Tocumen International Airport (PTY)
After my six hour flight from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), I arrived at Tocumen International Airport (PTY), which is located in the capital city of Panama City, Panama. I went from 20° weather and snow in Boston to a wonderful 90° in hot, sunny, and beautiful Panama City.
Tocumen International Airport is a hub for Copa Airlines and several other international airlines also fly in and out of this airport. The largest airport in Panama, it’s one of the few airports in the region to have two landing runways that serve some of the largest commercial aircraft in operation today. Nearly 9 million passengers traveled through Tocumen International Airport in 2014, up 6+ million since 2003.
Tocumen International Airport was first inaugurated on June 1, 1947. The airport terminal was deemed too small and expansion plans were put into place in 1971. For the expansion to take place, one of the many things that needed to be done included diverting the bed of the Tocumen River from its original site. The first two phases of expansion are complete with the third expansion expected to be complete in 2017 with an additional 20 gates, more parking, and a brand new terminal, T2.
One of the longest non-stop flights in the world will arrive at Tocumen. In August of 2015, Emirates announced that they would have a flight from Dubai to Panama City with a 266-seat Boeing 777-200LR. The flight was originally scheduled for February 1, 2016, but has been rescheduled until March 31, 2016. The total flight distance of this non-stop flight will be 7,463 miles.
Once off the plane, you’ll need to pass through Immigration first before exiting the airport. Having only one terminal in the airport makes finding your way around easy.
Once you exit your plane, simply look for the overhead signs to find your way around the airport. All of the signs are in both English and Spanish
Within a few minutes I spotted the sign for Immigration, where you can either take the stairs or elevator down to the lower level.
Immigration has three lines:
- Residents get in the lane farthest to the left where they can quickly pass through Immigration.
- Non-residents take the middle and longest lane, which is where all the people in the picture above ended up.
- Flight crew members go to the outside lane, where they have dedicated Immigration assistance to help them pass quickly through Immigration.
Have your passport and customs declarations form ready to turn over to the Immigration agent. After they inspect your passport, they’ll take your picture and have you place your fingers on the electronic pad so they can process your fingerprints before you exit Immigration.
Once you’re finished with Immigration, you only need to take a few steps to be in Baggage Claim. Since we didn’t have checked luggage, we could walk right by those waiting for their bags. See ya’ suckers!
As you can see the airport is undergoing renovation so some areas look immaculate, like here, while others have tarps hanging and walls semi-painted.
Once we passed through Immigration and baggage claim, we could now leave the airport, But not so fast especially as I was behind those two women with several bags each. Ugh. My tiny little bag put their huge suitcases to shame, but then again — they might’ve been traveling for months.
Choose the entrance you first come upon or walk to the other side and enter through there. Check first to see which line is shorter and then pick that one. Then you have to wait until you’re called up and before putting your bags through the scanner.
Now we were ready to leave the airport, but we needed to organize our transportation to the hotel first.
I snuggled up to the windows at the front of the airport to get away from the crowds in search of some privacy while attempting to connect the internet through the airport WiFi. Be warned as it was definitely a spotty connection.
While waiting to connect to the internet, I had to maneuver around the guys in green huddled near the exit. See them? They repeatedly ask, “Taxi?” in hopes that you’ll take them up on an offer to get you a taxi. Here’s the problem with that.
If you take 20 steps outside, there’s a taxi queue right there where you can get your own taxi and skip having to tip these guys for walking you outside. No need to tip someone who really isn’t doing anything for you. If you’re renting a car, you can see that right in this area is the rental car counters, which wasn’t doing a lot of business while I was there. Most people were either getting picked up, drove their own cars to the airport, or were taking a taxi.
Don’t believe me? Then take a look at this picture and yes — those are taxis just waiting for you to get inside.
Within a few minutes, I was able to get our ride coordinated through Uber and we were soon on our way into Panama City. I’ll cover my Uber experience in an upcoming post along with how to use Uber when travelling.
Going Through Tocumen International Airport on My Way Back to Boston
Although I had already checked in online with Copa Airlines for my return flight, we needed to get our boarding passes at the airport. From there we headed into the short line to go through security. To enter the line you needed to show your passport to the two young men who looked like they were 16 at the most. These guys were the ones who were checking passports to allow people into the line. From there you move onto the security person in uniform behind a podium who checks passports again before allowing you to proceed through security. The process is the same as what you might experience in the U.S.. Don’t forget to take your laptop out as well as liquids and shoes.
We had time to kill before our flight, which meant we weren’t in the slightest rush to sit down anywhere. We ended up walking around the airport after going through security and checking out the many stores inside the airport. You can find almost anything from souvenirs, travel needs, liquor, gifts, chocolates to name brand cosmetics, clothing, shoes and sneakers, duty free, and so much more. Definitely a great place to spend money, especially if you’re bored.
On my way to the Copa Lounge I stumbled upon a church in the middle of the airport. It was so incredibly cute, too. Should I call a church cute? Well, I just did. With its stained glass windows and pews, this is absolutely 100% a real church and a great place for anyone needing to get away to a quiet spot in the middle of an extremely busy airport.
Instead of the church, we opted for the Copa Lounge, the business lounge run by Copa Airlines. The lounge is located near gate 21, but more toward the inside corridor instead of near the windows by the gate. This is a large business lounge with essentials like showers and restrooms, but also a family area, a movie screening room with cushy theater chairs, a bar (free drinks — just leave a tip), and a small food area. There are a multitude of seating areas in the lounge, most of which were used by sleeping passengers. The lounge staff wasn’t coming around as much as I would’ve liked because the place was really kind of dirty with plates, cups, and food left out almost the entire time we were there. The food for our morning arrival included bananas, apples, bagels, “cup cakes,” which were more like muffins, cereal, and yogurt. The coffee urn was never refilled so no coffee for people that day.
The Copa Lounge wasn’t a complete miss as I was able to charge my phone and use the WiFi and Mr. TSG enjoyed a beer and a bagel with cream cheese before the flight. But compared to other lounges I’ve visited, it could use some improvement in the areas of food, service, and cleanliness.
About 30 minutes before boarding time for our flight, we departed the Copa Lounge and made our way to gate 4. By the time we arrived, the gate agent had already started the boarding process so we basically boarded the plane. To get on the plane you do need to pass through to the gate through a second security screening where you have to put your bags, shoes, etc. through the x-ray machine. I scrambled to get my sandals on and before I knew it, I was on the plane headed back to Boston.
Have you ever flown in or out of Tocumen International Airport in Panama City? What did you think?