Today was a day for greeting old friends: Hong Kong International Airport, which I’ve used on multiple occasions; and Japan, which I was about to visit for the sixteenth time. But it was also marked by two notable firsts: my first visit to Okinawa, and my first flight on Cathay Dragon.
Welcome aboard KA378.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This report covers the second leg (HKG-OKA) of a MNL-OKA journey, with HKG as the transit point. Click here to read my separate review of the first leg (MNL-HKG).
For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (KA) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Cathay Dragon”.
Airline and flight number : Cathay Dragon (KA) 378
Route : Hong Kong (IATA code: HKG) to Naha (Okinawa), Japan (IATA code: OKA)
Point of origin : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Saturday, 05 May 2018
Scheduled departure time : 1215
Actual departure time : 1246
Scheduled arrival time (ahead 1 hr) : 1555
Actual arrival time (ahead 1 hr) : 1553
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A321-200
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : B-HTJ
Passenger capacity : 24 Business Class and 148 Economy Class = 172 total
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
Unfortunately I don’t have any exterior photographs of B-HTJ, the Airbus A321-200 aeroplane that flew us from HKG to OKA. I can attest that as of the day of our flight, it was still wearing the old Dragonair livery that was superseded in 2016, when KA’s parent Cathay Pacific (CX) announced that the regional carrier would be rebranded as “Cathay Dragon”. As part of the makeover, it was revealed that KA planes would begin to acquire a decorative scheme very similar to that of the mother company, except that the base colour would be a rich, deep red (instead of CX green).
B-HTJ is a relatively new acquisition, just a third of the way into its 10th year, although it has already had more than one operator in that short time (Qatar Airways being the first). The overall state of the aircraft and its interior fittings reflect its fairly young age, although certain elements hint at issues with basic maintenance.
Like this bit, for example.
This piece of lining came loose around the time we landed. By itself, it didn’t appear to suggest any serious deficiencies with the equipment, and would no doubt have been stuffed back into the gap from whence it came as the cabin was prepped for the next flight. That said, I hope KA will make certain that nothing – especially nothing essential – pops out of where it belongs every time this bird takes to the skies.
We paid USD 497.29 per passenger for the round-trip flight from MNL to OKA via HKG, plus an extra USD 10.00 each for optional travel insurance. It’s a little expensive for the route – especially when one considers the rather frequent availability of special fares – but this was a holiday planned on relatively short notice, with inflexible schedule requirements that left us unwilling to choose flight times available at lower rates. The amount was all-inclusive, save for the travel tax of PHP 1,620.00 that Filipino citizens (with certain exceptions) must pay when flying out of the country.
On this route (MNL-OKA via HKG), Economy Class passengers are entitled to a free check-in baggage allowance of up to 2 pieces, weighing a total of 30 kg. The carry-on allowance is 1 piece, plus an additional small item such as a handbag or briefcase, with a total combined weight not exceeding 7 kg. There are also limits on the dimensions of each piece of luggage, whether checked or carry-on.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on CX’s official website (which also now serves as the main internet portal for KA).
Since our HKG-OKA leg was on CX’s wholly-owned subsidiary KA (with the entire itinerary booked via CX under a single reference), our luggage was checked all the way through to OKA at the MNL airport counter. This freed us up for a smooth transit later in HKG, since we didn’t have to reclaim our bags and check them back in for the second flight.
AIRPORT, CHECK-IN, AND BOARDING
Hong Kong International Airport (IATA code: HKG) was the transit point between our previous flight – CX908 from MNL, which I’ve reviewed in a separate post – and the connecting flight to our final destination.
We were checked through for the entire journey at the starting point in MNL, where our bags were tagged for ultimate collection at OKA and onward boarding passes issued for the second leg. After landing at HKG, with a brief pause on the aerobridge to snap a picture of this CX bird (dressed in the recently introduced company livery)…
…we simply followed the blue-and-yellow “Transfer” signs leading to this special area…
…where transit passengers were screened and put through another security check (but no immigration or customs inspection) before being allowed to go straight up into the general departures area.
