Enter the Incompetent Dragon

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  • Reuben M

    To travelers: If you are considering flying with DragonAir, please reconsider.

    In October, my wife and I bought two full fare business class tickets on DragonAir from Hong KOng to Phuket– a bit of a splurge for us, but as we were moving house to Phuket and bringing an 18-year-old cat, we wanted to ensure nothing went wrong. The booking, with cat, was made and confirmed in writing on 16 October and verified again on the day before the flight. We were prepared and we were expected.

    We were chagrined on 03 November then, when upon appearing at check-in, the airline denied all knowledge of a cat and refused even to speak with us until we produced their confirmation on Cathay Pacific letterhead. A 90-minute consultation ensued, during which time we and two pet exporter staff were left standing in the aisle with mounds of luggage and a very old, very angry, very scared cat. There had been some “misunderstanding,” it seemed, and the plane was “too narrow” to take the cat today. It later emerged that there was no pressurized/temperature controlled hold to accommodate live cargo. Refusing to allow the cat into the cabin– duty dogs and registered “companion animals” are fine, but not pets– many apologies– DragonAir assured us they would “seek a solution.”

    After another two and a half hours of standing, unfed and unwatered (they did eventually bring us two bottles of Evian), the solution was to hustle us back to the airport hotel and the cat to the ag and fish quarantine area (the horrors of which can be imagined) to await news of when we might fly out. Estimate: 72 hours. This wait was not possible for my wife, as her urgent final destination was not Phuket but Lisbon; she was therefore hastily rescheduled for a late night flight to Bangkok and onward.

    Eventually (read: by evening) we received a phone call from an unintelligible DragonAir duty manager and were thus obliged to return to the airport to meet. I and the cat could fly out the next day on another carrier, however since there was now only one passenger, our baggage allotment would be halved to 40 kilos and we would be charged by aggregate weight, at the second carrier’s rate, not the USD30 per piece indicated on the DragonAir website, for the excess. Copious apologies.

    Another airline would rush to offer upgrades, baggage waivers, free travel, food and beverage at the very least, as compensation. Dragon instead exacerbated the mess they created, treating us as a standard layover and offering HKD200 meal vouchers (drinks not included) at the airport hotel– where a hamburger costs HKD250— only after a LENGTHY, SCREAMING PHONE CALL. Apologies. They later generously offered to cover an additional 20 kilos of luggage and “after a long negotiation” persuaded the second carrier to cover another 5 kilos. Total charge to us: USD750, still greater than the price of a third business class ticket. More apologies, and nothing more. In short, Dragonair left us literally standing, hungry, in front of their ticketing counter, for more than four hours while they figured out a way to pass their mess on to someone else, consequences be damned.

    Draw what conclusions you will from the above. For our part, we conclude that DragonAir is not only incompetent and negligent but unsympathetic and unethical. They knew weeks in advance of our booking and confirmed their readiness: their egregious mishandling of their own mistake was inexcusable and frankly disgusting. Their errors and refusal to make them right have cost us days of time, untold embarrassment and many thousands of dollars. This is the treatment they dole out to full fare business passengers. They will screw you for the consequences of their mistakes.

    Buyer beware.


    Reuben, it sounds like you had a very bad day / few days, and I am very sorry to hear that.

    You said “If you are considering flying with DragonAir, please reconsider.” However, I’d just like to say that my experiences of the airline have been very different. I’ve flown with them many, many times, in both classes, and have invariably found them to be very good.

    By the way, for your information, the airline says they do not accept pets such as dogs or cats either in the passenger cabin or as checked baggage (with the exception of service dogs):



    Having had a quick look at the link in @GivingupBA‘s post, it appears they have a system in place for carrying pets as cargo (perhaps on the same flight). Ruben, did you book the cat as cargo to be carried on the same flight or were you intending to bring it as checked baggage in the pressurised hold?

    The only time I have carried pets with me was back in 1991 from LHR to ISB on PK. All PK wanted was a certificate from the vet allowing export and excess baggage charges despite the fact that, gerbils and cage included, I was well within the limit. They insisted that according to IATA rules pets are not part of the free baggage allowance. I remember that at the time I reluctantly forked out £36 in excess charges but made it a point to check the rules. I found out later that they were correct in charging me.

    The gerbils were taken from me at check-in and handed back to me at the baggage carousel upon arrival.

    Reuben M


    It is good to hear that your experiences with DragonAir have been uniformly positive. We too have flown them several times in the past and have found them adequate at best.

    We are of course aware of Dragonair’s conditions on pets, and we made arrangements well in advance for our cat to be flown as “excess baggage.” This arrangement was made and confirmed by DragonAir staff, both to us in writing and to American Express, who made the booking.

    Over and above the cost of the pet export agency, we paid DragonAir a high premium for comfort, convenience and security in the knowledge that there would be no screw-ups. Dragonair admitted their error but made absolutely no effort to compensate for or even mitigate the chaos created. They have evidently promised American Express that they will “investigate, but it may take some time.”

    This is unacceptable


    Reuben, thank you very much for your further post and further information. And I’m really sorry to hear about the ‘chaos’ (as you said) that you both suffered.


    Reuben M

    What a nightmare. I have transported cats by air, to theUK, where they have to go as air freight and excess baggage is not an option.

    I can certainly understand your annoyance and AMEX usually take the customers side, so I have a reasonable degree of confidence that you will be reimbursed.


    Sounds awful ReubenM and as a cat owner I sympathise.
    The only time we have traveled with a cat was from Zurich to JNB with Swiss. Curiously for the down stretch the cat had to go in the hold, and though no visits were allowed we had frequent reports back that the cat was fine and sleeping! However for the return they are allowed into the cabin but only up to 9kgs total including cage I believe.

    Amazingly after 18 hours of travel (in JNB we connected to another flight to George) his cage was completely dry. He clearly has a very strong constitution!


    When my family moved to Alsace in 1992, our cat was due to travel in the hold of our Crossair flight. On arrival at LHR, (with the cat in the approved container and with all paperwork up to date) the check-in agent suggested that I take the cat with me to the gate and there she would be put in the pressurised and heated hold. It was a pleasure to have her with me and to enjoy the amazed gazes of other travellers as I negotiated security and the duty-free with my cat box on a trolley! At the gate, the agent suggested that I might like to change seats from the no-smoking area to the smoking area, and keep my cat with me in the cabin. I was quite surprised and suggested that as I preferred to avoid cigarette smoke, I’d like to offer the same privilege to my cat. At which point, the agent called up a lady to the desk and asked if she’d mind sharing our row of three seats with a cat in a box. This kind lady agreed, and my cat sat in her box on the seat between us for the flight … without any embarrassing incident! Mind you the immigration agents at Basel were shocked when I turned up with my cat in her box as hand luggage, but thankfully let us through with minimum fuss! Many thanks to those kind folk who made what was a very emotionally-difficult journey a lot easier because of their humanity to their fellow human beings … and their four-pawed friends.


    I’ve got to say, as an owner (slave, rather) to three Siamese, my joy would be complete if there was a cat wandering around the cabin, poncing titbits here and there.

    I reckon our three would have the cabin crew fawning over them in no more than 10 minutes. “Yes, indeed, you may stroke me, just a bit more under the chin, thanks, now, about that smoked salmon I can smell….”

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