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Review: Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class (HAN-HKG)

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Review Overview

This seat doesn't match some of Cathay Pacific's competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, though they don't operate particularly long or high-yield flights. Cathay Pacific's soft product is great even on shorthaul flights


In 2021 Cathay Pacific introduced the A321neo into their fleet network, which was their first ever narrowbody aircraft. Up until 2020, Cathay Pacific operated a shorthaul subsidiary airline called Cathay Dragon, which flew to most destinations in mainland China as well as lower-yield leisure destinations across Asia (we last reviewed them in late 2017 at Young Travelers of Hong Kong, and I personally last flew them in 2016). Cathay Dragon folded up operations in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, and all aircraft slated for them were transferred over to their parent airline.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo joined the fleet with brand new cabin products, which were refreshed from their existing regional business class and A350-1000 economy class products. Originally it was almost impossible to fly on this aircraft, since these planes flew exclusively within mainland China, and both mainland China and Hong Kong had implemented strict arrival schemes with long quarantine times. As Hong Kong opened up, the A321neo was also introduced to other routes with many frequencies (such as Bangkok) or lower capacity (such as Hanoi).

After going out of my way to fly to Hanoi just so I could review Qatar Airways’ 787-9 business class, I picked up a one-way ticket from Hanoi to Hong Kong in July 2023. This flight just happened to be operated by a Cathay Pacific A321neo – in fact, it was even swapped from a longhaul-configured A330. I was very happy to have the opportunity to review the newest aircraft type in Cathay Pacific’s fleet.

Booking Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class

I picked up this Cathay Pacific one-way business class ticket from Hanoi to Hong Kong for 16,000 Asia Miles + HK$466 in taxes. I didn’t need to spend the 16,000 Asia Miles – I was flying from London to Hong Kong on an AAdvantage ticket, and could’ve easily called to add on the Hanoi to Hong Kong segment for no additional cost in miles, since they’re both in the “Asia 2” region on the AAdvantage network.

The flights for my entire outbound itinerary were as follows, bearing in mind I could’ve tagged the Hanoi to Hong Kong segment onto the AAdvantage itinerary for no extra miles by calling:

03/07 QR4 London Heathrow – Doha dep. 15:05 arr. 23:50
04/07 QR976 Doha – Hanoi dep. 02:20 arr. 13:45
04/07 CX742 Hanoi – Hong Kong dep. 19:00 arr. 22:00

(You can modify American AAdvantage itineraries for free, though unfortunately I couldn’t modify my Hanoi – Hong Kong segment without a hefty change fee, so I left the tickets separate.)

My Experience Flying Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class

My travels on Cathay Pacific originated from Hanoi Airport’s Terminal 2, after connecting from a Qatar Airways 787-9 from Doha. After venturing landside briefly for a bowl of pho, I checked in for my Cathay Pacific flight and headed through security, which was a painless process, despite not being able to retrieve my mobile boarding pass in advance.

Boarding was scheduled for 6:30 PM, though I knew that wasn’t going to happen with the aircraft hadn’t shown up by 6:20 PM – the inbound flight was delayed, and went through a couple of go-arounds before landing into Hanoi Airport. I watched from gate 33 as the inbound aircraft taxiied in at around 6:45 PM, very shortly before our scheduled takeoff time of 7 PM.

a plane on a runway an airplane on the runway
Cathay Pacific A321neo at Hanoi Airport

It was clear the inbound aircraft had a hard time trying to dodge the thunderstorms over Vietnam that morning, as it had the squiggliest routing I’ve ever seen for a 90-minute long flight:

a map with a purple line
Goodness gracious, no wonder the inbound aircraft was late

Very soon after this, a departure delay of 30 minutes (to 7:30 PM) was announced through a whiteboard display by the gate. At about 7 PM someone rubbed off the “0” and replaced it with a “5”, effectively announcing a further delay of five minutes.

I’m getting pretty good at trying new products with a fairly neutral mindset, though Hanoi Airport seemed like it’d already formed strong opinions on how Cathay Pacific’s A321neo business class would be like…

signs in a building with windows
No punches spared by Hanoi Airport regarding Cathay Pacific’s new A321neo business class…

A couple of people by the gate area were starting to ask gate staff when we’d board, given they’d booked tight connecting flights out of Hong Kong Airport.

