Coming soon: Cathay's new A321neo business class

Here's what we know about the latest regional business class of Cathay Dragon, set to debut on its new Airbus A321neo jets.

By David Flynn, October 20 2020
Coming soon: Cathay's new A321neo business class

Cathay Pacific will soon add a new business class seat to the airline's family, when regional arm Cathay Dragon takes delivery of its first Airbus A321neo jets over the coming weeks.

The airline has so far remained tight-lipped on the 2020 replacement for Cathay Dragon's current regional business class, which debuted in January 2013 and now features on its Airbus A320, A321 and A330 jets.

However, here's what we know so far about what the airline's next-generation regional business class seat.

Will Cathay Dragon's new A321neo business class be lie-flat?

While several airlines – including Cathay's staunch Asian rival Singapore Airlines – are moving to business class flat-beds on single-aisle jets such as the A321neo and Boeing 737, Cathay Dragon remains committed to the more conventional recliner.

Singapore Airlines' forthcoming regional business class seat will be the lie-flat Vantage model (shown here as a stylised Boeing 737 MAX version).
Singapore Airlines' forthcoming regional business class seat will be the lie-flat Vantage model (shown here as a stylised Boeing 737 MAX version).

Vivian Lo, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Customer Experience & Design, has previously told Executive Traveller that with "the majority of the flights are below two hours, stretched to four and at most six", those flight durations did not require the lie-flat luxury of a business class bed.

All the same, Lo emphasised that "the product for the A321neo will be a next-generational product for Cathay Dragon."

Cathay Dragon's current regional business class seat is mounted in a fixed shell and reclines into that shell, so that you' won't feel hemmed in or lose personal space when the passenger ahead of you pushes back their seat.

The full extent of the recline is shown below: it's more like long-distance premium economy, and is in keeping with Lo's take on providing an appropriate degree of relaxation on what are, for the most part, relatively short flights.

Cathay's 2013 regional business class also introduced some innovative touches such as a handy smartphone pocket next to the video screen and close to the USB power outlet, which made it convenient for recharging your phone during the flight – we hope that similar traveller-friendly features appear on the A321neo business class seat.

Cathay Dragon's A321neo seatmap

A seatmap for Cathay Dragon's Airbus A321neo sighted by Executive Traveller shows 12 business class seats, arranged in three rows of two-across.

That's half as many business class seats as on Cathay's current Airbus A321 'classic' jets, but 50% more than the A320s.

Behind the business class cabin are 190 economy seats in the familiar 3-3 layout – a 25% increase over the A320/A321 aircraft – for a total of 202 seats.

When will Cathay Dragon's A321neo jets arrive?

Cathay Dragon's first two Airbus A321neo jets are expected to make their debut by the end of 2020, the airline says – a revised timeline compared to the original delivery schedule of early-mid 2020.

Speaking with Executive Traveller during a press briefing on August 12 2020 Greg Hughes, Chief Operations and Service Delivery Officer for the Cathay Pacific Group, said "at this point in time we expect two deliveries to occur, roughly in October-November of this year."

According to the group's latest fleet plan, four more A321neo jets are headed for the Cathay Dragon hangars in 2021, with 10 to follow in 2022 "and beyond".

The A321neo will allow Cathay Dragon retire many of its ageing A320 and A321 jets – a total of 15 are leased, with most leases expiring from this year through to 2022 – while both increasing passenger capacity to cater for popular destinations such as Beijing and Shanghai, and extending the network's reach through a greater flying range.

However, while Cathay Pacific originally booked 32 A321neo jets for Cathay Dragon, only the first 16 are headed to the Dragon's hangars.

A second tranche of 16 A321neos are now slated for low-cost airline HK Express – which Cathay acquired in 2019 for $915 million – from 2022 "and beyond".

"While Cathay Dragon is our regional full-service carrier," Cathay Pacific Group CEO Augustus Tang says, "HK Express will remain as a standalone, low-cost airline focusing on serving leisure travel destinations."

HK Express' current all-leased fleet includes 19 Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 jets, along with five of the newer A320neo, in all-economy configurations.

What routes will Cathay Dragon's A321neo jets serve?

The Cathay Dragon network spans over two dozen major industrial, port and business centres across China, along with key cities in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and India.

However, which cities in the Cathay Dragon network will be visited by the two fuel-efficient jets will depend on the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on border restrictions and overall travel demand.

"The entry into service and the routes onto which those aircraft will be deployed really depends on the recovery," Cathay Pacific exec Hughes remarked in August, "and how that develops over the coming months, so we don’t yet have a firm plan on that."

Also read: Cathay Pacific delays Boeing 777-9, new first & business class


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.