The last few times I went to the USA, I flew on Copa from David to Panama City rather than take the bus. This, however, involves changing from a domestic flight to an international one, and the reverse on the way back. I have always booked the tickets separately so it might be different if you book from David to your USA destination on the same itinerary, but I think it would be basically the same, except I think your baggage can be checked through.
Keep in mind that Air Panama flies into Albrook, Marcos Gelabert airport. This might be a good option if you are only going to Panama City since this airport is on the west side of the city by the canal. Copa, however, flies into Tocumen airport which is a ways (and a $30-35 taxi ride) east of the city. This is the departure airport for international flights and the one you want if you are flying onward.
Leaving David to fly out of Panama
So, starting in David, check in for your flight, go through security, and hang out in the waiting room until you are called to board (in both Spanish and English). You will go outside, walk along beside the back of the airport building, and then up the ramp into the plane.
When you land in Panama City (after a 45-50 minute fight) you will get on a bus which will take you to what seems like the other end of the airport. Be prepared to be bounced around while hanging on to a strap. When you arrive and enter the building, if you need to pick up luggage stop by the area to your left where a worker will be unloading the luggage (one piece at a time). Find yours and follow the crowd out.
You will be on the ground floor to the far left of the building (when facing the building). You need to go outside and walk to your left along the building until you find another entrance back into the building. Enter and keep walking in the same direction until you find the stairs and escalator that will take you upstairs. Upstairs, you will find all the check in areas for the international flights. The airport staff are bilingual so if you need help, ask any of the people stationed at various points to direct you to the correct line. From here, it’s the usual airport thing, check in, clear security, and find your gate. You can expect another security check at the gate, complete with pat down and confiscation of your water bottle, even if it’s empty. Whew! You made it. Well done. Bien viaje.
Coming back into Panama and on to David
Arrival in Panama City is the usual routine of landing in a big airport, getting off the plane, and usually going for a good long walk until you find yourself in the older part of the airport. Look for stairs leading to the lower level and yellow signs saying “migration”. Downstairs you will find the customs area so get in line and have your passport in hand. (If you don’t have your customs form, you can find more on the counter at the bottom of the stairs). As far as I know these agents are bilingual, and will probably ask where you are going and how long you plan to stay. You will need to press your fingers on the glass for fingerprints and face the camera for a photo.
Next, follow the hallway around to baggage claim. Chances are your luggage will be waiting. Pick it up and with passport and the customs form in hand, get in line for the next thing. When it’s your turn, hand the agent your passport and form, put your luggage and carry on’s on the conveyor belt, and pass through. You are through customs!
Now, go out to the lobby where you will find yourself facing a crowd of people looking for arriving passengers. You are on the ground floor, so look for the stairs and escalator that will take you upstairs to the check in area. Turn left up there, pass the lines of people at the Copa check ins and look for the sign that says “domestic flights”, almost to the end where there are signs for gates 1-20. Ask any employee “David?” (“Daveed”) if you are confused. The line should be reasonably short.
Once checked in, go back downstairs, go outside and turn right. Go to the end of the building (right before a sign advertising a restaurant and chicken/pollo, if I remember), and look for a door back in. Again “David?” (”Daveed”) should get some help from pretty much anyone you see. When you enter you are likely to see an unoccupied desk, another desk beyond where an employee will check your boarding pass and passport, and then the security checkpoint. After this you will find yourself in a waiting area.
When you are called to board, it’s the bouncy bus again to the other end of the airport. But, when you get out you will get on the plane which will take you to David! Yay, almost there.
David is easy – follow the crowd, wait around at baggage claim until the luggage is unloaded, and then proceed to the main area of the airport where you’ll find people waiting for arriving passengers. If you need a taxi you will find drivers just outside the door outside. They aren’t allowed to clog the area though so you’ll have to wait a moment while your driver goes to get his vehicle.
I should have taken more pictures. If any of you have done this and have information to add or correct, please leave a comment. Gracias y bien viaje!