Review: Cathay Dragon First Class A330 Shanghai To Hong Kong

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

I’ve flown Cathay Pacific a countless number of times, but had never flown Cathay Dragon, which is Cathay Pacific’s subsidiary that operates many of their short-haul flights, including flights to mainland China. While their product is very similar to Cathay Pacific’s regional product, perhaps what’s most interesting is that they have a first class cabin on a few of their A330s.

They fly the A330s with first class almost exclusively to Beijing, though also sometimes to Shanghai. At the time this was one of only three airlines I hadn’t reviewed in international first class.

Cathay Dragon 805
Shanghai (PVG) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Sunday, May 6
Depart: 2:30PM
Arrive: 5:15PM
Duration: 2hr45min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Seat: 2K (First Class)

I boarded through the second door on the left. Upon presenting my boarding pass, I was escorted up to the first class cabin. This Cathay Dragon A330 was configured with 42 regional business class seats. Seats were in a 2-2-2 configuration, with four rows in front of the second set of doors, and three rows behind the second set of doors.

These were the standard regional business class seats that Cathay Pacific usually has, which feature 45″ of pitch. While they’re comfortable for a short daytime flight, otherwise I’m really not a fan of these seats, as I find it’s quite hard to get comfortable in them.

Cathay Dragon A330 business class cabin

Cathay Dragon business class cabin A330

Then at the very front of the plane was first class, which consisted of eight seats spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. These seats were nearly identical to the Cathay Pacific longhaul business class seats, except the cabin finishes were slightly different. It’s interesting that on Cathay Dragon, business class is Cathay Pacific’s regional business class, while first class is Cathay Pacific’s longhaul business class.

Cathay Dragon A330 first class cabin

Cathay Dragon first class cabin A330

Cathay Dragon first class cabin A330

Cathay Dragon first class cabin

Those sitting together in first class might want to choose a pair of center seats, though even there you won’t easily be able to talk, given the consoles that are in the way. So you’ll have to lean forward if you actually want to communicate with your travel companion.

Cathay Dragon first class seats

I had selected seat 2K, the window seat on the right side in the second row.

Cathay Dragon first class seat

For such a short flight I found the seat to be comfortable, though I did find it to be one of the tighter reverse herringbone configurations out there (which makes sense, since the cabin is quite narrow).

Cathay Dragon first class seat

As you can see, the TV is located on the seatback in front, and can be extended so that it’s not at a strange angle. The ottoman that becomes part of the bed is also attached to the seat in front.

Cathay Dragon first class seat

To the right side of the seat was a storage compartment with a pair of headphones.

Cathay Dragon first class seat storage compartment

Next to that were the entertainment controls, seat controls, reading light, and power outlets.

Cathay Dragon first class seat console

Underneath that was an exposed storage compartment, where I could leave my laptop and a pair of headphones.

Cathay Dragon first class seat storage

The tray table swings out from above that storage compartment, and can be folded over in half.

Cathay Dragon first class seat tray table

On the aisle side of the seat was an armrest that could be raised and lowered.

Cathay Dragon first class armrest

Cathay Dragon doesn’t have individual air nozzles at each seat, which I don’t like. Then again, it’s not a huge issue, since most of their flights are quite short.

Cathay Dragon first class overhead console

While I thought the seat itself was in good condition, I was surprised how much wear and tear there was around the seat. For example, the padding along the fuselage not only looked horrible, but in some cases seemed to be falling off.

Cathay Dragon first class seat wear and tear

Cathay Dragon first class seat wear and tear

Also waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket, which were perfectly fine — the pillow was soft and somewhat thick, while the blanket was large and soft. For a longhaul flight I wouldn’t be happy with this in first class, but for a short flight it does the trick.

Cathay Dragon first class pillow & blanket

There were also headphones at my seat, which were the same I’ve received on Cathay Pacific in the past. The headphones weren’t very comfortable.

Cathay Dragon first class headphones

A few minutes after settling in I was greeted by one of the two friendly first class flight attendants, who offered me a warm towel.

Cathay Dragon first class warm towel

A moment later he asked what I’d like to drink. I ordered a glass of champagne, and they were serving Taittinger Brut Millesime 2008. While not as good as what Cathay Pacific serves in first class, it’s still a nice champagne. There was also a pre-departure canapé consisting of veggies and salmon. It’s interesting that Cathay Dragon has continued to offer this, even though Cathay Pacific eliminated it for a while (though they’ve recently brought it back).

Cathay Dragon first class pre-departure champagne & amuse bouche

Within about 15 minutes all first class passengers were onboard. There were a total of five — there was a couple seated in the center section, and then two other travelers in the window seats on the opposite side of the cabin.

At around 3:35PM the (British) captain added his welcome onboard, and apologized for the delay. As he explained it, “our service was rescheduled for some reason I haven’t been able to determine.” He informed us that our flight time would be 2hr10min, and that while the flight would be mostly smooth, there were gusty winds in Hong Kong.

At 3:40PM the main cabin door closed, and at that point the safety video was immediately screened. Five minutes later the captain apologized for a further delay, saying that it would be another 10 minutes until we could push back due to congestion at the airport. Sure enough, at 3:55PM we began our pushback.

