Panama’s Copa Airlines: Free Cocktails In Coach! And They Might Let Your Kids Fly The Plane

Leave it to the fun-loving Panamanians to know how to show their passengers a damn good time. I had some United miles burning a hole in my pocket this winter and wanted to use them for a trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The only routing available for my preferred time window was on Panama’s national airline, Copa Airlines, a Star-Alliance member I’d never heard of before.

If I’m flying solo, I’m willing to board just about any aircraft with a logo and a couple of wings on it, but since this was a family trip I thought I’d do my due diligence and Google Copa before booking the flights. At the risk of coming off like a hopeless xenophobe, I should admit right here that I do not associate Panama with here-take-our-lives-in-your-hands-competence and efficiency.

If I was looking for someone who could get three outs in the ninth inning, I might turn to a Panamanian. But for an airline? I had no idea. But I was impressed to learn that Copa has been around for decades and has crashed just once, and that was way back in 1992. Sure, there was another incident when one of their pilots veered off the runway and wrecked one of their planes, but hey, no one died, so no harm no foul.

I also liked the fact that they have a really pretty girl named Ana who provides nuggets of valuable information on their website’s top ten questions page. For example, in response to the apparently very popular question, “Do you speak Spanish?” Ana assures us that sí, the Panamanian staff does indeed speak Spanish. (Now who would have guessed that?)

But we got off to a less than promising start with Copa at O’hare airport on Valentine’s Day.

“You will have to be very patient with us,” warned a clipboard-carrying Copa staffer who was directing travelers into two lines at their counter. “Our computers are broken, so we are doing everything by hand today.”

We arrived at 6 A.M. for an 8.09 flight and by 6:45 we’d barely moved in the line when we noticed that the young woman was directing several late arriving passengers into their business class line, which had been empty. I ducked out of the coach line and complained that people who arrived after us were getting served before us and the woman apologized, opened up a brand new line just for us and assured us that we would be next. I felt moderately embarrassed by the rock star treatment but I was secretly delighted.

After we boarded the plane, I brought my sons, ages 3 and 5, up for a peek in the cockpit and the Copa pilots seemed oddly delighted to meet them. They both doffed their pilot hats, put them on my sons and let them touch a few random buttons before suggesting I go fetch my camera for a few shots. After the photo opp, they suggested I bring the boys back again after the flight was over for a “flight lesson.” Huh?

The aircraft was ice cold and didn’t warm up even an hour into the flight. I’m the kind of person who is always hot, not cold, and I had on a polo shirt and a light jacket and was wrapped to the neck, mummy style, in a Copa blanket but was still freezing. I asked a beautiful Copa stewardess with coffee colored skin and high heels that were like stilts why it was so cold and she looked at me like I was crazy.

“You’re cold? That’s funny because I am perfectly comfortable,” she said with a smile before walking away.

Well, so long as she was comfortable and, let’s face it, so darn cute, that was good enough. A few minutes later, her colleague, a beefy, handsome Panamanian steward in a tight uninform who looked like he would have fit in nicely on Jersey Shore, came by with foil covered plastic tins of enchiladas. For breakfast.

“What’s in the enchiladas?” I asked.

“I have absolutely no idea,” he admitted, seemingly fielding this question for the first time. “Why don’t you try them and find out?”

My wife did just that and reported that they were very edible. (And filled with ham and cheese, let the record show) Around 11 A.M. they came around with a drink cart and I noticed that several passengers- in coach, mind you- were ordering cocktails. I assumed they paid for them and wrote them off as nervous fliers or incorrigible alcoholics.

We arrived on time, and on the way out, the pilots insisted that my sons come back into the cockpit to sit in their seats and horse around. (see video) An hour later, we caught a connecting Copa flight in Panama City bound for San Jose, Costa Rica, and, once again, noticed that quite a few passengers were enjoying cocktails in coach. (Cocktails in Coach- wouldn’t that be a great motto for this or any other airline?)

