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The Travel Detective

The Travel Detective: Secret Airlines

If you’re like most travelers, when it comes time to booking an international flight, you probably go to the major carriers, right?

Well, it turns out there are other options…if you know where to look. 
And from Asia to South America, flying one of these “secret airlines” could save you time, aggravation and maybe even a little money. If you’re flying to Asia from North America from Toronto, Boston, Chicago, or Seattle, try an airline you probably haven’t heard of–Hainan Airlines. The airline flies non-stop to Beijing and once you get there, you get to hub throughout Asia and the rest of the world. One added bonus is that on the way back, if you take its non-stop flight from Beijing to Seattle, you clear U.S. Customs in Seattle. Guess what? You’ll experience very little wait times, and that’s worth everything.
Hainan started service in 1993 as a domestic and then regional carrier. But when the airline saw opportunities in the U.S. market, it expanded its reach. The first American city it connected to was Seattle because at the time, that was as far as its A-330 airplanes could fly. Today, Hainan flies to six North American cities. In addition to Seattle, there’s now Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Toronto. But Seattle remains its North American hub and with cheaper tickets than a lot of other carriers, there’s high demand in both directions.
Another airline you may not have heard about or even seen is La Compagnie. La Compagnie started flying in July 2014 with just one 757 between Charles de Gaulle and Newark airports. The airline has positioned itself squarely in the business traveler market as a lower-cost alternative to the major carriers. Its service begins with access to premium airport lounges at Charles de Gaulle and Newark. But what the airline doesn’t have in frequency–it only flies in one direction once a day–it more than makes up for in airfares. Consider this: the normal business class fare on a New York to Paris round-trip can be as much as $8,000, sometimes even more. But on La Compagnie, it’s as low as $1,400.
For the Caribbean and South America, the super secret hub is Panama. Who knew? Think about this. You need to go from Chicago to Nassau in the Bahamas, but you’re told every flight is full, especially through Miami. Guess what? You can get there if you come through Panama. Take Copa Airlines, because it has 95 planes and flies to 69 cities in 30 countries. Copa got its start back in 1947 with some help from the iconic airline Pan Am. Originally just a domestic carrier, Copa now has a flight network that spans two continents with a central hub in Panama City. What that means is that Copa can often find you the flight you need, even when all the other carriers are fully booked. And that includes traveling to Cuba! The airline has at least six flights per day from Panama City to Havana.
By Peter Greenberg for