Can I fly from Australia to Panama City without going via Los Angeles?

Reader's Question

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The Independent Travel

Q. As part of a round-the-world itinerary I want to fly from Australia – ideally Melbourne, otherwise Sydney – to Panama City. All the online solutions I am being offered seem to force me to travel via Los Angeles, which I do not particularly want to visit again. I am also keen to spend as little time in a plane as possible, and also to have a light carbon footprint. Can you offer any other options?

Name withheld

A. Melbourne to Panama City is just over 9,000 miles. The direct track goes across the South Pacific, nowhere near Los Angeles. But most transpacific flights originating in Melbourne (and Sydney) head for LA, from where onward flights across the Americas are easily available. On this routing, the total distance flown between Melbourne and Panama City is close to 11,000 miles.

There are no direct flights from Australia to Central America or Mexico, and so the only plausible alternative is to take the Sydney-Santiago flight and change planes in the Chilean capital for the six-hour flight to Panama City. The total journey for this, including the 450 miles from Melbourne to Sydney, is less than 10,500 miles.

This approach also avoids the hassle of US immigration: even if all you want to do is transfer from one flight to another, the Americans demand that you jump through all the hoops as if you were seeking to holiday in the US. You need to apply online to enrol in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and undergo fingerprinting and be photographed on arrival.

In contrast, Santiago requires no tricky border formalities. And if you can stay for a day or two, the Chilean capital is a friendly and relaxed city with great places to eat and drink.