Review: Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

To finish off my Miami to Beijing itinerary I was flying Cathay Dragon’s A330 business class from Hong Kong to Beijing. While I had flown Cathay Dragon first class before, this was my first time in their business class.

Booking My Cathay Dragon Flight

As I outlined in the introduction post, the outbound portion of this trip was a paid ticket. I had booked a roundtrip ticket from Miami to Beijing, with the outbound in paid business class and the return in paid economy, for about $1,600.

The outbound portion looked as follows, after I applied a systemwide upgrade to get first class on the Dallas to Hong Kong flight:

12/08 AA2524 Miami to Dallas departing 7:36PM arriving 9:52PM [Business]
12/09 AA125 Dallas to Hong Kong departing 10:40AM arriving 5:35PM (+1 day) [First]
12/10 KA906 Hong Kong to Beijing departing 7:00PM arriving 10:10PM [Business]

For reference, I could have also redeemed oneworld miles for my Cathay Dragon flight, as they are a oneworld affiliate airline. For example, booking the Hong Kong to Beijing flight in business class would have cost :

Cathay Dragon Business Class A330 Review

My connection in Hong Kong ended up being just over 90 minutes. So after landing from Dallas I headed to transit security and then decided to head straight to my gate. I had some work I needed to get done before my Wi-Fi-less flight, so it seemed easiest to just sit in an empty gate area with free Wi-Fi.

Hong Kong International Airport terminal

My flight to Beijing was departing from gate 50, right at the end of one of the piers of the terminal.

Cathay Dragon departure gate Hong Kong

Boarding was scheduled to start at 6:20PM, and ended up actually starting five minutes after that. First class and oneworld Emerald members were invited to board first, followed by business class passengers and oneworld Sapphire members.

Cathay Dragon 906
Hong Kong (HKG) – Beijing (PEK)
Tuesday, December 10
Depart: 7:00PM
Arrive: 10:10PM
Duration: 3hr10min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 18K (Business Class)

I boarded through the forward door. I was impressed immediately by the service, because the crew tried to escort each business class passenger to their seat.

I first found myself in the eight seat first class cabin, which consists of reverse herringbone seats (which I’ve reviewed before, and will review again in the next installment on my flight in the other direction).

Cathay Dragon has a total of 42 business class seats on the A330, spread across seven rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. In the forward cabin, between doors one and two, are a total of 24 seats, spread across four rows.

Cathay Dragon A330 business class cabin

Then there was the rear cabin, consisting of a further three rows.

Cathay Dragon business class cabin A330

Cathay Dragon A330 business class cabin

Cathay Dragon business class cabin A330

I also quickly glanced into the economy cabin, which was in the standard 2-4-2 configuration you’ll find in economy on most A330s.

Cathay Dragon economy cabin A330

I had assigned myself 18K, the window seat on the right side in the last row of business class. I didn’t realize this seat was missing a window, though that wasn’t a big deal, since it’s not like there were many views on this nighttime flight.

The regional business class seat used by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon is unique. It’s a “shell” seat, meaning that when you recline your seat it shifts forwards, and doesn’t impact the space that the person behind you has.

The thing is, the seats have 45″ of pitch (which is a lot), and they’re not particularly comfortable, so I feel like the space isn’t very well utilized.

Cathay Dragon business class seats A330

Cathay Dragon business class seats A330

The seats have personal televisions that are a decent size.

Cathay Dragon business class seats A330

The tray table folds out from the back of the seat in front, and then can be extended further out if you’d like.

Cathay Dragon business class tray table

In the area between the TVs is some storage where you could place a phone or a pair of reading glasses.

Cathay Dragon business class seat storage

There’s an entertainment controller underneath the center armrest.

Cathay Dragon business class entertainment controller

Then on the front side of the center armrest are two 110v outlets.

Cathay Dragon business class power outlet

The seat has manual controls that are on the center armrest, allowing you to adjust either the legrest or the seatback.

Cathay Dragon business class seat controls

The seat reclines a fair amount, more than I was initially expecting. It’s still far from even being an angled seat, but the recline is significantly more than you’d find in domestic first class on a US airline, for example.

Cathay Dragon business class seat recline

That being said, the seat simply isn’t comfortable when reclined. First of all, it feels like you’re sitting in a dentist’s chair, no matter how you slice it. Second of all, the area where you can place your feet when the seat is reclined is quite small, and constraining.