Boarding finally started at 7:20 PM, beginning with a couple of Oneworld Emerald members, followed by business class passengers and Oneworld Sapphire members. I had a glimpse of the A321neo as I waited for the first couple of passengers to settle onboard the aircraft.

a plane in a glass case
Boarding Cathay Pacific’s gorgeous A321neo

Cathay Pacific Flight CX742
Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Origin: Hanoi (HAN) T: 2 Gate: 33 Dep: 19:00 (20:00)
Destination: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 20 Gate Arr: 22:00 (23:05)
Duration: 2 h (2 h 5 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo Reg: B-HPI
Seat: 12K (Business Class)

I was welcomed onboard by the flight crew, and pointed to my seat, 12K.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Cabin and Seat

Cathay Pacific’s A321neos feature fixed-shell recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration. There are 12 seats laid across three rows.

a row of seats in an airplane  a seat and a screen in an airplane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Cabin

These are an updated version of Cathay Pacific’s older regional business class product, which you’ll otherwise find on the airline’s regional A330s and 777s. Gone is any hint of Cathay Pacific’s signature sea green, instead replaced by a similar beige hue you’ll find in Cathay Pacific’s first class product…minus any colour contrasts or any other pops of colour.

a seat with pillows on the side
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Seats 12H and 12K

There’s a generous amount of legroom in this seat, though it’s definitely a step down from what Cathay Pacific offers in its other regional business class product.

a person's legs in a seat belt
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Legroom

In front of the seat is a bi-fold tray table.

a white rectangular object with a white cover
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Tray Table

In front between seatbacks is a little nook, presumably to store a phone while charging.

a white object with a black text on it
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Little Storage Nook

Along with normal USB charging, USB-C charging is also provided. While my phone recognised the charging ports, the charging was so slow throughout the flight however that I resorted to using my laptop as a power bank. You’ll also find a literature pocket.

a paper in a drawer
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class USB and USB-C Charging

In the way of in-seat storage, there’s a little bit of space under both armrests for a phone or passport, though those aren’t closed storage containers. You’re allowed to store a backpack in this configuration under the seat in front during takeoff and landing, albeit the fact that it isn’t actually “under” the seat due to the seat shell.

A responsive touchscreen TV was in front of the seat, though new to the setup is a smaller screen that cycles through local times in Vietnam and Hong Kong (origin and destination), as well as the remaining flying time.

a screen with a picture of a city
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class TV Screen and Flight Time Display

Nearer to me, on my left was an armrest (which housed the IFE remote), a few basic seat controls, as well as a shared cocktail table.

a seat with a seat cover and buttons
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Seat Controls and Coffee Table

During takeoff and landing, you’ll have to wear a shoulder strap that connects to your seatbelt, similar to what you’d otherwise do on a car.

a man taking a selfie
Strapped into Cathay Pacific’s A321neo business class

The seat features a similar degree of recline to Cathay Pacific’s older regional business class. I’d say there’s probably slightly less space here, since I struggled to find space for my feet with shoes on – this is a problem I didn’t face on a subsequent flight in Cathay Pacific’s older regional business class.

a seat in an airplane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Recline

Perhaps the most obvious upgrade over the current regional business class product is the addition of a privacy divider, which extends a fair bit. In addition, the seat “shells” are also significantly higher than in the older product. Compared to the older regional business class product, this is definitely a seat designed with a higher degree of privacy in mind, though there’s still zero head privacy if you’re seated in an aisle seat.

a white cabinet on a table
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Privacy Divider

Each seat also features an air nozzle, which was handy, as I used it to try and keep myself awake. By the privacy divider you’ll also find a reading light.

These seats either fly ultra-shorthaul routes, or really low-yield routes where there’s barely any competition. I’d consider this seat an improvement over the current regional business class product, especially for a work setup, due to the increased privacy. You’re also guaranteed WiFi on these planes (unless it’s broken).

However, don’t expect a particularly lavish or comfortable product – this certainly isn’t Singapore Airlines or Korean Air, who are introducing fully flat beds in business class on their regional planes.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Economy Class

While Cathay Pacific introduced an all-new regional business class product on these planes, their economy class seats feel awfully similar to what the airline offers on their A350-1000s. That’s a good thing, since those seats are stellar; however, expect just 30″ of seat pitch here, as opposed to 32″ on the larger A350s. Unlike the drab business class cabin, I also quite like the finishes in economy class, especially the hints of red.

a row of seats in an airplane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Economy Class

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Amenities

I remember in the past when Cathay Pacific would give out inferior pillows and headphones in regional business class, and I’m so glad that’s no longer the case.

By my seat I found a proper pair of noise cancelling headphones. These aren’t my absolute favourites, though they’re good.

a black headphones in a plastic bag
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Headphones

Also waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket, both provided by Bamford. The pillow was squashy and supportive, same as what would otherwise be provided in their longhaul business class. The blanket was a day blanket, though worked well enough for flights of this length, especially in a seat that wouldn’t lie flat.

a pillow on a chair
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Pillow and Blanket

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Pre-Departure Service

Waiting at my seat was a menu – it’s nice that Cathay Pacific offers menus on flights this short.

a white paper on a gray surface
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Menu

Since this was a narrowbody aircraft, I’m surprised there was any pre-departure service at all, given everyone naturally boards through the business class cabin to get to their seat.

