Flight Review: Cathay Dragon KA803 Shanghai Pudong to Hong Kong

We last reviewed Cathay Dragon on this route in economy class a couple of years back (here) and as that wasn’t a great flight I wondered if things had got better. If not, does Cathay Dragon merit a premium on this route when there are lots of other options?


This was part of a ticket booked over the Christmas season a little more than a week before travel. It was on Finnair from Oslo to Shanghai via Helsinki, then Cathay Dragon to Hong Kong and Finnair onwards to the U.K. again via Helsinki. I couldn’t get the ticket to price on Finnair’s own website so ended up plumping without enthusiasm for Expedia despite having had bad experiences with Expedia before. The total cost was $4,996 which for an ex-Europe return flight to Asia between Christmas and New Year I felt was good value.

At the Airport

I had checked in at Oslo airport and been issued with the ticket for this leg of the journey. I also had checked baggage through to Hong Kong. However, upon arrival in Pu Dong an airline rep at the jetbridge met me to tell me that I would have to clear immigration to pick up my luggage and recheck it, which added considerable time and effort. That alone would make me think twice about routing through Shanghai like this again (although apparently when terminal three opens this year luggage will be transferred automatically).

I used the temporary Cathay lounge, conveniently located just behind security and in front of the gate.


The flight was operated by an Airbus A330. The seatback had a screen with the normal solid range of Cathay inflight entertainment. There was a USB socket. The seats are fine but nothing special and in fact felt slightly poky on this occasion.

There was no bottled water at the seat, which used to be the norm on Cathay Dragon. The flight was on the morning of the 31st and the inflight magazine was already for the following month, so some of its showcased entertainment was not yet loaded, as I only realized when I went to listen to it. The magazine (Silk Road) also seems to be becoming more propagandist, from describing Taiwan as a region of China to describing Cathay’s 10-abreast 777 refits as “upgraded Economy cabins”, which is not the whole truth.


The flight left from gate 77, where there was an orderly queue. There was a good selection of newspapers on the jetbridge. As this flight was on New Year’s Eve I had expected it to be busy but in fact there were quite a few empty seats in the economy cabin, while business class looked emptier still.

The flight followed a straight line down the east coast of China, through smooth  weather, but then we circled east of Hong Kong and again west of Hong Kong before landing. We touched down slightly ahead of schedule, but to a bus gate so it took some further minutes before arriving at the airport building.


Cathay Dragon’s cabin crews are usually upbeat and on the ball, although in my last few flights with them I have had more mixed experiences. This crew came across as going through the motions: there was little warmth and service was lacking, as for example when a flight attendant came back to me because she had forgotten my drink order.

What was most surprising was how little service there was: the meal was served after takeoff along with drinks, and that was that. There was no additional run afterwards for teas or coffees. I found this strange.

Food and Drink

There was no menu on this flight and the option was between chicken with rice, and pork with pasta. I plumped for the chicken. Seeing on the label that the meal was catered by the dire China Eastern catering did not inspire confidence. The starter was salmon with potato salad – the potatoes were undercooked but the dish was decent despite that. The main rice was overcooked but the chicken was very tasty. Ice cream was served directly on the meal tray rather than being offered on a separate run, which I think is a bit wasteful for passengers like me who didn’t plan to eat it.


This was a below average experience for Cathay Dragon, with a subpar cabin crew and what felt like abbreviated service.

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