Back in November of 2019, I decided to extend my error fare trip to Panama by adding a week in Cuba. While looking for oneway fares from Panama to Havana, I discovered that only Copa Airlines served that route, charging more than €300 for the two hour flight – more than what I originally paid for my trip from Dublin to Panama City and back. It was indeed our very own flight search that showed me an alternative.
A Colombian low-cost carrier named Wingo offered flights from Panama Pacifico Airport (BLB) to Havana for less than $100. A humongous amount of 16kg cabin bags were included in the lowest fare. Since I never heard the name of neither airline nor airport before, I decided to review both. So this a review and a guide on how to deal with the quirks that come with both Wingo and flying from Panama Pacifico.
I will start with this step, because there is some important information you should know about when trying to book with Wingo from Europe. After five failed attempts to book my flight on their website, using three different credit cards in the process, it seemed impossible to do so. All my cards were declined. After a quick research, I discovered that many people encountered the same issue. The solution – downloading the Wingo application on my smartphone to book there. It worked without a problem, and the confirmation e-mail arrived instantly.
People outside of Middle and South America might have a hard time booking through Wingo’s website. Booking via their app works flawlessly.
Panama Pacifico Airport
Panama Pacifico airport uses the facilities of former Howard Air Force Base. The airport is located roughly 10 kilometers away from Panama City’s center and on the North American side of the canal. If you want to go there from the city, you have to cross the Bridge of the Americas, which spans over the entrance to the Panama Canal. This bridge is the main road connection between North and South America, making it one of the more epic trips you can take to an airport. Uber charged me $7.50 for the 20-minute drive.
Since most of the trips happen on either inner-city turnpikes or narrow two lane roads, travel time can double during rush hours. Arriving there, I was amazed by how tiny the airport was. I did not expect a large airport since I knew it serves basically one flight a day. But I was still surprised. The airport itself offers a single, main hall that only includes a single service desk, a handful of check-in counters as well as immigration and security facilities. It is designed to serve one flight at a time.
Located in a small, single room right beside the entrance door is a cafe that serves hot and cold drinks as well as reasonably priced snacks. It is the only source of food in the airport, aside from a vending machine in the waiting area.
The security appeared particularly picky to me, although it might just have been bad luck during that days’ spin at the security lottery. I had to part ways with my tweezers, nail scissors, and spray deodorant (all of which had passed German, Irish, and two TSA security screenings before). On the other hand, I wasn’t even asked about my self-refilled half liter bottle of water. Coping with my loss, I sat down in the waiting area. It offers a great view of the apron and sorrounding landscape – and nothing else.
There was free WiFi available in the terminal, interestingly named after Panama City’s major airport Tocumen. However, at the time, I was not able to get a connection to the internet via this WiFi.
Since I was travelling without checked bags, I checked in via their website without any instances. The hotel printed out my boarding pass (somehow, a digital version was unavailable). The process was quick, and the printed out boarding pass was full of useful additional information – for example, a list of necessary travel documents when going to Cuba.
The queues at the airport seemed rather long to me, especially considering that no other flights were scheduled to depart anywhere near ours.
The boarding process was painfully slow. That can be attributed to both – airport and airlines. Boarding was only possible through a narrow corridor between waiting room and security, which also serves as the solely possible walkway between the waiting area and the toilets. It got crowded quickly, and there was no space to form anything resembling a waiting line. A spectacle of pushing, shoving, and shouting took place before my very eyes. I instantly decided to board last and, therefore, without any hassle.
After passing the boarding desk, people walked across the apron and could enter the plane via one of two stairs. An airport employee checked their tickets to make sure they choose the correct ladder at the front or rear end of the plane. However, Wingo’s generous bag policy adds further issues. All overhead bins were taken quickly and passengers and flight attendants alike began pacing up and down the cabin – bags in hand – to find any possible space. After all, it took almost 50 minutes until boarding was done. This is a ridiculous amount of time for a Boeing 737-800. We still arrived in Havana on time.
Cabin & Comfort
Wingo flies three Boeing 737-800 aircraft with pretty dense 186 seats. The first three and the exit rows offer a better seat pitch than the other seats but cost a little more as well. As the airline operates only sub-four-hour-flights, this is not the most important factor. The seat pitch isn’t great – my knees touched the seat in front of me as soon as I began to relax a little. With a body height just below 1.80m, this might be bothersome for people taller than me. However, I find that acceptable for a short flight.
The condition of the aircraft was okay, the interior was well maintained. The bathrooms were standard for a Boeing 737 and clean. Overall, there is nothing that would distinguish Wingo from any other low-cost carrier. Please don’t expect power outlets.
Food & Service
The flight attendants were incredibly friendly, helpful and most of them spoke English very well (a nice surprise, as Wingo only serves Spanish speaking destinations). They were working hard before take-off to get all the luggage stowed inside the cabin and later answered all of my questions about the airline very politely. All food and beverage service on board has to be paid extra. I did not try any of it, as none of the offers seemed very appealing to me.
WiFi & Entertainment
Wingo does not offer WiFi on its airplanes. Further, there are no screens or audio outlets to be found in the cabin. There is no inflight magazine, too. The only entertainment offered by the carrier is the opportunity to unfold your tray table and count the stains on it or guess what these are made of. However, this might get repetitive and boring quickly – especially on longer flights.
In other words – just make sure you have enough to read or to listen to during your trip. Wingo won’t be much of a help here.
- Check-in & Boarding
- Cabin & Comfort
- Entertainment & WLAN
Wingo is a low cost carrier – it is no surprise that a flight with them is nothing to write home about. Everything is standard but their flight attendants, which were above average. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get from A to B in Middle and South America, I can whole heartedly recommend choosing Wingo.