Review – Dragon Air A320 Business Class – HKG-CKG

As I said in my Introduction post, I tried to vary the products I flew on this trip as much as possible so I could review some products that did not really have any reviews out there. One of those is Dragon Air’s A320 business class, which far exceeded my expectations.

Introduction
Review – JAL Sakura Lounge – SFO
Review – JAL 777-300ER First Class – SFO-HND
Review – Tokyo Hilton
Review – Cathay Pacific Lounge – HND
Review – Cathay Pacific 747-400 Business Class – HND-HKG
Review – Sheraton Hong Kong Towers
Review – Dragon Air A320 Business Class – HKG-CKG
Review – Sofitel Forebase Chongqing
Review – Hong Kong Airlines Lounge – CKG
Review – Hong Kong Airlines A320 Business Class – CKG-HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-200 Business Class – HKG-SIN
Review – Conrad Centennial Singapore
Review – Qantas Lounge – SIN
Review – British Airways Lounge – SIN
Review – Dnata (Cathay Pacific) Contract Lounge – SIN
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-200 Business Class – SIN-HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Pier – HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge The Wing – HKG
Review – Cathay Pacific 777-300ER First Class – HKG-ORD

There was a lot of drama trying to book this flight for our trip. After watching the inventory for months it appeared that the flight was very empty and that seats would open up closer to departure. Then about 2 weeks before the flight, Expert Flyer showed the ENTIRE FLIGHT sold out. Oddly, Dragon Air was still selling seats for their business class cabin, which told me they would likely open up space shortly. Sure enough, about 4 days before departure, 2 business class seats opened up.

I opted to use British Airways Avios that I had earned from my Chase British Airways card. The flights cost 15,000 Avios per person + ~$19 in taxes and fees. By comparison, paid tickets were running ~$780 for a one-way flight on this route in business class, so I consider this a decent enough redemption.

Dragon Air 840
Hong Kong (HKG) – Chongqing, China (CKG)
Depart: 1:45 PM
Arrive: 4:10 PM
Duration: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 11H (Business Class)

Although we got to the airport early enough to check out the Dragon Air lounge, we ultimately ended up heading straight to the gate due to a variety of issues. One of those issues was that Dragon Air’s check-in desk is not well marked at Hong Kong Airport. One of the Cathay Pacific desks (Dragon Air is a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific and they share a lot) showed Dragon Air on their boards, so we walked up to check-in. The agent was less than helpful and seemed offended that we would try to check in for our Dragon Air flight at her desk despite the Dragon Air logo being displayed on the monitor literally above her head. Instead, we had to walk to the opposite end of the departures hall to the Dragon Air desk to check in. The departures hall is rather expansive so it took us a good 5 minutes to get across.

Once we checked in at the Dragon Air desk, we were handed our boarding passes and a lounge invitation. We proceeded to security and immigration where there are no dedicated premium cabin/elite member lanes. Although I got through security quickly, Christen’s bag got selected for additional screening which with repacking took about 15 minutes.

We were departing from the 500 gates which require you to catch a bus from the main terminal. Not knowing the schedule and with only about 20 minutes until boarding, we hopped on the bus and headed for the gate. While I generally get annoyed with having to take a bus at the airport, they do offer some great views of the tarmac.

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We even loaded up next to the massive A380 which was the closest I have been to one! They truly are MASSIVE aircraft.

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Once we arrived at the 500 gates, we headed for the far side to our gate.

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After we arrived at our gate, it was pretty quiet. There were other flights that started boarding in the gates around ours about the same time, which caused a lot of long lines. Once the gate agents started putting up signs, we hopped up to jump in line. About 5 minutes after that, it was complete chaos at the gate. Long queues of people, gate agents running around, no announcements and a delayed boarding. It is worth noting that it appeared that the gate agents were actively patrolling the gate area looking for oversized carry-on bags to check so if you have a US sized roller bag (22”) and you are flying economy, it may be worthwhile to steer clear of the gate until boarding.

Dragon Air A320

About 15 minutes after our scheduled boarding time, they began boarding the flight starting with the business class cabin. Boarding was quick and efficient, but overhead bin space was at a premium so make sure you board early if you do not check bags.

Our particular A320 featured Dragon Air’s new business class product, which is the same recliner seat that Cathay Pacific uses on their 777-200 regional jets. The seats offer 42” of pitch and 20” of width, making them a rather spacious business class seat. Waiting at the seat was a pillow and a blanket.

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The business class cabin is small with just 2 rows of business class seats in a 2-2 configuration.

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After the majority of the plane had boarded, the flight attendant working the business class cabin came around to offer pre-departure beverages. We were offered a choice between water, orange juice or a mixed specialty drink called a Dragon Sunrise. The Dragon Sunrise consists of gin, mint, lemon juice, guava juice and wildflower juice. Since it was a specialty drink, I opted for the Dragon Sunrise. It was absolutely delicious!

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After the pre-departure beverages were handed out, prepackaged towels were distributed. The towels were not warmed at all before they were distributed.

