Reviews

Review: Cathay Dragon Airbus A321 business class

Cathay Dragon's regional business class makes for a comfortable trip: but how does the smaller Airbus A321 stack up to the A330?

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, October 10 2019
Cathay Dragon Airbus A321 business class
Route

Shanghai Pudong - Hong Kong

Aircraft Type

Airbus A321

Airline

Cathay Dragon

Flight

KA875

Cabin Class

Business

Seat

17A (window)

Notes
The Good
  • A comfortable seat for flights of this length, despite not being a flatbed
  • Together with Cathay Pacific, more flights on this route than any other airline
The Bad
  • With lots of announcements, it'd be great to have the option to 'tune out' from those in other languages
X-Factor
  • Begin the journey at one of the best airport lounges in Mainland China
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Between the big business hubs of Hong Kong and Shanghai, Cathay Dragon – the regional arm of Cathay Pacific – offers business class on both its larger, twin-aisle Airbus A330s, and its smaller single-aisle Airbus A321s.

Both offer a comfortable experience in business class with similar seats across the fleet: but here's how that smaller plane fares inflight.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: The Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles. Or, through its affiliate membership in the Oneworld alliance, points and status can also be credited to programs like American Airlines AAdvantage, BA Executive Club and Qantas Frequent Flyer.
  • Checked baggage allowance – 32kg limit per bag:
        • 2 bags, 40kg total: standard allowance
        • 2 bags, 50kg total: Marco Polo Club (MPC) Silver members
        • 3 bags, 55kg total: MPC Gold, Oneworld Sapphire
        • 3 bags, 60kg total: MPC Diamond, Oneworld Emerald
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x115cm bag plus one small item such as a laptop bag, briefcase or handbag at a combined total weight of 10kg, or 15kg for Marco Polo Club Diamond members only.
  • Priority check-in, boarding, baggage: Business class check-in was swift, priority boarding was enforced through a dedicated lane, and priority-tagged bags were promptly delivered in Hong Kong.
  • Shanghai Airport fast-track: After being stamped out of China via the regular lines at passport control, flash your business class boarding pass for access to the red 'VIP' lanes at security.
  • Hong Kong Airport fast-track: Enrolling for Hong Kong e-Channel access allows you to skip the queues at passport control, and avoids the need to complete an incoming passenger card.

Lounge

At Pudong Airport, a Cathay Dragon business class ticket provides access to the brand new lounge of its sister airline, Cathay Pacific.

Here, travellers can enjoy delicious treats from The Noodle Bar, including Cathay staples as well as locally-inspired bites.

There's also plenty of space to work and relax, with parts of the lounge resembling an upscale city apartment:

ET review: Cathay Pacific lounge, Shanghai Pudong Airport

Flight

Passengers are spoiled for choice when jetting between Hong Kong and Shanghai, with seven airlines offering non-stop flights.

Together, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon offer up to 15 return services each day – the bulk of which are operated by Cathay Dragon, either with these Airbus A321s, or the larger Airbus A330s.

ET review: Cathay Dragon A330 business class, HK-Shanghai

With a journey time of two hours and 50 minutes, this flight, KA875, departs Pudong Airport's Terminal 2 at 4:45pm most days, arriving into Hong Kong at 7:40pm.

Throughout each day, flights generally depart every 20-90 minutes, so there's plenty of choice to suit your own schedule.

Seat

These single-aisle Airbus A321s offer business class in a 2-2 layout, with the sizeable six-row cabin providing 24 seats in total.

Unlike the more typical reclining business class seats as are common on the short flights of other airlines, Cathay Dragon's primo pods are built into a fixed shell, which stays in place even when you recline so that there's no impact on the passenger sitting behind.

Instead, the motorised seat slides down that shell and glides forward, creating that recline effect. These seats measure 23.5 inches (60cm) at their widest point, and 22 inches (56cm) just below the headrest.

There's plenty of room to stretch out, with space for your feet underneath the seat in front – most useful when you've reclined, given that the seat brings you forward.

There's a comparable amount of legroom in the very first row too, behind the bulkhead wall.