I didn’t even want one- after having risen at zero-dark thirty, I was shattered but curious. My wife ordered a rum and coke and I asked the stewardess to confirm that it was free.

“Of course it’s free,” she said, as though I’d just asked her a profoundly stupid question.

“And is alcohol ALWAYS free on Copa airline?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she said. “For us, alcohol is always free.”

Now that, my friends, is what I call a damn good airline.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara and egm tacahopeful on Flickr]

10 places for a boozy brunch in New York City

While the city that never sleeps is full of wild nightclubs, upscale lounges, and rowdy bars, you’re going to need a place to nurse that hangover come Saturday and Sunday morning. Thankfully, New York is also home to a plethora of excellent boozy brunch spots, where they can prescribe you a “Hair of the Dog” remedy with complimentary and unlimited drinks with your meal.

120 Essex Street, Lower East Side

Essex offers a brunch special for $22.95 that allows patrons to order a meal along with three bloody marys, screwdrivers, or mimosas. Choose from standard fare like french toast with fruit, eggs with bacon, and blueberry pancakes as well as more interesting entrees like chorizo scrambled eggs and onions served with corn tortillas, manchego macaroni and cheese with chicken apple sausage, and potato pancakes covered with salmon caviar, poached eggs, and house-cured salmon gravlax.

Saturday from 11AM-4:30PM and Sunday from 11AM-8PM. Cash only. Meade’s
22 Peck Slip, Financial District

Meade’s is a cozy, laid-back bar and restaurant that offers a $12.95 all-you-can-drink mimosas, bloody mary’s, screwdrivers, and cape cods special with the purchase of a meal. Choose from classic morning favorites like steak and eggs ($11.95), make-your-own omelettes ($8.95), and crepes with banana and nutella served with strawberries ($8). If your hangover is really bad, opt for a greasy but satisfying Tator Pie ($8.95).

Saturday and Sunday, 12-4PM.

705 Ninth Ave., Hell’s Kitchen

Kyotofu is actually a Japanese dessert bar and bakery that incorporates cooking with tofu into their creations. For those without a sweet tooth, the eatery also offers a unique brunch that offers a complimentary bellini, mimosa, or blood mary with each meal. Choose from items like the chicken and tofu burger with housemade pickled cabbage and sweet potato chips ($15), poached eggs with truffle oil, mesclun greens, and toasted brioche ($10), and mac and cheese made with gruyere and monterary jack cheddar, spicy shichimi panko, and truffle pate ($12).

Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-5PM.

Sunburnt Cow
137 Ave C., East Village

The Sunburnt Cow is a fun Aussie-style dive bar where you are guaranteed to get trashed for cheap, even on Sunday afternoon. For $18, diners can enjoy an open bar and unlimited brunch. Choose from items like the Barrier Reef Benedict which includes poached eggs over crab cakes covered in hollandaise sauce, buttermilk banana pikelets, and the Queen Adelaide, a meal of poached eggs, salmon, and avocado on an english muffin that is served with a side of hollandaise. Because it gets extremely crowded, I would recommend getting there early or going with a party of 6 or more so that you can make a reservation.

Saturday and Sunday. Call for specific seating times, which run in 2-hour intervals. Cash only.

570 Tenth Ave., Hell’s Kitchen

Yotel is actually a funky and futuristic hotel located two blocks from Times Square that not only features a robot porter, but also an on-site restaurant with an all-inclusive weekend brunch. On their fourth floor terrace and in-door eatery, diners can enjoy unlimited tapas and free-flowing cocktails for $35 per person. In terms of drinks, you can enjoy the standard brunch libations as well as more unusual creations like Bacon Bloody Marys, Lychee Bellinis, and glasses of Passion Plantation Punch. For food, enjoy plates like the wild mushroom omelette with asparagus and cream cheese, halibut sliders with tomato and rémoulade sauce, and house ground meatballs with herbs and kaffir lime-tomato sauce.

Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-3PM.

