Cathay Pacific vs. Hong Kong Airlines – Who Has The Better Business Class Product?

I’m a regular flyer on Cathay Pacific, which has long been known to be Hong Kong’s better airline. They’ve been awarded a Skytrax five-star rating since these rankings existed, and in particular, their business class product has won numerous awards.

Meanwhile, in 2016 Hong Kong Airlines began to take advantage of the opening of the new midfield terminal and majorly up their game, where they’ve made vast improvements to their branding, as well as minor improvements to their product. I recently had the chance to fly them for the first time, where many of these improvements were evident.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A350 Hong Kong Airport

I’d like to do a side-by-side comparison of Hong Kong Airlines and Cathay Pacific’s business class products. So, which airline is better?

My experience with both airlines

For starters, I’ve reviewed both airlines’ longhaul configuration on the same route, and both airlines’ shorthaul configuration on the same route, so I’ll be using their product from Hong Kong to Osaka as the most direct comparison:

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Hong Kong Airport

I haven’t flown Hong Kong Airlines’ longhaul product, but it’s worth noting that their longhaul and shorthaul amenities are largely consistent. If you’d really like a tried-and-tested comparison specifically on their longhaul product, I’d recommend Josh Cahill’s video from Go Travel Your Way (this video’s also specific to the A350 – I haven’t flown Hong Kong Airlines’ version of the A350 before).

Which airline has the better longhaul seat?

Both airlines fly their longhaul aircraft to various regional destinations. Cathay Pacific’s longhaul business class consists of a reverse herringbone seat, which is spacious, well-designed, and awesome for working and sleeping. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Airlines’ longhaul aircraft feature a staggered configuration in business class, where certain seats feature an awesome amount of privacy, and there’s plenty of space for working and relaxing in all seats.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class

In general Hong Kong Airlines’ longhaul seats are slightly better padded. However, all of Cathay Pacific’s business class seats are simultaneously private and spacious, whereas some of Hong Kong Airlines’ business class seats are closer to the aisle, featuring much less privacy. Hong Kong Airlines is shying away from this design, as they’ve chosen to install reverse herringbone seats on their upcoming A350s (the first three feature a similar business class product to their A330s).

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Aisle Seat

In addition, Hong Kong Airlines still flies outdated angled flat seats to Auckland on a regular basis, so that’s another loss there.

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Which airline has the better shorthaul seat?

I’ve given Cathay Pacific enough crap for their shorthaul product already on this site, so I’ll keep this short. Both airlines feature a 2-2-2 configuration in regional business class on the A330 (Cathay Pacific’s regional 777s have a 2-3-2 configuration, but Hong Kong Airlines doesn’t have any 777s), but that’s where the similarities stop. All of Hong Kong Airlines’ regional business class products are angled flat, and half of these are ex-Singapore Airlines aircraft, featuring Singapore Airlines’ excellently-designed regional business class product. The amount of storage, privacy and flexibility in these seats is insane.

Neither Hong Kong Airlines’ A330-200 regional business class product nor Cathay Pacific’s regional business class product feature any privacy or storage whatsoever. Cathay Pacific’s business class seat has the added caveat of only reclining to a position akin to that of a dentists’ chair. A clear win for Hong Kong Airlines here.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Regional Business Class 

img_2538Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 Regional Business Class

Winner: Hong Kong Airlines

Which airline has superior amenities?

Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines both offer a comfortable pillow and duvet. Both airlines have blankets and pillows that feel good on the skin. I’d say Hong Kong Airlines’ pillow feels a little more supportive, whereas Cathay Pacific textured one side of their pillow and duvet to cater to those who like rougher duvets and pillows. So there’s clearly thought into this department from both airlines. The only big discrepancy is slippers, which Cathay Pacific neglects.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class Bedding

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Bedding

I prefer Cathay Pacific’s headphones to Hong Kong Airlines’, and while Cathay Pacific used to offer crappy headphones in regional business class, they’ve upgraded them due to complaints from frequent flyers, and their new noise-canceling headphones are available across the board. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Airlines has always offered decent (but not noise-canceling) headphones on both longhaul and shorthaul flights.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class Headphones

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Headphones

However, the catch is that while Cathay Pacific now consistently offers the same pillow throughout their entire fleet, they offer a thinner, scratchier blanket on their shorthaul flights, which probably isn’t great for those looking to extend their nap on a connecting flight.

DSCF6040Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Blanket

As much as I like their new noise-canceling headphones, I value bedding consistency over them, since most travelers (including myself) bring their own headphones nowadays.

Winner: Hong Kong Airlines

Which airline has better food?

While I appreciate Hong Kong Airlines’ effort to provide extensive food options and I appreciate that they offer “real” desserts on shorthaul flights (Cathay Pacific seems to stick to ice cream most of the time), I’ve had consistently better food experiences with Cathay Pacific across the board. While Hong Kong Airlines’ catering isn’t bad at all (and I don’t like how the food is presented on either airline), Cathay Pacific seems to have more masterfully approached the craft of heating food under flight constraints.

