A great short-haul business class: review of Cathay Dragon on the Airbus A321
During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we are still publishing new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken just before the lockdown, like this one. Please note that U.S. citizens cannot currently enter Hong Kong due to the coronavirus, but are allowed to transit through the airport. The experience both on the ground and on board will be very different from the one described here, until restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted.
Cathay Dragon is the little brother of the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific and flies to 47 destinations across Asia. As a fully-owned subsidiary, much of the experience mirrors that of the parent company.
For flights on its all-Airbus fleet, Cathay Dragon offers a regional business class that’s well above average compared to U.S. airlines. I flew this rebranded carrier, the former Dragonair, on the 570-mile flight from Da Nang, Vietnam, to Hong Kong, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the world.
Booking a Cathay Dragon flight isn’t any different from booking on its full service parent. It’s a Oneworld Affiliate member airline, so you can use American AAdvantage miles and British Airways Avios, among others. AA and BA charge 22,500 and 12,500 miles for the route, respectively.
However, both Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon have gotten quite stingy when it comes to releasing award availability to partners. Instead, they keep most of the free seats for members of their own Asia Miles program. Fortunately, American Express Membership Rewards points and Citi ThankYou Rewards points can be converted into Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio.
In my case, I transferred 16,000 ThankYou Rewards to book my seat, netting a value of about 4.5 cents per point on the $720 ticket.
My Cathay Dragon experience began quite pleasantly at one of the carrier’s outstations. While the international terminal of the Da Nang airport was a bit crowded, the four Cathay Dragon check-in counters were empty.
I’d tried checking in online the night before my flight, but the airport doesn’t support mobile boarding passes, so I needed to visit a counter. I hopped into the business-class priority line and was checked in within minutes.
I was traveling with my girlfriend, and she was seated in economy while I was in business. (Cathay has gotten really stingy with award availability). We inquired about upgrading her and were shocked when we were quoted $795 — U.S. dollars, not Hong Kong dollars!
From there, we waited a while to clear immigration and security. Once past, we made our way to the CIP Orchid Lounge.
The lounge was located near Gate 6 one level above the main terminal.
The entrance to the lounge was modern, and there was even an overflow seating area in case of overcrowding.
The lounge was nice enough. There were plenty of seating areas, ranging from couches to individual chairs to high-top tables.
Interestingly, there were a variety of nooks built into the wall, and some even had personal TVs. This was the first time I’d seen so many of these “built-in” seating spaces, and I really liked them for the added privacy they offered.
The food selection was on par with what I expect from a contract lounge in Asia. There was a variety of dishes, though none looked particularly appetizing. The selection included fried rice, caramelized pork and eggs, stewed chicken, braised beef, sweet potato, corn, bacon and sausages.
There was a separate table with some breads, as well as a create-your-own pho station, which was popular with the lounge’s patrons.
In terms of drinks, there was a fridge stocked with self-serve sodas and beer.
Water and juices could be found in another fridge, along with some charcuterie and sliced fruit.
While the lounge itself was pleasant, it had the nastiest shower ever. It wasn’t cleaned, and there were (shared, I think?) shower shoes waiting for your use. Needless to say, I passed.
Before long, it was time to head down to the gate for boarding. Our departure gate was one floor below the main terminal, and boarding commenced just a few minutes behind schedule.
I couldn’t wait to check out Cathay Dragon’s Airbus A321.
Cabin and Seat
Cathay Dragon’s business-class hard product is effectively identical across the fleet. These seats are the same as Cathay Pacific‘s regional business class.
Seats were spread across six rows, in a 2-2 configuration.
Cathay Dragon’s biz cabin is quite comfortable for short hops. The seat measured 21 inches wide, though the oversized armrests meant that there was a bit more space between passengers.
The angle-flat seats are cradled in their shell, so they don’t extend into the space behind when reclining.
Though comfortable when fully extended, these seats pale in comparison to some of the fully-flat long haul business-class products that shuttle around Asia. Aside from the small literature pocket, there’s no real storage at these seats.
The bi-fold tray table is quite large at 20 inches wide and 14.5 inches long. Fortunately, it slides while extended, making for easy egress during the meal service.
Since only 5 of the 24 seats were occupied on my flight, there was plenty of room for each passenger to move around. The overhead bins were large enough for my standard-size carry-on.
There was one dedicated full-sized lavatory for the five of us, and it featured Banford hand wash and body lotion.
Unlike many planes operated by Asian carriers, this Airbus A321 had individual air nozzles.
Had the flight been full, these seats would’ve been a bit on the tight side. I definitely wouldn’t avoid them, but I’ll continue to seek opportunities to fly Cathay’s true long-haul business product on routes around Asia.
Amenities and IFE
There was plenty to keep me occupied for the 1.5-hour hop to Hong Kong.
To start, each seat featured a crisp 12-inch screen loaded with the carrier’s signature StudioKA software (KA being the airline’s two-letter code).
The entertainment selection was pretty good. Western movies included 140 titles, with an assortment of new (at the time) releases including The Lion King and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
There were also plenty of relevant TV shows on offer, 72 to be exact, including full seasons of Game of Thrones and Suits.
The flight was way too short to start watching something new, so I kept my eyes fixed on the moving map.
To listen to the content, there was a Cathay-branded headset at each seat. The two-pronged headphones were comfortable, but the audio quality was poor. I’d recommend bringing your own.
In addition to the inflight entertainment (IFE) selection, there were two power outlets located between the seats and a USB port located beside the monitor.
There’s no Wi-Fi aboard Cathay Dragon, though that didn’t matter much since the flight was so short.
Finally, if you’re looking to doze off, there was a small pillow on each seat and blanket available by request.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Though you’d barely be served a drink on a 570-mile-long flight in America, Cathay Dragon managed to serve a full (and delicious) warm meal.
Flight attendants passed through the cabin during boarding with pre-departure drinks, including a choice of orange juice, water or the signature Dragon Sunrise.
I selected the speciality cocktail, and was very impressed with this refreshing gin-based concoction of guava and lemon juice.
Flight attendants then passed through the cabin with menus for the flight. I’d preordered an Asian Vegetarian meal, and I’m glad I did since both main course options were meat-based and I’m a pescatarian.
Dinner was served once we leveled off at cruising altitude. To speed things up, the entire meal came pre-plated on one tray.
Everything I had was delicious. The starter salad was fresh, and the main dish of bean curry and rice was quite flavorful and reheated very well in the air.
I was then offered a selection of breads and chose Cathay’s always-tasty garlic bread.
While there was an extensive alcohol selection on the flight, I stuck with water and Dragon Sunrises.
As we began our descent, dessert in the form of Haagen Dazs ice cream was served. There was a choice of vanilla, chocolate or berries and cream.
Service was incredibly personalized, and flight attendants did a great job of refilling drinks.
Like on many of my previous flights with Cathay Pacific, I was very impressed with the service.
The lead flight attendant personally welcomed every business-class passenger and thanked me for my loyalty as a Oneworld Emerald member, which I was thanks to Hyatt Globalist status.
Throughout the meal, my glass of water was refilled no less than six times. I was asked how everything tasted, and the food was cleared promptly.
All in all, the flight attendants couldn’t have been friendlier and more hospitable.
Like its full-service parent, Cathay Dragon offers an excellent inflight experience.
The seats are very comfortable, even if they’re not the most cutting-edge flying around Asia. The food and beverage selection was great, and it all tasted really good. And there’s an exhaustive IFE library to keep you occupied for hours.
Coupled with the top-notch service I received, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend flying with Cathay Dragon. The 80-point score it earned is higher than the 79-point average for international business class.
All photos by the author.
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