Hainan 787 Shanghai Pudong Airport

I can certainly see why there may have been a bit of a delay pushing back, as it was a busy afternoon at PVG.

Busy afternoon in Shanghai!

Taxiing PVG

We had a very short taxi to our departure runway — it took no more than two minutes — and at 4:05PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 16R.

Taxiing PVG

Taking off from Shanghai

Our takeoff roll was quick, and our climb out smooth.

View after takeoff from Shanghai

View after takeoff from Shanghai

View after takeoff from Shanghai

As we climbed out I extended my entertainment screen and had a look at the selection. It was identical to what you’ll find on Cathay Pacific, except it’s branded for Cathay Dragon. Rather than being called StudioCX, the system is called StudioKA (“KA” is the two letter code for Cathay Dragon). The selection itself was quite good, the only issue was that the screen was so low resolution. It’s really time they update these.

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

I ended up watching an episode of The Goldbergs, and then later watched a Michelle Wolf comedy special, which I didn’t find to be that funny.

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

Cathay Dragon entertainment system

Otherwise I just kept on the super low resolution airshow.

Cathay Dragon airshow

Cathay Dragon airshow

About 15 minutes after takeoff the inflight service manager passed through the cabin to welcome each first class passenger onboard and offer them menus, and then she returned a few minutes later to take meal orders. Much like on Cathay Pacific, the purser wears a black dress. The menu was pretty cool, and was presented on a wood display.

Cathay Dragon first class menu

The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

Service began quickly after takeoff, which is sort of necessary, given how involved the service was. First tablecloths were distributed.

Cathay Dragon first class table setting

I was allowed to mix and match the Asian and Western menus, so that’s exactly what I did. For the starter I ordered the daikon wrapped shrimp with rosemary ginger sauce from the Western menu. The dish was excellent.

Cathay Dragon first class appetizer

There was also a selection from the breadbasket, and I chose the garlic bread to accompany it.

Cathay Dragon first class meal — bread selection

For the next course I stuck to the Western menu and ordered the borsch, which seems like an odd soup to offer on a plane, but it was flavorful and the perfect temperature.

Cathay Dragon first class soup — borsch

For the main course I switched over to the Asian menu, and ordered the wok fried diced beef fillet with wild mushroom and black pepper sauce, and stuffed scallop with prawn mousse, gong bao sauce, asparagus, and peppers. This dish was exceptional, and beautifully presented.

Cathay Dragon first class Asian main course

For dessert I also stuck with the Asian menu, and ordered the Chinese pudding, with coconut milk, red bean, and osmanthus.

Cathay Dragon first class dessert

At the conclusion of the meal I was offered a warm towel, some chocolates, and a toothpick.

Cathay Dragon first class warm towel and chocolates

The chocolates consisted of an Ecuador dark chocolate and a crunchy almond milk chocolate.

Cathay Dragon first class chocolates

I was so stuffed at this point that I couldn’t possibly have any milky or sweet drink (like a cappuccino or Hong Kong milk tea), so I just ordered a peppermint tea.

Cathay Dragon first class tea

Service throughout the meal was excellent. I always had the impression that Cathay Dragon service wouldn’t be as polished as on Cathay Pacific, given that it’s a subsidiary, but that wasn’t my experience at all. The flight attendant taking care of me was every bit as good as what I’d expect in Cathay Pacific first class.

My tray was cleared with about 50 minutes remaining to Hong Kong, so the service was efficient. After the meal I visited the lavatory. There are two in front of the first class cabin, both of which were quite small.

Cathay Dragon first class lavatory

As you’ll find on Cathay Pacific, they had Aesop toiletries, which I love.

Cathay Dragon first class lavatory Aesop toiletries

At around 5:45PM Hong Kong time, the first officer came on the PA to advise us that we’d be landing in about 30 minutes, and that he hoped we’d be at our gate by 6:20PM.

As we began our descent the inflight service manager passed through the cabin to see how everything was, and to thank me for flying Cathay Dragon.

As the captain had predicted at the beginning of the flight, we did hit a bit of chop on our approach, as it was quite windy.

View enroute to Hong Kong

View approaching Hong Kong

We had beautiful views on the approach, made even nicer thanks to the sunset that was beginning.

View approaching Hong Kong

View approaching Hong Kong

We ended up touching down in Hong Kong at 6:25PM.

Touchdown Hong Kong

From there we had about a 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate, and as usual, there was great plane spotting.

British Airways A380 Hong Kong Airport

Hong Kong Airlines A320 Hong Kong Airport

American 777 Hong Kong Airport

We ended up arriving at our gate at 6:35PM, and parked next to another Cathay Dragon A330 (in the old Dragonair livery).

Cathay Dragon A330 Hong Kong Airport

I bid farewell to the crew, and headed over to the Regal Airport Hotel for my quick overnight.