Cathay Dragon business class seats A330

So for a three hour daytime or evening flight this seat is totally fine. Like I said, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon have the same seat. The difference is that Cathay Pacific also has long haul configured planes flying regional routes, while this is the business class seat throughout Cathay Dragon’s fleet.

So I would try to avoid this seat on redeyes or flights that are significantly longer than three hours, assuming there’s a better option.

The only other aspect of the hard product that I’d note is that Cathay Dragon has no individual air nozzles.

Cathay Dragon business class overhead consoles

Waiting at each seat upon boarding was a light pillow and blanket. There were no amenity kits or slippers.

Cathay Dragon business class pillow & blanket

Also waiting at my seat were a pair of headphones.

Cathay Dragon business class headphones

About 15 minutes after boarding, pre-departure drinks were served, with the choice between water, orange juice, and the signature (virgin) rose infinity drink, consisting of apple juice, grapefruit juice, and sparkling water. I was also offered a packaged towel.

Cathay Dragon business class pre-departure drink

About 10 minutes later I was offered the menu for the flight, as well as the landing card for China.

Cathay Dragon business class menu & landing card

Given the current relations between Hong Kong and Beijing I was expecting the flight to be quite empty (I had heard all kinds of stories of flights between the two cities having just dozens of passengers), but much to my surprise there were only three empty seats in business class.

At around 6:55PM the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us of our flight time of 3hr10min. After that the flight service manager, Cathy, made her welcome aboard announcement.

Interestingly virtually all the other announcements on the flight were automated (about the service, seatbelt sign, etc.), which is something I really like. I find it to be much more soothing than “real” people constantly making announcements.

The door closed right on time at 7PM, at which point the safety video was screened. Five minutes later we began our pushback. We taxied out to runway 7R, and about 20 minutes later were cleared for takeoff.

As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. Cathay Dragon’s entertainment system is called “StudioKA” (Cathay Pacific’s is called StudioCX — “KA” is the airline code for Cathay Dragon).

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

The selection as such was good, the problem was that the monitors were just so low resolution and had a lot of glare. The below picture isn’t blurry, that’s just the resolution the screen has.

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

I ended up watching some episodes of Family Guy.

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

Unfortunately Cathay Dragon doesn’t yet have Wi-Fi on their A330s, though they should eventually.

The seatbelt sign was turned off 10 minutes after takeoff. 15 minutes after takeoff the flight service manager stopped by my seat to say hello (I think she came around to oneworld Emerald members), and then a couple of minutes later drink orders were taken.

I hadn’t really looked at the menu at this point, so I tried to order a Cathay Delight (Cathay Pacific’s signature drink), though they told me they didn’t have that on Cathay Dragon — fair enough, I guess the products are otherwise aligned so much that it hadn’t occurred to me that they’d have different drinks.

The dinner menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

About 30 minutes after takeoff drinks were served. I found the service flow to be odd — they took drink orders in advance, and then rolled out a cart that had all the drinks pre-poured. Typically you’d either see them just ask you what you want when the cart is at your seat, or bring them out on a tray.

Anyway, I just had a still water, and was offered packaged mixed nuts to go along with it.

Cathay Dragon business class dinner

45 minutes after takeoff tablecloths were distributed, and then a minute later a tray with the starter was brought out. The only choice for the starter was roasted beef tenderloin, chanterelle, and mustard mayonnaise, which was reasonably good, though I’m not a big beef person.

There was also a selection from the breadbasket, and I chose the always excellent garlic bread.

Cathay Dragon business class dinner — appetizer

About an hour after takeoff the main courses were served. These were all just brought out on a display trolley, so that you could see all the options and then decide what you wanted. Even though I was in the last row of business class, they still had all options available.

I selected the sole fillet with basil and pinenut cream, chateau potatoes, green beans, and tomato ragout, which was much better than I was expecting, and also better than it looked.

Cathay Dragon business class dinner — main course

For dessert there was Haagen-Dazs ice cream, with a few flavor choices. I selected the dark chocolate & almonds.

Cathay Dragon business class dinner — ice cream

Once that was cleared I was offered coffee or tea, though I passed, and I was then given a small box with a chocolate.

