By Carla Bridglal
Trinidad has been good to Copa Airways over the last decade. The “airline of the Americas,” based out of Tocumen Airport, on the outskirts of Panama City started servicing the Trinidad-Panama route ten years ago this past week, and, as the airline’s vice president for sales Christophe Didier describes it, the relationship has been “win-win.”
So much so, that by the end of the year the airline is hoping to bring its
schedule from 12 flights a week to 14. Didier admitted the recession in TT has been of concern for the airline, but latest statistics suggest a rebound, and the airline is happy to grow in this market — especially since flights are usually well-booked.
“We have to travel in economy on our way back because there’s no space in Business Class,” Didier quipped, referring to himself and regional sales manager for the Caribbean and Central America, Bernardo Ordas. Both men are based in Panama.
Copa will also be launching a new route in Barbados this year, so the Caribbean is seen as a market with potential.
“We want to develop new products for people in the region, allowing them to enjoy new destinations. Not many people (in Trinidad) travel to South America, because there aren’t as many natural ties to the continent as say, the US or Canada or the UK. Copa is here to forge these partnerships,” Didier said.
For the last few years the company has held up on its plans for expansion based on the economies in its various routes. Now that they are comfortable, they plan to bring back up their purchase orders with aircraft manufacturer, Boeing. The fleet currently has 100 planes; by the end of the year the aim is to increase that to 105 or 106.
The airline is a single-hub airline, so all flights connect through Panama —and from Panama, everywhere in the Americas. Copa flies to 75 destinations, including all major cities in Latin America and North America, and some of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean.
“We want to connect people, economies, friends and leisure,” Didier said.
Tobago is not, however, for the time being, on its list of new destinations. “It’s a risky destination,” Didier said, because it’s not one of the top spots for Latin American tourists, and it would need significant marketing to build the island.
In addition to Trinidad, in the Caribbean the airline flies to Guyana, Aruba, Curacao, Kingston and Montego Bay in Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, as well as most major Caribbean cities on the mainland of Central and South America.
The airline is also one of the few to still give its customers perks many of its competitors have cut — including free food and drinks on all flights, and the first checked bag is free. “We are also the best performing airline in the Americas in terms of being on time, and we are nice people,” Didier said, on what makes the airline stand out competitively.
And while safety and security are paramount, the airline works religiously to cut all extraneous costs without compromising on the customer experience.
“You can still offer good product with lower cost. What’s important is what the customer sees, so you eliminate all the costs the customer can’t see — except security and safety, of course. So, you have to really work every day.
“I had a boss who told me costs are like nails: you have to cut them, or they keep growing. You have to have initiatives to cut costs every day but don’t do this to affect customers. That’s our basic. We don’t serve lobster or caviar, but a good rum or wine — the basics. And most of the time the customer is happy,” Didier said.