Remember the awfully bland interiors we encountered at MNL’s Terminal 3, from where we started? Well forget those for the moment, because we’ve just entered another world entirely.
I shan’t comment at length on the many, many options for dining, shopping, and leisure available at this major transport hub. The airport’s official website and scores of other blog posts and write-ups all over the interwebs should suffice to paint a more complete picture. For my part, all I can say is that our roughly 4-hour layover evaporated in what seemed like an instant, even though we eventually decided not to use the complimentary lounge access attached to our credit cards.
In due course, we made our way over to Gate 25, where the aircraft assigned to KA378 was berthed.
Unlike at MNL (see my previous post), there was no class segregation amongst the seats near the gate in HKG … though it helped that there was more and better seating in this airport to begin with. That, and the multiple lounges scattered around the terminal for eligible CX and KA passengers, where some of the clientele would be penned up in luxury until close to boarding time.
Of course, there was the usual tiered split at the gate itself when we began to embark, with premium passengers taking the left queue/door and everyone else on the right.
If a larger aircraft were in use, a forward aerobridge could be connected to offer separate access for the privileged jetsetters at the pointy end of the plane. Alas (for them), this was a small A321-200 so everyone marched through the same door.
As of this writing, KA operates one variant of the A321-200, fitted with 24 Business Class seats (4 to a row) and 148 Economy Class seats (6 abreast). Since all passengers boarded through the forward door and walked aft to their places, I was able to take a quick look around the Business Class section…
…which was fitted with the same regional Business Class seats deployed on CX aircraft.
I pre-booked our seats (no extra charge for certain fare classes) at the point of purchase, selecting 22K by the window and 22J in the middle (aisle seat 22H was occupied by another person). Situated next to the forward Economy bulkhead, row 22 featured generous legroom…
…at the expense of floor storage, since there was no space under the seat in front for bags (there being, er, no seat in front to begin with). Hand luggage had to go into the overhead bin.
The trouble was, the bin above our seats was partly occupied by crew equipment, with the remaining space already occupied by someone else’s stuff. We had to stash our bags in the compartment across the aisle (still empty at that point), and those eventually got buried behind the luggage of the passengers who were assigned to the seats under that bin.
The touch-screen IFE displays for our bulkhead row were mounted on the wall, except for the aisle seats whose monitors were folding units that could be swung up to eye level when in use. (Evidently the bulkhead wasn’t wide enough to accommodate wall mounts for all six seats.)
In my seat, the pop-out remote control was fitted into a bracket near one armrest. I didn’t make much use of the device, preferring to navigate the extensive menu options using the touch-screen interface.
The folding tray table was concealed within the armrest, which had to be flipped open if one needed to pull out the surface. This wasn’t a problem in my case, since the person beside me was a travelling companion. It might, however, present a complication when one happens to be seated next to a stranger – or worse, an irritable and ill-humoured stranger – as one must ask them to move their arm aside when unfolding or stowing the table.
In-seat power was supplied though outlets located near the floor.
Oh, and one other thing. You’ll have noticed that B-HTJ’s Economy Class seats are conventional recliners, not the old fixed-back “shell seats” used on some mainline CX aeroplanes serving short-haul routes (like the one in our previous flight). That alone is a point in KA’s favour over the parent firm.
As for our position on the plane, we were as far forwards as possible in the Economy section: just a smidgen ahead of the wings, close to the engine. This was a pretty good place to be in terms of stability, and also offered a mostly clear vantage point from which to take pictures during the flight.
The last one was taken just after we landed in OKA, with the plane preparing to dock at one of the gates in the international terminal. That’s the domestic terminal in the distance, whilst the new building under construction is designed to link both terminals as part of a major expansion programme (which also includes a second runway being built on reclaimed land).
