh Guest

    The AA crew taxiing behind the Copa saw smoke coming from his wheels. I happened to be listening to MIA tower on LiveATC and caught the whole thing. Copa crew didn’t understand until another pilot translated into Spanish for him. That’s when they kind of half-ass called to go back to the gate.

  10. Andy Guest

    I have taken that flight, PTY - MIA on the COPA Max 9. It is a relatively short flight. Barely worth having the lie flat seat. I only used the recliner feature. That was it. Now the PTY - ASU flight would be a different story, but they always use they older planes instead. Go figure.

  11. Anon Guest

    MIA is not a route where the MAX9 is guaranteed to operate (and does not need to be to due to the short flight time). If you want to fly the MAX9 with lie flats, routes like LAX, SFO, GRU (and more in the future) will work.

    Reasons for swapping can vary but if this does not affect passengers in terms of fitting in the plane, there is really no need to communicate, especially if it happened a short time before departure.

  12. Margie Power Guest

    I traveled to Medellin, Colombia via Panama City in May on COPA. The flight down was uneventful. The flight back, however... I got to the airport early and shortly thereafter, my flight disappeared from the display. It took hours to find out that the inbound leg had suffered a bird strike and thus my flight was cancelled. It took more time to get rebooked for the next day (although I got a better routing than...

    I traveled to Medellin, Colombia via Panama City in May on COPA. The flight down was uneventful. The flight back, however... I got to the airport early and shortly thereafter, my flight disappeared from the display. It took hours to find out that the inbound leg had suffered a bird strike and thus my flight was cancelled. It took more time to get rebooked for the next day (although I got a better routing than my original one). It took still MORE time to get their complimentary hotel booking for the night (although it was a VERY nice hotel with a VERY nice dinner and breakfast). C- at best for communication, but A+ for accommodations.

  13. D3kingg Guest

    Fuuuuuukkkkkk. That sucks Ben. Sorry to hear that.

  14. Alonzo Diamond

    You were definitely being watched over. Sucks on the updated interior but at least you weren't delayed for hours. It ain't like Copa is pouring Dom P while you wait onboard lol.

  15. skimegheath Gold

    Due to fly max in early December from EZE to PTY. IT is an overnight flight. Fingers crossed!

  16. Tim Dunn Diamond

    No airline should sell two cabins that are as different as what is on their -800 and on the MAX9. It is simply nowhere near the same level of service.
    Being on-time was indeed a blessing but that doesn't change that you should have received some type of compensation - unless they want to consider the -800 as their "base" service and the MAX9 as an extra freebie for now.

    lots of good articles today.

  17. SMR Guest

    Miami - PTY is not a route that needs a bed so swaps will be very common. I do not know why it would be needed on a 2 hour flight. Why would any communication be needed? The product is not specifically advertised for that route.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ SMR -- See comment below from Mark. It seems the airline doesn't care much how long the flight is when swapping planes. And who said anything is about "needs?" It's about managing expectations. If you buy a ticket and you're told you'll have Wi-Fi, power outlets, etc., and you don't get that, it seems to me that's worth communicating.

    2. SMR Guest

      I agree.. but Copa has never ever been a customer focused airline. The only good thing I can ever say about Copa is they have nice business class catering. They pay their FA’s and Pilots 3rd world wages and it goes to show from the lack luster onboard enthusiasm and I’m sure the same goes for call centers and service centers. When that plane swap happened , no one anywhere was even remotely concerned about...

      I agree.. but Copa has never ever been a customer focused airline. The only good thing I can ever say about Copa is they have nice business class catering. They pay their FA’s and Pilots 3rd world wages and it goes to show from the lack luster onboard enthusiasm and I’m sure the same goes for call centers and service centers. When that plane swap happened , no one anywhere was even remotely concerned about communication. I do not think they need to on a short route since a lie flat seat isn’t really needed or priced different is it ? But going on a 7 hour journey .. yeah they should but with Copa. It will never happen.

    3. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Copa competes in markets as far as deep S. America to the northern tier of the US, markets for which lie flat products are available and the norm on nonstop flights to the US and Canada.
      If Copa wants to compete in those markets at even reasonably comparable fares, they have to provide comparable service.
      No US or S. American airline could get by with putting a domestic 757 or A321NEO on a...

      Copa competes in markets as far as deep S. America to the northern tier of the US, markets for which lie flat products are available and the norm on nonstop flights to the US and Canada.
      If Copa wants to compete in those markets at even reasonably comparable fares, they have to provide comparable service.
      No US or S. American airline could get by with putting a domestic 757 or A321NEO on a route to deep S. America that was sold on a widebody as lie flat business class

    4. Stuart Guest

      @Tim Dunn. The reality is that COPA at least typically prices its J product FAR lower than, say, AA. Especially to Brazil where you can often find last minute one way fares of $1800 vs $5000K on AA to GRU. In my opinion they tend to price accordingly to the product and offer an option that's in between overpriced lie flats on AA, UA, DL etc or flying in economy. As well, they often have...

      @Tim Dunn. The reality is that COPA at least typically prices its J product FAR lower than, say, AA. Especially to Brazil where you can often find last minute one way fares of $1800 vs $5000K on AA to GRU. In my opinion they tend to price accordingly to the product and offer an option that's in between overpriced lie flats on AA, UA, DL etc or flying in economy. As well, they often have redemptions available at saver rates and are a good option when nothing else is available.

    5. Tim Dunn Diamond

      connecting in the middle of the night in Central America knocks a whole lot off of the price.

    6. Stuart Guest

      You get what you pay for. And there is a huge market for people who want a bit of extra space and don't mind the connection, times, and lesser product. Quite frankly, I am happy paying $1800 vs $5000 from IAD to GRU for a bit less product and schedule. As well, I don't have to connect in the god awful nightmare of MIA.

  18. Mark Guest

    The same thing happened to me last week! Except my flight was a 7-hour red-eye from Buenos Aires to Panama. Everything looked fine at check in, I tracked the incoming flight on FlightAware and it showed there as a MAX 9, and then we board the plane and see we're actually on a 737-800. Given that this flight leaves at 1:30am I was very much looking forward to having a lie-flat seat and was extremely annoyed that we were given no notice.

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Josh Guest

The AA crew taxiing behind the Copa saw smoke coming from his wheels. I happened to be listening to MIA tower on LiveATC and caught the whole thing. Copa crew didn’t understand until another pilot translated into Spanish for him. That’s when they kind of half-ass called to go back to the gate.

5
BenjaminGuttery Diamond

He actually said that.

3
Tim Dunn Diamond

Copa competes in markets as far as deep S. America to the northern tier of the US, markets for which lie flat products are available and the norm on nonstop flights to the US and Canada. If Copa wants to compete in those markets at even reasonably comparable fares, they have to provide comparable service. No US or S. American airline could get by with putting a domestic 757 or A321NEO on a route to deep S. America that was sold on a widebody as lie flat business class

3
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