10 minutes after boarding I was given a hot towel.

a white towel on a brown surface
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Hot Towel

The crew subsequently came round offering drinks. They’d ran out of everything except champagne, so…

a hand holding a glass of champagne
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Champagne

I was joined by a lady (she kept her headphones on throughout the flight, so we didn’t speak). A flight attendant came round to welcome us and addressed us by name, introduced herself, and wished that we’d have a great flight.

Takeoff from Hanoi Airport

At 7:35 PM captain Matthew came onto the PA and welcomed us onboard, stating our flight time of 1h 39m. He apologised due to the delay due to our late inbound aircraft, mentioned that it was normal to run into some thunderstorm activity on this route, and to expect some chop. He also expressed that we were second or third in line for takeoff, which would take about 10-15 minutes, and he’d promise he’d make up for lost time in the air.

It was a completely full flight in business class (I believe economy was full too), and the demographic mostly consisted of young to middle-aged couples that had just gone for vacation in Hanoi.

Our taxi took a while, and we weren’t airborne until 8:20 PM local time, taking off from runway 25L. Unfortunately it was dark outside, so I couldn’t get particularly good photos of our taxi or takeoff.

a city lights at night
Takeoff from Hanoi Airport

After takeoff one announcement was made in exclusively Vietnamese, with no Chinese or English translation (I would tell you what it was about, but I can’t…)

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Entertainment System

Before takeoff I had the chance to briefly check out Cathay Pacific’s entertainment system. Cathay Pacific’s A321neos feature a 15.6″ screen in business class, and the touchscreen function is really responsive.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neos feature the same entertainment that their newest A350s do – there’s a stellar mix of movies, as well as entire seasons’ worth of TV shows. While I didn’t try this out, you can also pair your own Bluetooth device to the entertainment system, which is a first for Cathay Pacific.

a screen with a video game on it a screen shot of a device a screen shot of a device a screen shot of a device a screen shot of a device
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Entertainment System

The system also features an interactive flight map, though the A321neo doesn’t feature a tail camera.

a screen shot of a screen
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Airshow

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class

All of Cathay Pacific’s A321neos offer WiFi, and it’s charged by time, with no data caps. On my flight, WiFi was charged as follows:

  • 1 hour pass for US$9.95 (~HK$78/£7.7)
  • Full flight pass for US$12.95 (~HK$101/£10)

Since the flight was just over an hour long, I figured I’d save US$3 and get a 1 hour pass. Weirdly the plan said it was completed after just over half an hour, which I’ll look into. WiFi on this flight was also quite patchy (not unusable, though there were definitely significant patches where it was unavailable), though that’s probably more of a function of the route than of Cathay Pacific’s WiFi quality, especially given how much of the flight was over Mainland China. I’ve definitely had much better experiences with Cathay Pacific’s WiFi in the past.

I do think US$10 for an hour-long pass seems steep for me, especially given how patchy the WiFi service was. Either way, I’m glad WiFi is available on Cathay Pacific’s A321neos, and would find it handy on daytime flights.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Meal Service

The seatbelt sign was kept on for a bit longer than usual, as we cruised at 21,000 feet for a while before climbing to a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet. We hit cruising altitude just under a half hour after wheels up, and it was at this point where the dinner service sprang to action in the business class cabin.

Here’s the food menu available for our flight:

a menu of a restaurant
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Menu

Meanwhile a full beverage selection is available on this 90-minute flight, and read as follows (while I didn’t order one, I’d be led to believe that this aircraft probably doesn’t have a cappuccino machine, though everything else is available):

a menu with text on it a menu of drinks on a table a menu with red stitching
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Drinks Menu

At some point when we were airborne, I was asked for my meal order and what I’d like to drink. I ordered the grouper with a Cathay Delight, which was delivered to me on a single tray along with some sliced fruit and dessert.

The grouper was absolutely divine – it was cooked to perfection, and the sauce and vegetables were amazing. There was also something really homely about eating a bowl of rice with some saucy sautéed fish after a long day of flying. I also really enjoyed the black forest cake.

a tray of food on a plane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Meal – Sautéed Grouper with Five Spice Sauce

I’ve definitely said this before, but Cathay Pacific also has a strong drinks selection in business class – they have a large selection of cocktails, good wines, and two signature drinks, including the delicious Cathay Delight that I ordered. For champagne, they were pouring Thiénot Brut in business class on this flight, which was unremarkable but certainly not bad.