CATERING, AMENITIES, AND SERVICE
With a stated flight time of 2 hours and 40 minutes – and an actual length of just a little over 2 hours – the HKG-OKA leg is long enough to warrant something a little more substantial than the meat-pie-plus-cookie offered on the shorter MNL-HKG hop. That said, the fairly limited duration does justify something a little less than the full meal one might expect on a longer flight.
Fortunately, KA struck the right balance with the light lunch served on board.
The meal consisted of a proper main course and dessert – well, two desserts if one counts the ice cream and cookies separately. On the other hand, the usual supporting cast of inflight side dishes was absent: no salad, fruit, or bread roll with butter. No beverages were served apart from a small cup of water and, at the end of meal service, some hot coffee.
We were offered a choice of main course, the two options being chicken with pasta and fish with rice. I’ve got a long-standing loathing of seafood, as well as a lifetime love affair with pasta, so the choice was easily made.
The boneless chicken chunks were nicely flavoured, and I appreciated the al dente texture of the penne pasta. In fact, I can imagine that some might have found it a little too al dente, perhaps bordering on (though certainly not) undercooked. That said, I prefer my pasta firm so this easily won my stamp of approval.
My travelling companion selected the fish. She told me afterwards that it was because she wanted something light, and that she felt the chicken might be a little too heavy for her.
Her opinion was somewhat less positive than mine – the exact words used being “a bit bland and forgettable”. That said, she also remarked that it wasn’t bad (apparently the sauce and vegetables helped lift the overall impression) and described the dish as “good enough for airplane food”.
The ice cream was pretty much as one might expect from an established brand. Good, but nothing special.
Ah, but the cookies – now these stole the show. Sweet, yet not overly so, with a rich note of butter and a firm but yielding texture. I regret not taking note of the brand and product name; I’d have bought more of these the next time I visited Hong Kong.
An excellent light lunch overall. My compliments to KA for a job well done.
No amenity kits were supplied. Then again, I wouldn’t expect any airline to hand out amenity kits in Economy Class on short-haul services. No pillows or blankets were distributed, though I’m not certain if these were available on request.
As for the cabin crew – well, I don’t usually have much to say about that side of things, and this flight is no exception. I’m a fairly undemanding and mildly anti-social passenger who tends to avoid speaking with the flight attendants, so it’s hard for me to gauge their performance. That said, from what I could overhear and observe, I’d say their service was thoroughly polite and professional.
The usual basic cattle-class headphones (not noise-cancelling) were stuffed into the seat pockets ahead of take-off, rather than being distributed by the cabin crew.
The airline’s IFE suite – branded as StudioKA and derived from the parent airline’s StudioCX system – offered an almost bewildering choice of entertainment options. Both Asian and Western films were available, with fresh releases alongside older videos.
Note that there’s also a StudioKA wireless IFE system, designed to stream content from a central source into passengers’ portable electronic devices, but that’s only fitted on their A320 aircraft (which don’t have IFE screens installed).
As for printed material, KA’s inflight magazine Silkroad and shopping catalogue (along with newspapers) were on hand for those who’d rather read than watch.
I’ve taken CX several times through the years, but this was my very first experience with KA. I’m pleased to report that they’ve passed the test with flying colours. Cabin comfort was more than adequate, the inflight catering was on point, and the service satisfactory. I’d dock them a point or two on maintenance – mainly for that rubber sealant that popped out from the ceiling – but this doesn’t detract in any big way from their overall performance. The fact that their main hub is one of the region’s leading and best-equipped airports also worked heavily in their favour.
There’s also something to be said for the recent rebranding exercise, which saw KA move closer – in terms of appearance and service delivery – to its parent CX. Although some might argue that this represents a loss of identity (something I can’t comment upon directly, as I’ve never used KA before), the consistency in both the hard and soft product contributed to a more seamless experience than maintaining differentiated offerings would have done. One might question whether keeping the carriers officially separate is sustainable in the long term, and whether this is all just a drawn-out prelude to full absorption, but that debate is quite frankly of no direct relevance to me as a simple passenger.
Overall, I’d rate myself a happy customer, and I’ll gladly fly with KA again on this route.