Tried & Tested

Flight review: Cathay Dragon A321 business class Shanghai Pudong-Hong Kong

27 Jul 2019 by Michael Allen
Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

Background

It has now been more than three years since Dragonair was rebranded to Cathay Dragon back in April 2016. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific reviewed the then fairly recently rebranded airline’s business class service on its Shanghai Pudong-Hong Kong route in July 2017, praising it as “very comfortable with excellent F&B and attentive crew”.

On 17 July this year, I was returning to Hong Kong from Shanghai after attending a media preview of Cathay’s new Shanghai Pudong lounge. Since I was booked on Cathay Dragon’s Airbus A321 business class, I thought it would be interesting to see how the airline’s business class product fares on this narrowbody aircraft.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

Check-in

Business class passengers flying with Cathay Dragon get a priority check-in line at Shanghai Pudong airport and I only waited for a short time, mainly because I was travelling in a group, all of whom were also travelling business class with me. Had I been alone, I probably would not have had to wait at all. Next to me, a fairly long economy class line made me breathe a sigh of relief that I was sitting in the premium cabin.

Security took a little longer and I was subjected to a pat down by security, which I find happens fairly often when travelling in China, but the wait was not longer than I expected. I entertained myself by eavesdropping on an American tour group who were discussing the ripeness of the cantaloupes at their hotel breakfast.

Lounge

Since, as mentioned above, I was in Shanghai for a media preview of Cathay’s newly refurbished lounge, I spent my time before the flight there, though my ticket granted me access to the China Eastern Plaza Premium Lounge. You can read about my experience here.

Boarding

Boarding was effortless as business class passengers enjoy a priority line and there was no queue.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

The seat

Business class on this A321 has 24 seats, laid out in a 2-2 configuration.

My seat was 16C, an aisle seat. The seat product is not as luxurious as the fully flat seat available on some of Cathay Pacific’s aircraft, such as its B777-300ER. This is a regional business class seat that reclines but certainly does not lie flat. Nonetheless, there is plenty of space for your legs; I could stretch mine out fully. The IFE screen is of a decent size, though it is the older version and not the newer HD version available on some of Cathay’s newer aircraft, like the A350-1000.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

Inside the arm rest, you will find the controller for the IFE.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

Which seat to choose?

Window seats (A and K seats) do not have direct aisle access, though unless your neighbour has very long legs you should be able to squeeze past them without disturbing them too much. If they were sleeping it would also be relatively easy to step over them.

Besides that, most of the seats in this cabin are equal. You may wish to avoid the seats right at the front of the cabin (10A, 10C, 10H and 10K) due to their proximity to the galley and toilet, though the toilet is sufficiently far away from the front-row seats so as not to cause much disturbance, especially when the galley curtain is pulled across.

The flight

Although business class passengers got priority boarding, all passengers were boarded regardless of class through a single door at the front of the plane. This meant that business class passengers had to make way for a stream of economy class passengers coming down the aisle before we could sit down. I stood for a few minutes with my head hunched over waiting for all the economy class passengers to file down to the back of the plane.

I went to the toilet while we were still on the ground and found that the tap in toilet did not work, so I could not wash my hands. I asked a member of cabin crew for a wet wipe instead and she apologised for the lack of water in the bathroom.

We were offered a welcome drink of orange juice or water; I had the latter. We were also offered a look at the duty free catalogue, which I declined.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

After taxiing out to the runway on schedule, I was dismayed to see that we were returning to the gate, arriving there around 5.09pm. Initially, there was no announcement as to what was going on and the cabin crew pulled the curtain at the front of the aircraft across so we could not see what was happening. Then the pilot announced that we had encountered a “slight technical issue” and it would be 30-35 minutes before we departed again. He assured us that with our “generous block time” he would have us in Hong Kong on schedule.

At 5.34pm we were offered a drink while we waited. I ordered a peppermint tea. Then, at 5.47pm, just after the drink was served, another member of cabin crew offered us a bag of mixed nuts. For about 10 minutes the air conditioning switched off and the cabin started to become uncomfortable, but fortunately the AC soon came back on.

At 6.12pm, the captain made another announcement that the engineers were finishing the troubleshooting with the engines and we would likely be on our way in 15 to 20 minutes. At 6.42pm, we taxied back to the runway and took off, our estimated 30-35 minute delay having turned to over an hour-and-a-half.

