A great flight on Cathay Dragon KA378 was a fine start to an awesome holiday in Okinawa. Now it’s time to head home – and time to see if the airline does as well on the return leg as it did on the inbound.
Welcome aboard KA379.
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 first leg (OKA-HKG) of an OKA-MNL journey, with HKG as the transit point. Click here to read my review of the second leg, HKG-MNL (CX913). You can also read my earlier reviews of the Okinawa-bound MNL-HKG (CX908) and HKG-OKA (KA378) flights.
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) 379
Route : Naha (Okinawa), Japan (IATA code: OKA) to Hong Kong (IATA code: HKG)
Final destination : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Wednesday, 09 May 2018
Scheduled departure time : 1655
Actual departure time : 1704
Scheduled arrival time (behind 1 hr) : 1835
Actual arrival time (behind 1 hr) : 1854
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A320-200
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : B-HSK
Passenger capacity : 8 Business Class and 156 Economy Class = 164 total
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
Here’s B-HSK on the tarmac at OKA. Note that this Airbus A320-200 is still wearing the old Dragonair livery superseded in 2016, when KA’s parent company Cathay Pacific (IATA code: CX) announced that the regional carrier would be rebranded as “Cathay Dragon”.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). Read – and see – more about the new livery here and here.
B-HSK may be small, but it’s seen plenty of service in the more than 16 years that have passed since it rolled off the Airbus production line at Toulouse. A little over a year ago, the interiors were thoroughly overhauled and brought into line with the new, unified CX-KA aesthetic.
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 (OKA-MNL 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 of KA).
As we were travelling under a single booking reference, and because KA (the operating carrier for this flight) and CX (in charge of the next leg) were essentially a single airline operating under two brands, our luggage was easily checked all the way through to MNL at the OKA 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
Our starting point was the international terminal of Naha Airport (IATA code: OKA), the main gateway for visitors travelling by air to and from Japan’s southernmost prefecture.
I’ve written a separate post about the airport – click here to read that report – so I won’t say much about the building and facilities here. Suffice it to say that for a relatively small terminal, OKA does a fine job at both welcoming visitors and starting them off on the journey home.
Now then, a small sampling of pictures to set the scene. You can see much more in my separate terminal review.
The counter staff at OKA checked us through for the entire journey to MNL, with bags tagged for ultimate collection at MNL and onward boarding passes issued for the second leg.
In due course, we made our way over to Gate 42, where the aeroplane assigned to KA379 was berthed. Boarding was organised along the usual lines, with separate queues for premium/priority passengers and everyone else.
Only one aerobridge was deployed for the use of all passengers (regardless of class).
As of this writing, KA operates one variant of the A320-200, fitted with 8 Business Class seats (4 to a row) and 156 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 seats similar to those used in regional Business Class cabins on other KA planes, as well as mainline CX aircraft.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to snap a picture of the backs of those seats. Had I done so, one very obvious difference versus other KA or CA regional Business Class seats would stand out. But we’ll get to that later when we discuss the aeroplane’s IFE system.
Onwards, then – to Economy Class.
Exit row seats were available for those requiring more legroom on this cramped aircraft. Fees start at around USD 50 for short-haul routes, though this is normally waived for high-tier Marco Polo Club or Oneworld frequent fliers.
As for myself, not being a particularly large fellow, the space in the regular seats was quite adequate for the fairly short flight to HKG.
I pre-booked our seats on the outbound MNL-HKG-OKA leg, a benefit available for certain fare classes at no extra charge. However, I wasn’t able to do so on the return OKA-HKG-MNL leg because that was on an ineligible fare class; the seat assignments were issued upon check-in. We were seated in row 33, above the wing, middle seat J and window seat K (aisle seat H was occupied by another passenger).
A bit further back than I’d have liked, sure, but not bad by any means. Besides, we were still within my preferred area of the plane in terms of stability; i.e., above and forward of the wings.
The outside views from here were a little less unobstructed than on our previous flight – I mean, the wing was right there. That said, as far as photobombers go, the wing wasn’t a necessarily unwelcome addition (especially for a flight report).
Allow me a planespotting moment for the first of the two pictures above. The aircraft just beyond the tip of our wing is ANA’s Boeing 737-800 JA86AN (quite the young bird at a little over 2 years old), preparing to work flight NH1738 to KIX with a scheduled departure at 1735.
Right, back to our seats now. As I’ve remarked earlier, I found the legroom sufficient for my own needs, and the seat was also equipped with useful odds and ends.
There was a power point just under the cushion, though mine was a little loose-fitting and required the occasional fiddling about to maintain the flow of current into my mobile phone.
Here’s a typical Economy seat back on this aeroplane. Tray table, cup holder, pocket filled with airline literature … yep, it’s all there. Except for one thing.
There was no personal IFE screen on that seat back, or indeed any of the others on this entire aeroplane (not even up front in Business Class). We’ll have a chat about that later when we discuss the in-flight entertainment options, but for now let’s dig into…
CATERING, AMENITIES, AND SERVICE
With a flight time approaching 3 hours, the OKA-HKG leg is short enough not to require a feast in the sky, but long enough to warrant something a little more substantial than the meat-pie-plus-cookie offered on the shorter hop between MNL and HKG.