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Then they came around with a selection of newspapers in English and Chinese (both Cantonese and Mandarin were available). As the flight attendant was passing through the cabin the French captain (odd, I know) came on the PA to announce that our pushback would be delayed due to Guangzhou air traffic control closing down the airspace. Since the seat was comfortable, I was not too upset over this and decided to order another Dragon Sunrise…and then another (yes, they were THAT good).

After the announcement from the captain, menus were distributed for the business class cabin. Although our flight time was a bit over 2 hours, we would be having a full meal service.

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At that point, I settled in and started checking out the seat. The seat was relatively comfortable and I would happily take this style seat over the US domestic recliner first class seats any day of the week. The footwell featured decent enough space (even for my size 12.5 feet), but stretched out the seat did start to get a little cramped for my 6’5” frame after about 3 hours.

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The seat controls are located on the right side of the seat and are very easy to use.

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Below the seat controls was a pocket where the in-flight magazine, safety card and headphones were stored.

The headphones were branded Dragon Air and were relatively comfortable. They also cancelled out some of the noise, which was nice enough.

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The seats also feature a power outlet configured for all styles of international power plugs which was very convenient.

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What was interesting about the seat to me was the contraption on the seatback in front of you. It appeared that it was designed to hold an iPad or tablet for viewing while you were on the flight which I thought was pretty cool since this aircraft does not offer a built in in-flight entertainment system.

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Shortly after I finished exploring the seat, the flight attendant came around distributing iPads in nice black leather cases for the business class passengers’ use.

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Now I know why there were iPad holders built into the seatbacks!

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The iPads contained a large selection of movies, TV shows, shopping and games, though it was not as extensive as Cathay Pacific’s CX Studio (presumably due to the space limitations on the iPads). Just as with CX Studio, ads played before the movies/TV shows, but you can fast forward through them. Sorry for the glare on the pictures – it was hard to get good ones due to the screen.

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True to form I was fixated on the air show for a good bit.

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I opted to watch Fast 7 as I wanted something mindless to watch and I am car guy. The video quality was not the greatest, but for a short flight, it was perfectly fine.

What was most impressive though was from the time I boarded to the time I deplaned, I was addressed as “Mr. Vesey” during every single interaction with the flight crew. I understand that the business class cabin only consists of 8 seats, but this still struck me as a super nice touch!

About an hour after our scheduled departure we were airborne and had a smooth climb out en-route to Chongqing. As is often the case with Asian carriers, about 10 minutes after our takeoff the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off.

The meal service started promptly after that. The salmon-vegetable terrine appetizer was served with warmed bread from the bread basket. I chose the garlic bread and some multigrain roll which were both delicious.

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The salmon-vegetable terrine had a gelatinous consistency and tasted extremely fishy (even for salmon) so I had a few bites and left the rest.

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I also ordered another Dragon Sunrise (seriously, they are ridiculously good) to go along with my meal.

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As I was the last person in the cabin served, they had run out of the beef option by the time they got to me so I had the chicken.

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It was as terrible as it looks. I would compare it to the cheapest of the cheap Chinese takeout you can get. The chicken was kind of fatty and oddly gelatinous texture wise. I took two bites and left the rest.

The beef option on the other hand was actually quite good. It was pink in the center still, juicy and not overcooked or tough. If you have the option, go with the beef!

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After the main course was cleared they came around with Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert. Again, since I was the last person served in the cabin, the only options left were strawberry ice cream or mango sorbet. I opted for the mango sorbet which was just ok.

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I also ordered a Hong Kong Style Milk Tea to go along with my sorbet as Cathay Pacific/Dragon Air make them the best.

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About 40 minutes out, I used the lavatory to grab a quick picture. The lavatory was your standard A320 lavatory and featured Jurlique soaps and lotions (the same as on Cathay Pacific).

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Interestingly, I noticed that the cabin crew locks the lavatories about 30 minutes prior to landing, so if you need to use the lavatory, be sure you are keeping an eye on your time to destination clock.

About 20 minutes prior to landing the crew came around to collect our iPads. We hit a bit of chop on our descent into Chongqing, but it was a smooth ride otherwise and we touched down in Chongqing about an hour behind schedule.

The crew on this flight were truly exceptional and offered service on par with some of the best airlines I have ever flown, but some of the others seated in the business class were “interesting.” The guy in 10C insisted on singing out loud to whatever he was listening to on his iPhone. Then on approach to Chongqing he decided he wanted to start popping his gum every 15 seconds.

Not to be outdone, the guy in 11A was one of the loudest eaters I have ever heard…through my headphones no less. He also insisted on listening to his voicemail messages on speakerphone once we landed and then dictated his responses through his phone rather than just typing it out himself.

I think it is a cultural thing more than anything else, but it truly amazes me the lack of flying etiquette that people exhibit.

Final Thoughts

I had read some mixed reviews of Dragon Air flights so going in I was not quite sure what to expect. Overall I was very impressed with my Dragon Air flight – though I do think the exceptional crew made all the difference in this instance. I would definitely fly Dragon Air again, though I would avoid the chicken dish.

For those of you who have flown Dragon Air, what were your thoughts?

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