173 Ludlow St., Lower East Side

Tre is a casual Italian restaurant and the perfect place for a budget-friendly boozy brunch in New York. For $19.95, patrons receive an entree as well as unlimited champagne, mimosas, and bellinis. Choose from menu items like potato pancakes with scallions, sour cream, and sausage, an Angus burger with goat cheese and spinach served with fries, and rigatoni carbonara with parmigiano, Pecorino, pancetta, and cream.

Saturday and Sunday, 12-4PM.

Scottadito Osteria Toscana
788 Union St., Park Slope, Brooklyn

Scottadito Osteria Toscana is a traditional Tuscan restaurant that also serves a delicious and booze-infused brunch on weekends. For $17.95, you get a meal as well as unlimited champagne and mimosas. Choose from entrees like a ham and ricotta cheese omelette, french toast topped with fruit, organic maple syrup, and powdered sugar, and homemade ricotta and spinach gnocchi with sage and butter. This venue is also suitable for families, as there is also a children’s brunch which includes pancakes, french toast, or eggs with roasted potatoes and soda or juice for $10.

Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-4PM.

Arte Cafe
106 W. 73 St., Upper West Side

Arte Cafe is a homestyle Italian restaurant that offers a $16 unlimited drink special with the purchase of a brunch meal. Choose from items like the broiche French toast with apple cinnamon sauce ($9.50), a prosciutto omelette with potatoes and onions ($10.95), ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli in vodka sauce ($15.95), and chicken parmesan with spaghetti ($16.95).

Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-4PM.

329 W. 51 St., Hell’s Kitchen

Braai is a South African wine and food venue with authentic decor that will transport you to another country. On the weekends, you can take in jungle-inspired furnishings while also taking in unlimited champagne, mimosas, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and bellinis for $15 plus the price of an entree. Meal selections include fare like a spinach and goat cheese omelette ($8), grilled chicken with tomato, lettuce, and mayo served on warm focaccia ($9), and farfelle salmon in a pink sauce ($11.50).

Saturday and Sunday, 11AM-3:30PM

Yerba Buena
23 Ave A., East Village

Looking for some Latin American fare? Yerba Buena serves $12 unlimited sangrias, mimosas, margaritas, and house cocktails for an hour plus the price of a meal. Entree selections include fare like short ribs with fried eggs, congri, and salsa ($14), fish tacos with rice, beans, cabbage, and spicy coleslaw ($12), and Mexican hot chocolate with cinnamon churros ($9). Yerba Buena also has a West Village location at 1 Perry Street.

Saturday and Sunday, 11:30AM-3PM.

[photos via missmeng, jasonlam, Yotel, Braai]

Free Booze: American Train Travel now Sucks Less

In a wild bid to boost ridership, Amtrak has announced that they will be doling out $100 worth of free alcohol to passengers.

The free drinks will only be made available to passengers on GrandLuxe trips–a luxury sleeper train service between Chicago and San Francisco (the California Zephyr), Washington D.C. and Miami (the Silver Meteor), and Chicago and Los Angeles (the Southwest Chief).

We’ve complained before here on Gadling about how much train travel in America sucks. Sure, this is a way to make it a little better, but if you ask me, $100 is an exorbitant amount of free alcohol to serve up to passengers on a 2-3 day journey. I think Amtrak is just asking for trouble here.

Find free booze on your travels

When travelling, I’ve been known to enjoy a drink or two (or ten) — I find the pub is usually the best place to meet locals and fellow travellers, to swap stories and tips and Email addresses. I’m typically a backpacker when it comes to exploring the world. Translation: I’m on a budget, and the cheaper the better, if you ask me.

Which is why I wish I’d come across this website sooner. It’s called My Open Bar and it gives you insider info as to where you can find free beer while travelling. And you don’t even have to crash any parties or weddings (though you can if you want to, I suppose) — the listings are for actual restaurants and bars offering drink specials.

Right now, they only have listings for NYC, San Francisco, LA and Chicago, but Boston and Washington DC are slated to go live soon. I hope they do ones for cities in Europe too — London particularly, where finding a cheap (or free) drink can be a bit difficult.

(via Fly Away Cafe)