At 7.08pm, the aroma of fresh bread filled the cabin and the dinner service began. I was offered a selection of bread rolls, including garlic bread. I went for the cheese roll. It was so nice, I had it twice, asking the cabin crew member for a second helping. The starter also included a bowl of smoked salmon salad, with salad, fennel, sour cream and salmon roe.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

Among the main courses offered on this flight, Cathay Dragon offers a selection of Asian Delights. In the business class menu I was given, there were eight Asian Delights options, though they are rotated daily across a 16-day period and only one Asian Delights option is available on each flight.

This is an excellent idea as many business travellers often have to shuttle back and forth between Shanghai and Hong Kong, and it’s nice to have a new dish to look forward to each time. There are two other main course options, so if you don’t fancy the Asian Delights menu you have other choices.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

All three main meal choices were presented on a tray. I found this a nice touch as it avoids the situation where you order a dish blind from the menu and then are disappointed when it does not look how you expected.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

I chose the Asian Delights dish, which was Korean braised chicken and gingko nut with lemon pomelo sauce, steamed rice, snow pea and black fungus. The chicken was tender and delicious, and the lemon pomelo sauce was tasty and tangy.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

The other dishes were seafood with lobster sauce, parsley potatoes and mixed vegetables; and stir fried beef tenderloin with fresh mango, steamed rice, broccoli, pumpkin and mushroom.

For dessert, I was offered three choices of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I selected cookies and cream. Sometimes the ice cream served on flights is rock hard and you have to wait a while before you can get it out of the tub, but this one was just the right consistency and I was able to eat it straight away. The ice cream was served along with a chocolate truffle that comes in a neat little cardboard box bearing the Cathay Pacific logo.

Cathay Dragon business class KA875, July 17, 2019; photo by Michael Allen

The alcoholic drink selection on this flight was excellent, with a choice of champagne, white wine, red wine and dessert wine:

Champagne

  • Piper-Heidsieck NV Brut

White wines

  • Mr Glover Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018
  • Domaine Langlois-Chateau 2016
  • Albert Bichot Macon-Lugny ‘Les Charmes’ 2016
  • Chateau De Berze Macon Milly Lamartine 2016

Red wines

  • Chateau La Haute Claymore Lussac St Emilion 2015
  • Chateau Noaillac Medoc 2014
  • Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz 2015
  • Rockbare Mclaren Vale Shiraz 2014

Dessert wine

  • Chateau Rondillon Loupiac 2017

Arrival

We touched down smoothly enough and arrived at the gate in Hong Kong at 8.49pm, over an hour late, though for a flight between Shanghai and Hong Kong this isn’t particularly bad in my experience. I was comfortable and well fed throughout the whole flight, so I wasn’t too unhappy.

Verdict

This product obviously does not offer the same level of comfort as the fully flat seat available on some other Cathay aircraft, but for a flight of this relatively short duration, it is a very comfortable seat. The leg room is excellent and you have a decent amount of private space from your neighbour.

Having the priority check-in and boarding queues was a nice perk that would be appreciated by business travellers who want to spend less time queuing before a flight and more time working in the lounge.

The food and beverage offering, especially for a flight this short, was excellent. A choice of three main meals and three desserts (well, three flavours of ice cream) seemed especially generous. Although I didn’t drink any alcohol myself on this flight, I was impressed by the wide range of wines available, including a champagne and a dessert wine.

Some may argue that business class isn’t necessary for such a short flight, but if you consider how common delays can be between Shanghai and Hong Kong, you may well find yourself glad you booked the premium cabin when the captain comes over the tannoy and announces an extra hour or more on the tarmac.

Fact file

  • Price Mid-week flights in August start from CNY8,983 (US$1,307) for a round-trip ticket
  • Flight No. KA875
  • Configuration 2-2
  • Seat width N/A (Cathay Pacific was unable to provide this information)
  • Seat pitch N/A (Cathay Pacific was unable to provide this information)
  • Seat recline N/A (Cathay Pacific was unable to provide this information)
  • Departure 1842 (scheduled 1645)
  • Flight duration 4 hours and four minutes, including tarmac delay (2 hours and 45 minutes scheduled)
  • Contact cathaypacific.com
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Business Traveller July / August 2019 edition
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