Cathay Dragon business class dinner — chocolate

Overall I thought the meal was quite good for a regional business class flight. The crew was extremely friendly, though the service definitely feels like an assembly line, as it used to feel in Cathay Pacific’s long haul business class (they’ve since changed that, though not totally for the better).

I tried to nap for the remainder of the flight, though didn’t have much luck. Towards the end of the flight I checked out the lavatory, which was clean, and even had the toilet paper folded into triangles. There were two lavatories at the very front of business class, and then two between the two business class cabins.

Cathay Dragon A330 lavatory

In my experience flights to mainland China always take longer than the direct air distance suggests, both due to vectoring and also the weird altitudes planes seem to fly at in Chinese airspace sometimes. For example, over 50 minutes before landing we were already cruising at 26,500 feet, which is awfully low.

Map enroute to Beijing

Map enroute to Beijing

At 9:35PM the captain announced that we’d be landing in 30 minutes. About 15 minutes later the seatbelt sign was turned on.

We ended up landing at 10:10PM, and from there had a really long taxi to our arrival gate, where we pulled in at 10:25PM. The 15 minute taxi doesn’t really do justice to just how far we taxied, since we were going fast.

I headed towards immigration. While there was only a very short line, it ended up taking about 40 minutes until I was out of the airport. Beijing Capital Airport isn’t one of my favorites, to put it mildly.

I was looking forward to getting some rest in a real bed at the Hilton Beijing Airport, even if It would be a very short night.

Cathay Dragon Business Class Bottom Line

Cathay Dragon business class isn’t industry leading, or anything, but they do offer a solid regional business class experience. The seats were comfortable enough, the crew was extremely friendly, and the food was quite good.

The challenge with intra-Asia business class is that there’s massive variability in terms of the quality of products. Some airlines fly long haul configured planes around Asia, so obviously those are way better than regionally configured planes.

Lastly, I’ve always found the relationship between Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon to be interesting. Cathay Dragon is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cathay Pacific, though it’s not explicitly a low cost carrier.

While their crews are paid less, the airline is considered more of a regional operation, with the same service standards as Cathay Pacific otherwise. There are even some routes that are served by both Cathay Dragon and Cathay Pacific, where the airlines are offering the same seats, and virtually the same service. Interesting stuff.

If you’ve flown Cathay Dragon business class, what was your experience like?

  1. I think you had a little bad copy and paste there, as you reference reverse herringbone seats.

    This flight just about matches all of my recent 2-4 hour Dragon flights. Perfectly fine service, odd seat, no WiFi.

  2. KA regularly use these on some 6-7 hours long red eye flights and charge the same as CA mainline price. Cathay should really confine these within 3 hours or market this type of seats as PE instead of J.

  3. Interestingly I’ve been given amenity kits in KA J on overnight flights which are the exact same as CX J long haul. I find KA catering and service to sometimes be better than CX as well

  4. You are not allowed to be gay in China. I was reading this cuddling my boyfriend in bed and we were so upset. Why do you support this airline?

  5. @Aaron – I think Lucky booked this as two separate itineraries, as the Miami to Beijing was paid ticket through American and then the return was separately booked.

  6. I believe the weird aircraft routes over mainland China is due to the restrictions in airspace. I heard that the government utilizes like 70-90% of it for military use and that planes have to go on what is basically a “highway” for commercial planes.

  7. Is it possible to upgrade from Biz into First on these without upgrading the transpac leg?

    I have an AA flight to HKG and then a < 1 hour connection on one of these. Maybe it's so short it doesn't matter…

  8. @Lucky
    “we were already cruising at 26,500 feet, which is awfully low.”

    Perhaps your jetlag affected you brain and have mistaken for 265.00 feet which is really awfully low. Flying at 26,500 is nowhere close to awfully low. Heck many turboprops don’t even fly that high and doesn’t seem to be awfully low at all. I hope you are not trying to imply a Wi Tu Lo joke on a Chinese carrier.

    “I was expecting the flight to be quite empty.”
    Aside of dumb kids and global news showing only the violence, after few months of slowdown HK for most part is business as litter slower than usual now.

    “Lastly, I’ve always found the relationship to be interesting. though it’s not explicitly a low cost carrier.”

    Jetlag is really messing you up, getting too old? This is very similar to regional carriers in USA. Never consider American Eagle to be lowcost yet.