Cathay Dragon first class bottom line

Cathay Dragon first class was such a pleasant surprise. The service was excellent, the food exceptional, and they really nicely differentiated the experience from business class. Is first class even necessary on these short flights between Hong Kong and Beijing/Shanghai? Probably not. But I imagine it’s quite popular with some travelers.

The more spacious seat is nice, though also sort of unnecessary, since there’s no way you can enjoy the full service while having much time to recline your seat.

Eventually these planes should feature wifi, which will be nice. My only real criticisms of the experience is how low resolution the entertainment screen is, and also that parts of the padding around the seat were falling apart.

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

  1. lucky, if traveling with a companion on a daytime flight, what would you prefer to fly given a choice between the J and F configurations on this plane?

  2. Borscht is an odd offering lol thank god you didn’t spill any 🙂 I love HK airport. It’s so easy to use and my arrivals and departures experience has always been good. The Regal is also very comfortable
    If you have a few hours it’s nice to take the train into the city for dinner

  3. Borscht (Luo Song Tang in Chinese) is a quite popular Western-style soup among Chinese. I’m actually surprised that I didn’t saw it being offered more frequently on Chinese airlines…

  4. I flew KA F on the hkg-pek flight. Service was exactly what I’d expect from CX. I was insanely jet lagged after the flight from bos so I told the FAs I was just going to sleep and to please wake me in time for some coffee. Sure enough, they woke me up, brought me coffee, and offered the breakfast that they made “just in case you wanted.”

  5. I get why they don’t do a full F class on KA, from a value proposition, miles-wise it does seem kind of skewed as you can often get the same seats on short-haul CX flights in J, especially those on more popular routes like HKG-BKK or HKG -SIN. The J seats on KA look perfectly comfortable for even the longest KA flight. I’d probably only book this if I were connecting from a longhaul F flight where I would already be paying the F price regardless of whether the shorthaul was in J.

  6. I had a flight in KA First for this route, but was downgraded to Business at check-in due to an equipment swap. Very disappointing.

  7. Cathay Dragon first class pre-departure champagne & amuse bouche Picture may be incorrect.

  8. Sorry—I read further down. Might be correct picture further along the article. Just a repeated caption about amuse bouche at the top and a repeated cabin picture.

  9. @ Brandon — That’s a toughie. I’d probably go with business class if I cared about being able to talk to my companion, especially if you’re saving money or miles. If it’s the same cost (because you’re connecting off a longhaul first class award, or something), then I’d probably take first class just because.

  10. Lucky.i am booked on Cathay Dragon to Chengdu and saw they will offer the plane with the first class seats but only sell business. The 8F seats are blocked. Any idea how I can get those seats, as I dont have any status with OW. Wait until the check-in opens 24hrs before? Thx in advance

  11. I really wish KA would assign these first class planes to the HKG-BLR service. It’s the longest flight in the KA network which is blocked at 5.5 to 6 hours with a red-eye return. Sigh.

  12. “Marc says:
    June 17, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Lucky.i am booked on Cathay Dragon to Chengdu and saw they will offer the plane with the first class seats but only sell business. The 8F seats are blocked. Any idea how I can get those seats, as I dont have any status with OW. Wait until the check-in opens 24hrs before? Thx in advance ”

    KA will very very very likely keep that cabin closed. I’ve tried multiple ways to get seated as a oneworld Emerald. No luck.

  13. Thank you for mentioning HKG-PEK first class . I would love to fly CX first class HKG-PEK for 32,500 AA miles and experience the Pier lounge in Hong Kong. Why would anyone prefer to fly KA First class HKG-PEK on an A330 over CX First class on a 777? I see CX has only one flight daily and KA has several.

  14. Lucky: where did you hear that CX brought back the amuse bouche to first class? not on my flight last week LAX-HKG! very mediocre mixed nuts was all that they served with the pre-flight beverage.

  15. Lucky, which would you say is the better choice overall…first on this, or business on Cathay if they also offer reverse herringbone seats, and not their regional business class seats? (Assuming they still offer reverse herringbone on regional/short haul flights)

  16. @ Aaron — Assuming all else is equal, I’d say first on this is better, as the soft product is far superior. However, it also comes down to the cost, so depends what the cash/mileage difference is.

  17. @ D3KingAmerican — I actually think Cathay Dragon’s service in shorthaul first class is better than Cathay Pacific’s service on equivalent shorthaul flights. Of course the seat can’t compete, though.

  18. I think first class on such a short route is a bit obstentacious. Why not fly business and give some money or miles to charity.

  19. @ Montgomery Curruthers — Because part of my job is reviewing airlines, and Cathay Dragon has one of only three first class products in the world I hadn’t tried. I also place an exact value to miles, and while I’m happy to donate cash to charity, I simply won’t donate miles. At most airlines give one cent of value to charities when you donate miles, and that’s less than I value the miles at.

  20. Well technically China wouldn’t have considered this to be an international flight.

  21. I’ve flown Cathay Pacific and liked them a lot. Lots of food is always a good thing. And the quality wasn’t bad.
    The seats look really nice. I prefer the color scheme of these seats as the Business in Cathay Pacific long haul flights. I feel like the beige will show signs of wear quicker.
    The dessert looked really good.

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