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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The hell of flying on Copa Airlines and the ordeal of crossing immigration in Panama

The latex-gloved hands of the woman in uniform run over my swollen breasts from producing milk daily. "Turn around," the woman instructs me. And her hands again run over my buttocks and between my legs. They treat me like a criminal. My "crime" was taking my son to the bathroom at the airport in Panama. Absolutely outrageous and degrading, the inhumane treatment of migration in Latin America and of Copa Airlines to its customers.

Everyone who travels already knows it: check-in, immigration stamp and pass through security. Those who travel with children understand the hassle of passing the diaper bag, the backpack with toys, the stroller, the suitcase and, in our case, the photographic equipment through x-rays. It is difficult, to say the least, and it is so complicated that the fact that we are allowed to go through a "special" line is not to congratulate anyone, it is a right.

We passed through the familiar security to enter the airport boarding lounges and, to keep the baby hydrated and happy, we immediately bought snacks for the trip along with a few cans of coconut water and juice to watch movies with our son, the family's favorite plan.

Room 128 indicates the giant screen after passing the security access. It is half an hour before boarding, so we take precautions and approach with time, everything always takes longer with a child and a baby. 

The lounge is surrounded by a blue ribbon that says Copa Airlines in white letters, held up by metal tubes, and is explicitly placed to force people to go through a second security filter exclusively for our flight. We are the first to arrive and we are immediately told that we cannot pass liquids, that they might make an exception for carrying a three-month-old baby. My partner and I look at each other, we know what's coming. 

Our son takes a few gulps of his juice, which goes almost all of it in the trash. We drink a coconut water among the adults standing in line in the living room, the second one stays in the bag.

At first I laugh at the absurdity of not allowing liquids, as I might as well leave my juices on the floor, "outside" the cordoned-off room, and drink them from "inside". Feet inside the room and head in the hallway. It is ridiculous, to begin with, the requirement.

"Miss, that water is not for the baby and you know it," the uniformed woman pointed out to me authoritatively with the closed can of water she had just bought, despite the fact that I told her I had a baby.

I really wanted to answer her: "What do you know what I give my baby? 

With what face do they demand that we be locked in a room cordoned off by a cloth tape with no liquids or toilets for more than an hour waiting for boarding to begin and our flight to depart? 

"I have milk in my breasts, is that one going to squeeze it out too?", I think. 

The stupid excuse that they are flights to the United States, while the "g├╝eros" from the north must laugh out loud at the pirouettes they put us Latin Americans through. The backyard of the "big bully" who looks down with contempt, while the others kneel down to smile when they are treated as always: with the toe of the foot.

I only managed to say that I was the one who was making milk and needed to hydrate, and that this should be important enough, but nobody cares. It is unfortunate that they try to tell us that the United States is calling the shots. And if that were so, it is even worse that the foreign secretaries of Latin American countries and the airline personnel of those countries allow themselves to be trampled on. 

In principle, because they somehow accept that the safety of their airports is deficient. And, therefore, it is their duty to carry out a second review. 

Copa Airlines
Photo: P360P

To continue, this type of inhuman treatment corresponds to a colonial logic reproduced in all spheres of Latin American societies, where whoever is at the top and treats those "below" worse? by stepping on others, makes them somehow?better? They get on the brick and get dizzy, as we say in my town.

We are already in the room ready to board, our spirits calm down after the degrading treatment, and my son suddenly announces that he needs to go to the bathroom. Such is motherhood and fatherhood. 

My son and I have to go out to the bathroom through the improvised access erected in minutes by security guards who I don't know what Hollywood superheroes they think they are. 

Blue ribbons that I still don't know what they protect us from the aisle in the take-off terminal, but how they complicate our lives.

On the way back from the bathroom, again show passport, ticket and take off his shoes. No jewelry, no watch, no wallet, nothing. Strict search because the sensor lights were illuminated. I had my passports in my hand and the uniformed woman, who dedicates her life to check that the light is always green when people pass, did not think to tell me that it was the passports that possibly activated the sensor and preferred to touch me in front of my son and in public in my most intimate parts, while I kept my arms stretched out to the sides. Like a criminal. 

When I returned to the room, I asked the Copa employee at the monstrador for a glass of water. "I don't have any here. You have to wait for the plane," said the guy with all the kindness of someone who lies to you with a smile on his face. 

My companion and I were already tired of flying Copa. The first leg was no less terrible. 

The first flight left at one o'clock in the morning on a Monday in August. Flying with children in the wee hours of the morning is complicated not only because of the disruption of their sacrilegious routine, but also because you usually have to carry them and put up with a bad mood or some craziness due to lack of sleep. 

Fifteen minutes before the flight, we were informed that the departure was delayed. It was three hours before we were informed that the flight was definitely cancelled. 

Two hundred people stranded at 4:00 a.m. at the San Francisco airport. Our checked bags were returned to us.

The only news they could give us was that the flight would leave the next day and that it was necessary to return to the airport at 6:00 p.m. I corroborated this information in the morning on the phones of Copa, where they told me to follow the supposed instructions of the previous day. I corroborated this information in the morning on Copa's phones, where they told me to follow the supposed instructions of the previous day. 

We arrived at 5:30 p.m. at the airport only to find that the Copa counter was closed. No sign, no nothing. 

We walked through the airport carrying baby, stroller, suitcases, backpacks and a six year old by the hand. Nothing and no one could tell us anything about the flight. 

We talked to Information, and nothing. 

We talked to security, and no certainty about what to do with the suitcase. 

They all referred us to the same white phone taped to the wall which connected to Copa's switchboard. And, in turn, the agents on the white phone instructed me to talk to someone at the airport since the movement there could not be resolved over the phone. 

Finally, at 7:00 p.m., two hours after arriving at the airport late, an hour before our flight was due to depart, we recognized a passenger from the night before whom we followed to find a Copa Airlines counter just opened. All the other passengers with the same tired and fed up face as us, but no one dares to complain. For the few of us who do, the answer is the same: "download the app and there you can request a refund for yesterday's Uber and file a complaint". 

The procedure is bureaucratic, to say the least, inhumane is closer to an adequate description.

Thus, Copa Airlines joins our list of unpunished and arrogant airlines that we will never fly again.

Anna Lee Mraz.

Sociologist | Feminist | Writer

Twitter @AnnaLeeMraz Instagram @annaleemraz

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Anna Lee Mraz Bartra
Anna Lee Mraz Bartra
Sociologist | Feminist | writer