Reviews

Review: Cathay Dragon Airbus A330 business class

Cathay Dragon's regional business class doesn't offer flatbeds – but on flights under four hours, do you really need them?

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, August 1 2019
Cathay Dragon Airbus A330 business class
Route

Hong Kong - Shanghai (Pudong)

Aircraft Type

Airbus A330-300

Airline

Cathay Dragon

Flight

KA876

Cabin Class

Business

Seat

18C (aisle)

Notes
The Good
  • Choice of lounges in Hong Kong
  • Friendly and prompt service
  • A comfortable seat for these relatively short flights
The Bad
  • Being 'regional' business class, you won't find a flatbed
The Unexpected
  • Together with Cathay Pacific, the most comprehensive flight schedule between these two cities
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Travellers are spoiled for choice on flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai with close to 40 departures each way and each day, spanning seven airlines on this popular route.

Among them, Cathay Dragon – the regional arm of Cathay Pacific – which alone runs 12 of those daily non-stop return flights, and which Executive Traveller puts to the test following a recent visit to Shanghai.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: The Marco Polo Club and Asia Miles. As an affiliate member of the Oneworld alliance, points and status can also be earned via other 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, handbag or backpack, at a combined total weight of 10kg. For Marco Polo Club Diamond members only, the allowable combined total weight is boosted to 15kg.
  • Priority check-in, boarding, baggage: While owned by Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon operates its own bank of dedicated check-in counters at Hong Kong Airport, where there was no queue in the business class line. Priority boarding was enforced at the gate and priority-tagged bags were delivered first in Shanghai.
  • Hong Kong Airport fast-track: Having been cleared for Hong Kong e-Channel access on a previous visit, I zipped through the 'residents' line on departure, happily skipping a significant queue in the normal 'visitor' lanes.

Lounge

As Cathay Dragon flights to China most often depart from the gates closest to security and passport control here in Hong Kong, the most convenient business class lounge for these journeys is usually The Deck.

While bustling on a busy weekday morning, the line for breakfast at The Noodle Bar was minimal to secure some delicious bites:

Executive Traveller review: Cathay Pacific's The Deck lounge

Note that The Deck doesn't offer barista-made coffee, but this is available from the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge which is right next door.

Naturally, a Marco Polo Club Diamond or other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyer card gets you into The Wing First Class Lounge instead, but which would have been about a 10-minute walk from the Cathay Dragon departure gate, compared to The Deck which was more conveniently-located for boarding.

Also read: Cathay Pacific lounge guide, Hong Kong Airport

Flight

Competition on the corporate-heavy Hong Kong-Shanghai route is fierce, with seven airlines vying for your favours.

But for most business travellers, schedule is critical, and on that front, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon offer the most choice with 15 daily return flights between them – three served by Cathay Pacific, and the remainder operated by Cathay Dragon.

Covering a journey of two hours and 40 minutes, this flight, KA876, departs Hong Kong at 8:25am daily to reach Shanghai's Pudong Airport at 11:05am.

Need to jet away earlier? There's also a departure at 7:25am, with flights then running every 30-90 minutes throughout the day until the last service leaves at 9:15pm.

Seat

Clocking in at less than three hours from gate to gate, a flatbed seat simply isn't necessary, so Cathay Dragon offers a 'regional' business class instead, with reclining seats placed in a 2-2-2 layout:

On the Airbus A330, this makes the centre D/G seats the choice pick for solo business travellers, but being a last-minute booking on a relatively full flight with limited seating choices remaining, I took an aisle seat in one of the outer pairs – the only disadvantage being that your seatmate may occasionally need to zip past.

These seats measure 21-23 inches wide (23 inches at the widest point around the shoulders), and are built into a fixed shell.

This means even if you recline fully, there's no impact on the passenger behind as the shell remains in place:

A 48-inch pitch offers plenty of legroom...

... and although the seat doesn't transition into a bed, the recline shown above combined with the leg rest below is realistically all you need for a 2.5-hour flight.

As you may have spotted, the seat's tray table is particularly versatile, and can be opened slightly and locked to create a snacking shelf and beverage holder...

... drawn closer to you for convenience...

... or opened completely for meals or work:

The only trick is finding that table – after looking for a button and checking inside the armrest with no luck, I eventually spotted the "pull" tab in front:

Speaking of buttons, your seat is controlled via these conveniently-placed switches, which sit atop a storage nook large enough for headphones and laptops...

... and there's a tiny storage pocket in front of you, too, which was too small to fit my smartphone (these seats were launched in the era before large-screen smartphones).

You'll also find a USB power outlet right next to that pocket – the idea when the seat was designed clearly being that you could charge your phone up there with the cable out of the way, but with the way modern smartphones have adopted larger screens, that's no longer possible.

Instead, AC power is available via the console between each pair of seats, which still kept the charging table out of the way when placing the phone on the cocktail table above or in the storage nook beside.

Still, if you would rather have a fully-flat bed for this quick flight, Cathay Pacific offers this on some – but not all – of its Airbus A330 services between Hong Kong and Shanghai, although as aircraft are always subject to change, it's never 'guaranteed' on these quick hops.

Meal

Given my early wake-up call on Hong Kong Island followed by breakfast at The Deck, by the time I boarded this 8:25am flight I was well in the mood for morning tea and lunch, which the menu fortunately catered for.

Kicking things off was a delicious smoothie before departure, with pleasing yet not overpowering hints of banana, with juices and water the other choices.

After take-off, the meal service began with fresh fruits, yoghurt, a pastry selection, juice and water...