I will note that the table in this seat feels quite low for eating – I’m not sure if it was because I was eating a rice dish with chopsticks, or if the table felt lower than at most other business class seats. I’d probably call it a combination of both – I felt like I had to lean quite far down in order to enjoy my meal.

a person sitting in a chair with food on the table
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Low Tray Table

We were offered tea and coffee after the meal, though I declined.

While probably not the most premium meal ever, the meal was so delicious – Cathay Pacific’s dinner catering really does deliver. There even was a dessert wine available on this flight, which I don’t remember having on Cathay Pacific before.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Service

The area of Cathay Pacific’s product that perhaps surprised me the most was service. Now, the crew were courteous, though it’s hard to establish rapport with 12 passengers in a narrowbody business class cabin. They definitely delivered an expected level of personalisation.

I was struck, however, by the fact that service felt more polished than I’d experienced on any shorthaul Cathay Pacific business class flight in the past; we were welcomed and said farewell to by name (reminding me of what I’d just experienced on Qatar Airways), our meal service orders were taken before any food was taken out, there were no trolleys, etc.. All service elements seemed to be a step up over when I’d flown Cathay Pacific shorthaul in the past, which I wasn’t expecting.

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class Lavatory

Shortly after the meal service I went to use the lavatory, which was quite standard for an A321neo.

a toilet and sink in a plane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Lavatory

I spent the rest of the flight getting comfortable in the reclined position and trying to get some shuteye. I struggled, though not necessarily just due to seat comfort (although it didn’t help that I didn’t have a flat bed) – my body clock was also all over the place, I’d had a bit of a nap on my preceding Qatar Airways flight, and it was also daytime in the UK.

Landing into Hong Kong Airport

Just under half an hour before landing into Hong Kong Airport, the captain came onto the PA announcing an approximate arrival time of 10:50 PM. He ended the announcement with “cabin crew, under 30 minutes until landing”.

The cabin was prepared approximately 20 minutes before our estimated arrival time, and we were told to put our seats back upright, and to raise our blinds for anyone who had put them down.

a screen on a plane
Cathay Pacific A321neo Business Class Airshow upon Landing

The inflight service manager on this flight also came back to my seatmate and I, and bid us farewell, wishing that we’d had a great flight.

After flying through Macau, we made a U-turn approach over the water and landed on runway 07L.

a bright light in the sky
Landing into Hong Kong Airport

We parked at gate 20, located in the airport’s North Satellite Concourse, connected to the immigration hall through the airport’s brand new Skybridge. While I’d have loved to savour the views from the new Skybridge, at this point I was quite ready to go home, so just made my way to the immigration hall and took the Airport Express home.

We reached the gate at 11:05 PM, and despite the walk I made it to the Airport Express by 11:30 PM, marking the first time ever I didn’t have to take a COVID-19 test or quarantine upon arrival into Hong Kong since pre-COVID. Those with onward travels were escorted to their departure gates by airport staff, who were at the ready by our arrival gate with signs.

Conclusion: Cathay Pacific’s A321neo Business Class

Cathay Pacific’s A321neo features a decent, but not great business class hard product. I do think that there’s a commendable degree of effort made into seat privacy and storage, which makes this a big step up over the recliner seats most southeast Asian airlines install on their narrowbody aircraft. The seat doesn’t compete with airlines that put fully flat beds on their shorthaul fleet, though I also don’t think they’re trying to – the aircraft is limited to operating short flights and/or low-yield routes, as opposed to some of their other competitors within Asia, who intend to operate their “shorthaul” aircraft on various premium ~6 hour flights.

I’ll probably collect my thoughts separately on whether I’d book a flight on Cathay Pacific’s A321neo when presented with a choice against Cathay Pacific’s older regional business class product, though I’d definitely still go out of my way to fly a longhaul-configured aircraft flying a shorthaul route if I could – the airline’s A350s, A330s and 777s all operate flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo, Osaka, Taipei, and other popular shorthaul destinations, with the carrier’s flagship reverse herringbone seat. Direct aisle access and personal space are still a massive step up over the configuration offered on Cathay Pacific’s A321neo.

The soft product on this flight impressed me – the pillow was great, service was much more polished than I was expecting, the food on this hour-long evening flight was great, and the drinks list is strong, much more so than what some other airlines (such as Lufthansa) offer on longhaul flights. While some social media influencers jump on Cathay Pacific’s return as an opportunity to create clickbait content about the airline’s apparent demise, there’s no denying that there’s still a lot of enjoyment you can squeeze out of a Cathay Pacific business class flight, even on a regionally configured aircraft.

What’s your favourite Cathay Pacific aircraft to fly on?

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