The seat is controlled via these simple and clear (and, well-used) keys, operating both the seatback and the leg rest to craft that perfect position, with a quick shortcut key for when it's time to land.

In front of each seat, there's a coat hook, USB charging port and an S-Video connector to display your own device on the seatback screen. Universal AC power is also tucked down below the centre console, facing forwards.

Next to that, a very small pouch, large enough to accommodate an iPhone 6s with its case removed, but otherwise, too small for most other modern smartphones.

For passengers seated by the windows, further storage is available between the seat and the cabin wall, such as for laptop and document pouches. Bags can also be stored underneath the seat in front.

Below the centre console sits another recess large enough for reading material, tablets and headphones. It's also where you'll find the two-pin headphone outlet for the inflight entertainment.

Finally, the tray table can be retrieved by pulling it towards you. This creates a large enough surface for both dining and working.

However, it can also be locked in place further in front, serving as tablet stand or simply an extra beverage holder.

On a daytime flight less than three hours, there's little more that passengers could ask for, as flatbed seats simply aren't necessary. Direct aisle access would be a bonus, but not essential when the sun is up as your neighbour is unlikely to be sleeping.

However, one favourable aspect of Cathay Dragon's Airbus A321s compared to the Airbus A330s is that these single-aisle jets have personal air vents: most appreciated on hot days, compared to the A330s which only have central air.

Meal

A round of drinks is offered prior to take-off, with the Summer Breeze signature cocktail proving a refreshing mix of rum, piña colada syrup, passionfruit, orange juice and Perrier water, garnished with a fresh lemon slice. Champagne (Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV) is also offered.

With a delay on the ground resulting in a two-hour hold-up between boarding and take-off, it's time for a fresh round once airborne. A glass of the 2016 Domaine Langlois-Chateau Saumer Blanc – owned by the Champagne house Bollinger, and with hints of citrus and honey – was enjoyed with some mixed nuts.

Dinner commences with a bite-sized smoked salmon, fennel, sour cream and salmon roe starter, which was nice and fresh.

For the main course, the menu gave the following choices:

  • Seafood with lobster sauce, parsley potatoes and mixed vegetables
  • Stir-fried beef tenderloin with fresh mango, steamed rice, broccoli, pumpkin and mushroom
  • "Asian Delights" from a separate seasonal menu, with the day's choice being Korean braised chicken and gingko nut with lemon pomelo sauce, steamed rice, snow peas and black fungus

Unfortunately, by the time the crew had reached the back row, the Asian Delights dish had run out, although the beef tenderloin went well with a glass of Chateau Noaillac Médoc 2014 red:

To finish, Häagen-Dazs Belgian Chocolate ice cream with an actual chocolate served on the side.

Overall, that's plenty for a three-hour flight, with the Asian Delights dish designed to keep the inflight menus from getting repetitive for regular flyers: when enough of them are loaded, of course.

Entertainment & Service

Mounted in front of each seat sits a 12-inch inflight entertainment screen running 'Studio KA': almost identical to 'Studio CX' on Cathay Pacific's Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s, but not quite as modern as the newer version seen on Cathay Pacific's A350s.

Still, there's a broad selection of movies, TV shows, music and games, comparable to what you might expect of a long-haul flight.

Service from the crew was prompt and friendly, with the team taking the initiative to offer extra drinks and nibbles on the ground during the delay while engineers were resolving a technical fault.

However, a long stream of multilingual announcements made it difficult to watch the entertainment at times. Some airlines now allow you to set your 'announcement language', so that you're only disturbed when the crew are speaking your lingo, and it'd be great to see Cathay Dragon (and Cathay Pacific) adopt this.

Also read: Inflight announcements: how many are too many?

Still, with more flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai than any other airline, a great new lounge at Pudong Airport together with already-solid business class lounges in Hong Kong, and a comfortable seat for what's a relatively swift journey, Cathay Dragon remains an appealing choice for business and executive travellers.

Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Cathay Dragon.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

Interesting comment about the dish you selected Chris that they had run out of it by the time they got to you.

I have been on 9 flights this year either the route you tested and the hangzhou hk route and 6 of the flights they ran out of the meal i selected.

not a good strike rate i would suggest.


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