Oh dear. This is one of *those* stories.
The redeye flight from
Montevideo went really well. We only left a little late (it wouldn't
be Copa if we were on time). The kids fell asleep on the flight, and it
seemed like they were going to get some rest.
As we descended
into Panama City (Tocumen Airport), it was raining and visibility wasn't
that great. It wasn't too shocking when the pilot pulled back on the
stick and we ascended again for a go-around. We flew around a bit, not
really circling, but taking a sort of erratic flight path. Once we
started to descend again, T gestured from across the aisle: "Are we
diverting?" My brain went into overdrive - where could we divert to?
Bogota? How would we get out of Columbia? But I looked at the map and
we were still definitely headed towards Panama, so I though, nah, we're
not diverting after all.
As usual, T was right. We landed at a
small airfield on the west side of the Panama Canal called Panama
Pacifico, which is apparently a landing strip in a former US military
zone that's now an upscale living development. But as far as I can tell
it gets no commercial service. They announced that we were going to
wait for the rain to slow down over at Tocumen. Five other copa planes
were also diverted and collected on the tarmac at Pacifico.
couple hours later, they announced that Tocumen was opening back up, and
once we refueled, we could go - yay! But no. For unclear reasons, it
took another 3 hours by the time all the planes got refueled (yes, for
some reason we had to wait for everyone. Maybe the fuel guy was the
same guy who ran the control tower?) and it was our turn to take off.
Once we got to Tocumen, they didn't have a gate for us (are you
shocked?) and it took awhile to get us to a remote pad and get a bus to
pick us up. Then they rolled the stairs up to the plane... and the
hydraulics failed so they couldn't get the steps all the way up to the
door. So we had to wait for another staircase to be brought around.
You can't make this stuff up.
By the time we disembarked, we had
been on the plane for an additional 6 hours on top of the original 7.5
hour flight, for a total of 13.5 hours.
This delay blew all our
connections. Though the Tocumen airport was shut down while we were at
Pacifico, and our onward flight to JFK was delayed during that time,
that flight left very shortly after the airport reopened.
headed for the Copa Club to get help. It was swamped. I called up
United and had them on the phone - our onward ticket from New York back
to Denver was on United, and since Copa and United are bosom buddies, we
thought maybe they could work a miracle. There was a United flight
from PTY up to Houston leaving in a little under an hour, and it looked
like it had plenty of space!
T took the kids and entertained them
while I attempted to negotiate. It took me about 15 minutes of
standing at the counter waving my arms around to get someone to help
me. There was no line - anyone attempting to form a line was jumped in
front of. The agents completely ignored me. Finally I got it through
that I had United 1K on the phone willing to help if they'd just talk to
Unfortunately, the Copa agents had called the United
gate in PTY and asked to put us and about four other people on the
Houston flight, and United refused to open the flight up to make it
happen. The phone agent was helpless as the flight was under airport
control. So there was nothing anyone could do but let the Houston
flight go. Then it came out that Copa cancelled their evening flight to
JFK. This basically guaranteed that we would be spending the night.
had a really nice agent helping us, and she got us rebooked for the
following day through Washington Dulles instead of NY, which was better
for us in several ways. She also said that they would be providing a
hotel voucher and escorted us to the family room (with toys and bean
bags) while we waited for the voucher.
And wait we did. Not to
look a gift horse in the mouth, but we then waited another two hours
for the hotel voucher because they insisted on printing them for
everyone who needed them all at once (like fueling all the planes at
By the time we got escorted through
immigration, baggage claim, customs, and got put in a car, it was 5pm
rush hour traffic, and the kids were super cranky. We thought the hotel
was an airport property and right up the road, but it turned out to be
downtown Panama City. To add to the chaos of rush hour, there was a big
World Cup football match being played a few blocks from our hotel
starting at 6:30pm, so there was game traffic too. C had sacked out in
the stroller while waiting for immigration, and D fell asleep in the
Once we checked in, we went down for dinner. Since we were
Copa guests, we got a dinner voucher for one of the restaurants that
happened to be the pool bar - outside in the muggy heat. We survived
and got dinner.
At the restaurant, we ran into Ricky. D had met
Ricky at immigration, and Ricky practiced a few English phrases ("how
are you?" "What's your name?"). Ricky is 3.5 years old. His family was
also stranded by Copa - they were flying from Caracas up to Chicago,
said his mom. When Ricky saw D, he exclaimed, "Amigo! Amigo - hey!!" I
told D that "When he says 'Amigo' that means you!" D and Ricky ran
into each other and scrambled on the ground like little cubs, and then
they ran around the pool area together, getting hot and sweaty, and
giving the moms panic attacks. I guess toddlerhood knows no language
barriers. They were a really sweet family.
We headed up to bed and totally crashed, exhausted.
this all seems like a terrible ordeal. I will say, in full disclosure,
that this went pretty darn well, and I'm pretty pleased with the whole
1) Our kids were *AMAZING* when stuck on the airplane.
There were no tantrums. No crankypants. They just played and napped
and watched shows. They were less bothered by the whole thing than
their parents. I was so incredibly proud of them. What amazing
2) It gave us the opportunity to rest. Coming off that
redeye was going to really suck... since we had three flights to go. A
good night's sleep meant a good rest of the trip.
3) I was
running out of diapers. Somehow I had mispacked the diaper bag and only
had two left. This allowed us to claim our luggage and get the extras I
4) Going through Dulles allowed us to maintain our
east coast (mileage earning) routing, while cutting out a flight
segment (LGA-IAD) and a cross-Long-Island cab ride. Saving the $40 fare
is nice, but avoiding the hassle was the real key.
So although I
ran out of clean clothes and smelled pretty bad by the end, and though
it was fatiguing, I really believe there were good things to come out of