  9. @ Eskimo — 26,500 feet is significantly lower than you’ll usually find jets cruising. Generally they cruise at 30,000+ feet. So I stand by that.

    The difference between regional carriers and mainline carriers in the US is that regional carriers fly smaller planes. That’s why they’re allowed to exist to begin with, due to scope clauses. In the case of Cathay Dragon they’re flying the same planes as Cathay Pacific. Again, I stand by that, and do find that to be unique.

  10. @ Kevin B — You can upgrade if the ticket is issued by Cathay Pacific (using Asia Miles), but you can’t if the ticket is issued by American.

  11. @ Aaron — Hah, yep, as Greg noted, the outbound was one ticket, and the return was a separate ticket.

  12. I find Cathay’s regional business class to be significantly uncomfortable. 3 hour flight is too long. The seat slides in a way to make sure your lower back is just unsupported.

    I understand that a recliner is good enough for regional flights but not this uncomfortable one. There are good recliners. United used to have recliners in the early 2000s that were so comfortable and certainly far better than the angled lie flat seats every one else was adopting.

    Cathay bring the old United seats for your next iteration. They were great.

  13. @Lucky – Though you didn’t have time with your quick HKG connection, do KA passengers get same lounge access as CX/oneworld Emerald passengers? I would imagine so, but just checking as I have my first AA/KA connection coming up…thx

    Also, who gets AA Concierge Key status? 16 years EXP (and just requalified today!), but not a clue how that status is achieved.

  14. @As – remember the old British Airways business class “cradle seats”, and Virgin Atlantic’s competing lazy-boy type seats. Funny, none of today’s glitz and glamour, but they were so comfortable…the old UA seats, ehhhh

  15. @John there’s no laws banning homosexuality in China: Plus, Cathay is based in Hong Kong, which has a different legal system to Mainland China:

    China can be quite conservative on social issues, and you won’t find gay marriage or adoption like in Western countries, but it’s nowhere near as extreme as the Middle East or parts of Africa, for example.

  16. The fact that you are Comparing this business class to a domestic US first class seat is unfair. This is a wide body aircraft and Any US airline offers a better business class seat on domestic wide body.
    The product looks outdated.

  17. Where did you get the information that KA crew is paid less than CX? I was told before that they earn more (CX being so prestigious that candidates line up for a job). Maybe pilots, yes, but not cabin crew

  18. @John
    Because Hong Kong is not the same as Mainland China. No one cares if you are gay or not in HK.
    And Cathay is definitely not a Mainland Chinese airline, thank God! Did you have a chance to read the “controversy” with Cathay’s gay ad on here? You may want to google search that.

  19. “The difference between regional carriers and mainline carriers in the US is that regional carriers fly smaller planes. That’s why they’re allowed to exist to begin with, due to scope clauses. In the case of Cathay Dragon they’re flying the same planes as Cathay Pacific. Again, I stand by that, and do find that to be unique.”

    Not entirely true. KA’s fleet consists of both narrow-bodies (A320 and A321) and wide-bodies (A333), but the entire CX fleet is wide-body (A333, A350, B777). Moreover, CX has been gradually retiring its regional-configured 777s as well as handing its regional-configured A333s over to KA, so even though KA and CX might be flying “the same planes” in the only case of A333, they are not necessarily offering the same product. As of now, the only destinations where CX and KA overlap are PEK, PVG, and TPE. So in a way, you could compare CX and KA with SQ and MI and find them not that unique in the Asia market.

  20. one thing that struck me is that these seats look really, really worn. i’ve flown cathay dragon regional business class this year, and the experience was good, although my seat did look less worn/thicker than yours.

  21. 26,000 feet is a totally normal cruise altitude. Let’s leave the hard work to those who actually know they’re talking about, shall we?

  22. I would take this seat every day over United’s PremiumPlus seat, which gets flown up to ~16 hour flights FWIW (and seems to be basically identical to AA/DL’s PE offering)

  23. @john

    Maybe in “mainland” China, but not in Hong Kong. You are more than welcome to be gay.

    Cathay Dragon is a Hong Kong-based airline.

  24. KA crew are not paid less than CX, in fact, KA crew are generally paid more than the same grade CX crew, as they work on more sectors.

  25. @john- cathay pacific and cathay dragon are based in HK. you are allowed to be gay in HK. Also, ben is gay-

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