Our ultimate guide on domestic flights in Nepal
If you’re interested in trekking in Nepal, you’ve probably heard and read lots about whether you should take domestic flights. It’s delays, cancellations and safety vs. time-saving and stunning views, right? Well, not quite. Read on to get a clear view on what’s what when it comes to domestic flights in Nepal.
Where do most treks in Nepal start?
Kathmandu International Airport is the only international airport in Nepal, at least until Pokhara International Airport opens in the next couple of years.
While some of our bespoke trips like Chisopani and Nagarkot, Helambu and Gosainkunda Lakes treks start within the vicinity of Kathmandu, most popular treks in Nepal head out east or west. The Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit are served by Nepal’s second largest city, Pokhara, while our Everest Base Camp trek begins at Lukla.
While it may seem logical to fly domestically in Nepal, it’s not so black and white.
Can you Fly Instead of Driving?
The simple answer is yes, you can. There are several Nepali airlines that offer internal flights around the clock, often more than 15 per day to places like Pokhara, Lumbini, Bharatpur, Nepalgunj, Manthali (Ramechhap), Phaplu or Jomsom. However, we always usually drive in private vehicles instead of flying unless distances are far-too-far or the nature of the trip calls for it.
Can you fly on a Lost Earth Adventures Trek?
Yes! On any open group tour such as the Everest Base Camp trek that offers it as standard then certainly and on any private expedition we organise for your group, you are also more than welcome. On an open group tour when others are driving you are also welcome to fly, however, if you get delayed then the rest of the group may not chose to wait for you and you will have to pay for all associated costs catching them up. Please be aware that on some trips you may not be able to catch the group up, unless you are happy with doing extra long hiking days or paying for a helicopter.
What are Internal Flights like?
Flying with Nepalese airlines is not like a normal flight from one European city to another. You won’t see Boeings here. They can be rickety and many of our trekkers say they feel unsafe on them. While you would think it saves time, it’s not always the case. The planes are propelled by propellers and they have no modern instruments, meaning they cannot fly in clouds or bad weather.
Why drive in Nepal?
Well, the major issue is safety. All airlines in Nepal are blacklisted by the European Union. Being blacklisted means an airline isn’t allowed to operate within EU space because they either failed to meet regulatory standards expected of them or failed to address potential issues governing bodies previously highlighted, or both.
It’s not just about the overall safety though. Domestic flights in Nepal can be a genuinely baffling experience. It’s not uncommon for any of the following to happen:
- You get to the airport, queue for three hours, board the plane, sit on the plane for two hours before being told to get off the plane – all without any explanation.
- You get to the airport and are told flights are canceled due to bad weather. Because of the unpredictability of the Himalayan weather, there’s no knowing when your flight will be.
- Due to delays and cancellations, your group gets split onto two flights. While the first group’s flight goes ahead, the second is canceled.
- Your bags get lost! This is inconvenient when your trek starts tomorrow and you have no trekking gear.
Kathmandu International Airport isn’t the most organised of airports and passengers are often left without knowing what’s happening.
Why jeopardise your trek?
At Lost Earth Adventures, we know that a successful trek is reliant on things running smoothly. We’d never jeopardise the success of your trek or, more importantly, your safety. After listening for more than ten years to feedback from our trekkers and dealing with every conceivable scenario, driving is the smarter, smoother and all-round better option to give you the best trekking experience.
We would only choose to fly if there is no reasonable alternative.
Kathmandu to Pokhara – Fly or Drive?
The overall process of flying to Pokhara might take upwards of four hours (if it takes off), while driving can take around five hours. Not much difference when considering the stress of airports.
When you factor in a 1-hr 15-mins drive from your hotel to the airport in rush hour, arriving 1.5-hours before the plane takes off, 1-hr 15-mins flying time and 1-hour for collecting bags (that may get lost) and transferring to the hotel in Pokhara, the time is almost the same. It’s true that travelling by road can also be hindered by delays but the vehicle always departs and if there is a breakdown or blockage on the road, we either take a new vehicle or walk around the blockage and find a new vehicle on the other side, in the monsoon season, landslips onto roads can cause this type of issue.
We use private vehicles, usually modern minibusses or Jeeps. These are spacious and comfortable vehicles built for the local terrain. We leave Kathmandu’s frantic streets and traverse winding, serpent-like roads along high ridges and deep valleys.
There are some genuinely beautiful views of the Himalayas and we pass through traditional villages that other trekkers will never see, so you already get a taste of this rich culture before your trek even begins. We also let you choose when and where you want to stop.
What about flying from Kathmandu to Lukla?
Our Everest Base Camp trek begins east of Kathmandu at Lukla. It’s much more common for trekkers to fly here than to Pokhara. Driving takes two days each way.
We do offer the flight to Lukla as part of our Everest Base Camp treks simply due to the distance and customer preference. A charity, the EY Foundation, took part in an expedition with us recently and chose to drive from Kathmandu to the start of the trek and flew the way back. You can read about expedition leader, Nev Shortt’s diverse experience of the two here. As the blog points out, we can run into the same issues as noted above.
If you want a trek that works without issues, maximal safety, organisation, clarity and comfort then choose to drive.
What happens when Pokhara International Airport opens?
Pokhara International Airport is currently under construction. It is expected to open in 2021. As with most things in Nepal this may or may not happen. If it does then we will provide flights from the UK straight there.
What to Do if Flights are Cancelled on a Nepal Trek?
If you are worried that your trek may be jeopardised by flights being delayed then you can usually take a helicopter instead, as they can fly in much worse conditions. When sharing with other trekkers the costs are not unreasonable, it may cost you around an extra £150 per person to fly to Lukla for instance. You will get re-reimbursed for your flight ticket if the airline cancels the flight and we can organise helicopters at very short notice.