... with a choice from the following main courses to follow:

  • Tomato and mozzarella omelette with chicken sausage, sautéed potatoes, spinach and vine-ripe tomatoes
  • Dim sum selection with a chicken bean curd roll with fish maw, a crab roe siu mai, jade har gow and crab roe seafood dumpling
  • Rice vermicelli with beef shank, egg julienne, abalone sauce and choy sum

While I appreciated there being a clear 'breakfast' option if I'd not arrived in time to visit the lounge, I chose the dim sum plate as an early lunch, which went well with the supplied chilli sauce:

To finish, a refreshing Hong Kong-style milk tea: not listed on the menu, but always available by request. (Insider tip: Cathay cabin crew like to take their own Hong Kong-style milk tea with an Earl Gray teabag added for extra flavour, so you can ask for the same.)

Entertainment & Service

There's a 12-inch widescreen TV provided at each business class seat, which springs to life after the safety demonstration is complete and runs until touchdown.

While the interface is a step behind what you'd find on Cathay's newer aircraft, the 'Studio KA' system was still relatively easy to navigate, with the standard features at-hand like the moving map:

Being in the mood for some nice classical music as a backdrop to getting some work done, the selections were pleasingly broad, from which Brahms' Symphony No. 2 in D major (opus 73) was my pick.

The noise-cancelling headphones supplied were better than most airline cans, although it's always tough to beat a solid BYO set which I reverted to – and when the entertainment moves beyond audio and calls for the screen, the panel can also be tilted to suit:

It also operates by touch, but there's a remote control beside you too:

Service from the crew was friendly and professional, with passengers welcomed and addressed by name throughout the flight, and my call bell answered promptly when ordering-up that milk tea.

While passengers connecting from a longer flight elsewhere may lament the absence of a flatbed seat, when venturing solely from Hong Kong to Shanghai, Cathay Dragon's regional business class is perfectly comfortable for these quick flights to Mainland China.

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Shanghai 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!

mern2001

mern2001

Qantas - WP Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2013

Total posts 42

Hi Chris,

I'm going to be flying on one of these soon. Is it worth going for the first row? Or because the seat are contained within a shell, they are much the same. Thanks.

AsiaBizTraveller

AsiaBizTraveller

20 Nov 2015

Total posts 59

There's a bit of extra legroom in the front row for stretching out. A pretty good seat overall, be interesting to see what the new version looks like when CX reveals it early next year.

mern2001

mern2001

Qantas - WP Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2013

Total posts 42

Thanks AsiaBiztraveller - that's helpful.

Ian_from_HKG

Ian_from_HKG

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 113

Chris rightfully mentions the possibility of aircraft swaps on this route, which means running the "risk" of being put on a narrowbody (A320 or more likely A321) aircraft, and indeed many of the flights on this route are scheduled on an A321. Although the seat itself is basically the same, it is worth knowing that A32x flights on Cathay Dragon have a different entertainment option in the form of "StudioKA", which is a wireless-streaming option allowing you to watch content on your own device. HOWEVER, and the is the point I would like to emphasise, although there is WiFi permitting you to stream the content, you have to download the app first! You can't download it onboard.

I am on iPhone so I don't know what the app is called for other platforms, but on iOS it is "StudioKA".

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2935

Hi Ian, interesting, thanks for sharing. For what it's worth, I flew back from Shanghai on a Cathay Dragon A321 (a review of which remains on my 'to do' list), and there was still seatback entertainment. I don't know whether you were suggesting that you have to use the streaming service to your own device as the only option, but the aircraft I flew on had seatback screens akin to the A330.

Ian_from_HKG

Ian_from_HKG

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 113

Dear Chris, this might be worth checking with KA. The website implies this streaming system is available on all "A320" aircraft (although, as I am sure you know, "A320" is often used to refer to the whole A318/A319/A320/A321 family). I mentioned it only because it is listed there as being a "current" option - whether that is (on any particular airframe) the only current option or whether it is an additional option is something I can't confirm myself! Either way, I would download the app before my flight!

LikeaGoodLounge

LikeaGoodLounge

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2018

Total posts 2

I agree for shorter flights the Cathay Dragon product is OK. Just that when the haul is a little longer (I recently flew KA153 from Bangalore to HKG) then a "proper" Business product would be better. ie That recent flight was closer to 6 hours and not scheduled to depart until 1.30 in the morning, so a fully flat seat would have been much better!

Ian_from_HKG

Ian_from_HKG

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 113

Yes, the Bangalore flight is unusually long for a regional seat. There is a reason, however - actually two reasons. Although KA do have flat beds on some aircraft those are marketed as "First Class" (with Business Class being the same regional seats reviewed above) and Bangalore just doesn't have the necessary travel profile to justify using those aircraft. More particularly, though, the Cathay group have designated KA for the Bangalore route because the India-Hong Kong air services agreement limits traffic to designated carriers from each jurisdiction. Initially this was limited to two airlines from each (although I think this may now have been relaxed). By using KA on the BLR route, the Cathay group have effectively blocked another HK airline from operating to Indian destinations.

When I first started travelling to India (which I did regularly, initially on transactional work and later because I was a director of two Indian companies and had to travel there for board meetings) I flew CX who did not fly non-stop, but rather flew via Bangkok. The aircraft then went on from Mumbai to the Middle East. They used regional aircraft, and when I complained about this they told me that because each sector was less than five hours it was counted as a regional flight rather than a long-haul flight and aircraft were rostered accordingly. This was despite the fact that we weren't allowed off the aircraft in BKK so we would be on the plane for (from memory) about ten hours - so think yourself lucky that BLR is only 6 hours! And doubly lucky that you weren't flying all the way to the ME... that must have been grim, even in business, let alone in economy!


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