For comparison, both meals below were Japanese-style chicken meals I had on flights from Hong Kong to Osaka, and I much preferred Cathay Pacific’s simple, but moist chicken teriyaki to Hong Kong Airlines’ blander, overcomplicated, and drier Japanese fare.

DSCF5075Cathay Pacific Airbus A330 Business Class Main Course – Chicken Teriyaki, Japanese Spring Vegetables and Japanese Rice

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Main Course – Roasted Chicken and Peking Onion in Yakitori Sauce, Japanese Mushroom Mixed Rice and Tamagoyaki

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Which airline has better drinks?

Cathay Pacific offers their signature Cathay Delight, which is a pretty nice drink – when it’s prepared right. More often than not I find there to be a powdery texture in the coconut milk, which leaves an unpleasant aftertaste. There are also a couple of other signature mocktails on Cathay Pacific, though I find them to be generally unimpressive (though still tasty). Other than that, though, you’re limited to soft drinks and water.

Hong Kong Airlines went for a much more local approach – while you won’t find Cathay Delight anywhere else in the city, Hong Kong Airlines serves yuan yang and lemon tea, which you’ll find in cha chaan tengs around the city. As much as I love these drinks, they’re considered pretty low-end. Also, both airlines offer Hong Kong-style milk tea, which I enjoy.

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage

Would I prefer Cathay Pacific’s upmarket signature drinks that are sometimes well-prepared, or Hong Kong Airlines’ consistently nice low-end drinks? Probably Cathay Pacific, though that’s from the perspective of someone who can just pick up some yuan yang from my local cha chaan teng whenever I want. I love when an airline infuses their culture into their onboard product, and that’s what Hong Kong Airlines has done. That said, if they switched to a “legitimate” lemon tea (higher quality tea, as opposed to Nestea/Lipton’s with a lemon in it), there’d be a clear winner for me.

In terms of alcoholic drinks (I don’t drink), Hong Kong Airlines offers Charles de Cazanove Brut, which seems to be more highly priced and rated than Cathay Pacific’s Piper-Heidsieck Brut. That said, I can’t testify. Both airlines offer signature cocktails on longhaul flights.

Winner: Hong Kong Airlines

Which airline has better service?

I’ve had a range of experiences with service on both airlines, and find their service to be approximately level. Consistently across both airlines in business class I’ve been addressed by name, and service culture is great across the board. In the case of Hong Kong Airlines, I’ve even been escorted to my seat (which you don’t see often in business class).

That said, Cathay Pacific can pull a 20-minute service flawlessly out of the bag, which is an added bonus. Meanwhile, on Hong Kong Airlines, meal services are usually unnecessarily long-winded, which suggests the potentiality of a management issue on the catering front.

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Which airline has the better entertainment system?

Neither airlines feature WiFi on any of their non-A350 aircraft, though fortunately both aircraft are increasing the utility of A350 on longer routes. While Hong Kong Airlines has a decent entertainment system, Cathay Pacific’s entertainment system continues to be excellent. I actually prefer Hong Kong Airlines’ airshow as there are more possible “viewing angles”, though there’s something to be said for the large selection of movies, TV and music that you’ll find on StudioCX.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 Business Class Entertainment Selection

Hong Kong Airlines Airbus A330 Business Class Entertainment System

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Which airline has the better flagship lounge?

Hong Kong Airlines features an awesome lounge in Hong Kong’s midfield terminal (and an inferior, older lounge in the main terminal), and Cathay Pacific features a handful of lounges, all located in the main terminal. I prefer Club Autus to most of Cathay Pacific’s older lounges, though Cathay Pacific’s flagship lounge is The Pier, which I believe is one of the world’s most aesthetically pleasing and spacious lounges. While both lounges feature a noodle bar (which is awesome), I tend to prefer Cathay Pacific’s noodle quality in their lounges. Cathay Pacific’s lounge showers are also readily available.

IMG_0105Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Bar

Hong Kong Airlines Club Autus Lounge Hong Kong

In a sentence, Club Autus is a great lounge, while The Pier is industry-leading. Here are my respective reviews of these lounges:

Winner: Cathay Pacific

Bottom Line

Out of the eight categories, Cathay Pacific wins in five, and Hong Kong Airlines wins in three. That said, it’s remarkable how Hong Kong Airlines has improved over the past few years to keep up with a solid mid-market product, and I’d fly either airline in a heartbeat.

The most remarkable victory seems to be Hong Kong Airlines’ shorthaul seat, as it’s significantly better than Cathay Pacific’s. That said, you can select longhaul aircraft on both airlines with shorthaul flights, which I highly recommend in either case.

While there are better products out there overall, it’s remarkable to see how competitive Hong Kong Airlines has become.

Which airline’s business class product do you prefer?

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