Fortunately, KA struck the right balance with the light dinner served on board.
A choice was offered between chicken with rice, and seafood pasta. My companion and I both went for the chicken.
The meal consisted of a proper main course and dessert. 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 (also green tea if memory serves).
Decent on all counts, from flavour to portion size – though of course it won’t suffice to fill a starving chap’s stomach. (Tuck into something extra at the airport if you feel the onboard quantities might not suit.) Still, I didn’t enjoy this course quite as much as the chicken pasta dish on our earlier HKG-OKA flight.
The ice cream was pretty much as one might expect from an established brand. Good, but nothing special.
Perhaps the item I was most looking forward to, and ultimately missed, was the small pack of delicious chocolate-flavoured cookies served on the previous KA378 flight. No cookies were provided on KA379 back to HKG, which docks points off the meal both in terms of quantity and satisfaction. I suspect it might be a feature only of flights originating from KA’s HKG hub – the bakery that supplied them had a Hong Kong address, for one – but whatever the reason, shame the treat wasn’t available on this run.
That aside, the meal was mostly to my satisfaction, and still exceeded what I’d expect on a relatively short flight.
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.
Now then, back to the matter of…
You may have noticed earlier that there are no personal IFE screens in sight amongst the Economy Class seats. To this I add that even the Business Class seats didn’t have them.
That’s because KA’s A320-200 fleet – or at least those that have been refitted with the new cabin layout since late 2014 (not sure if this has now been applied to all units) – isn’t equipped with conventional in-seat IFE. Instead, the system relies on an internal wireless network designed to stream content directly into passengers’ own mobile devices. The selections on this cloud-like version of the in-house StudioKA entertainment suite are presumably consistent with those offered on conventionally equipped aircraft, but the method of delivery is quite different.
Of course, passengers can’t be reasonably expected to hold their devices aloft at eye-level for extended periods of time. (Certainly not if the device in question is one of the larger and heavier tablets, like an iPad Pro.) That’s where the silver-grey bar at the top of the seat back comes in.
That, of course, is a mobile device holder, from which one might hang a smartphone or tablet by its flip cover at normal viewing level. Needless to say, passengers whose devices aren’t cocooned in flip-type covers are out of luck, and will need to make do with the slot built into the tray tables.
Much lower than the ideal viewing level, but at least one wouldn’t have to wear out one’s arms by keeping the device elevated for hours.
In addition to device holders, the support infrastructure includes the power points we’ve seen earlier, with which passengers might keep their electronic equipment juiced up for inflight use.
The system relies on an app with separate iOS and Android versions. Since I can’t be bothered to explain the set-up process in detail, here’s a shot of the seat pocket card setting out the steps to be followed.
All well and good, especially if you’re an Android user and can install the app even after take-off. But here’s the rub: I’m on iOS and COULDN’T install my device’s version of the app using the onboard wireless network. To use the system properly, an iOS user must have already downloaded the programme from the App Store over an internet connection on the ground. Sans the app, one can only load a pared-down StudioKA page and access music (videos require the app to play).
Oh well, IFE isn’t something I’d count as a necessity on short flights anyway. And for longer runs, one would expect KA to field its larger aeroplanes fitted with proper IFE. But it might be helpful if the airline publicised the need to pre-download the app (particularly for iOS users) more widely than on a page in its website. Perhaps something at the gate mounted on a poster … or preferably huge banners, flashing lights, chaps wielding megaphones, and a troupe of dancers belting out the “Install StudioKA now, Now, NOW / or die, Die, DIE a slow death from boredom!!!” jingle.
(Just to make sure the point comes across clearly, you know.)
But if you’re a Business Class passenger, then none of this really matters because the flight attendants will lend you an iPad all ready to go. Clip the thing into the specially designed holder (not just a bar-type hanger as in Economy) and prepare to enjoy the latest movie … or half of it anyway, until the jet lands and cuts your viewing time short.
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 only my second experience with its subsidiary KA (the first being KA378 which I flew on just days earlier). Same as for the previous flight, I’m pleased to report that they’ve passed the test with flying colours. Cabin/seat comfort was more than adequate, the inflight catering was on point, and the service satisfactory. Shame about the virtually unusable wireless IFE – and the lack of dessert cookies, haha – but not a deal-breaker by any means, at least on this short route.
I should also point out that we were delayed nearly 20 minutes coming into HKG. Whilst not huge, the difference is larger when one considers the initial estimate of an early arrival. The flight deck attributed this to ground issues at HKG (something about runway or navigation equipment); indeed, those same issues would also lead to a much larger take-off delay in our connecting flight to MNL later. Nonetheless, I appreciated that we were regularly kept apprised of the situation during the time that air traffic control kept us whirling about in a holding pattern.
Overall, I’d rate myself a happy customer, and I’ll gladly fly with KA again on this route. And I shall consider downloading the StudioKA app in advance before then (in case our bird’s another A320), just to have a proper taste of the IFE offering.