Logan International Airport will offer nonstop service to Latin America when Copa Airlines starts flying between Boston and Panama City in July. The 5½-hour flight on a 124-seat Boeing 737 will leave Boston just before 10 a.m. each day, with round-trip tickets averaging $528.
Currently, Boston is the largest US market without a nonstop flight to Central or South America, but there is plenty of demand. In 2011, more than 400,000 passengers flew between Boston and the nearly 60 cities in Latin America that Copa serves out of its hub in Panama City.
Boston is sometimes overlooked by carriers because its population is relatively small compared with some other major US cities and it has only the 20th biggest airport in North America, said Thomas Glynn, chief executive of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan. But when airlines look at the region’s “traveling profile” — with institutions such as Fidelity Investments, State Street Corp., Harvard University, and MIT generating significant air travel — they gain interest.
“One of the big priorities of the business community and employers are more nonstop flights to major international locations like China, Israel, and Latin America,” Glynn said.
Copa was drawn to Boston — its eighth US destination, and 65th overall — because it’s an attractive city for tourists, and a first-rate academic hub and business center, said Fernando Fondevila, North American regional manager for the airline. Copa also took note of Massport estimates that passengers flying between Boston and the Latin American cities Copa serves generated $181 million in annual ticket sales.
“That is an important figure,” Fondevila said.
Copa Airlines, founded in 1947, increased its capacity — which is measured by the number of seats multiplied by the number of miles flown — by 24 percent last year. The airline is adding seven new Boeing 737s to its fleet, bringing its total to 90 Boeing and Embraer aircraft by the end of the year.
Panama City itself is not a major destination for people traveling from Boston to Latin America, but they can connect from Panama City to popular cities, including San Jose, Guatemala City, and Sao Paolo. There’s also a convenience factor — travelers don’t have to go through customs and immigration when they fly through Panama, as they must when they first land in many other countries, which saves time and hassle, Fondevila said. In addition, passengers connecting through Panama City on Copa are allowed a layover of up to 72 hours in the city at no extra charge, he said.
The return trip to the United States will also be simpler. Many passengers coming back to Boston from Latin America now connect in Miami or Atlanta, which involves navigating a big, busy airport to clear customs and immigration before making the last leg of the trip home. Panama City has a much smaller, less crowded airport.
“The connecting service through Panama City is so much easier and so seamless that it’s like the next best thing to having nonstop service into Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia,” said Patrick Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It opens up lots of different avenues.”
Brazil, in particular, is an important market for Boston, said Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism. Not only are many Massachusetts residents from Brazil, she said, it’s the third fastest-growing market for visitors to the United States, after China and India.
“The number of travelers from Brazil is growing exponentially, and every destination in the world is competing for them,” Wall said.
Overseas Adventure Travel, a Cambridge-based tour operator for people 55 and older, is sending more than 1,000 travelers to Panama this year, and those that fly from Boston are bound to be happy they soon won’t have to connect in Miami, said Maureen Pudlo, the company’s vice president of air contracting. “The TSA agents are just crazy here,” she said, adding that at big US airports, “you feel like cattle.”