There are options in getting from Kathmandu to Lukla. The famous plane journey to the world’s most dangerous airport isn’t the only way but we just had to take the adventure of flying into iconic Lukla airport, so we ( I ) faced my fear of heights and small planes and bought those one-way tickets.
It was a ride of a lifetime, a dream come true. It was also pretty scary. In those first few days of our Nepal trip there were two planes lost, both out of Pokhara and my anxiety was running on overdrive.
Options in Getting from Kathmandu to Lukla
- Bus to Jiri (1 905m, 9 hours) and Walk 6-7 days. Jiri is further along from Phaplu, same route plus 2-3 days.
- Bus to Phaplu (2,413m, 13 hours) and Walk 3-4 days. We’ve done this.
- Jeep, private or shared to Phaplu or Jiri. Quicker than the bus, less legroom,more expensive, more dangerous and Walk 3-4 days. We’ve researched and costed this from Phaplu, we picked the bus.
- Fly to Phaplu (2,413m) and Walk 3-4 days. We’ve seen the airport.
- Bus to Shivalaya and Walk 5-6 days. I know nothing about this route, sorry, I found it via Lonely Planet forums, I’m not even sure it’s correct.
- Helicopter to Sangboche (3,700m), just above Namche Bazar (3,500m), only for climbing expeditions really, the airport is below.
- Fly to Lukla (2,860m)
Option 7, fly to Lukla, is by far the easiest, quickest and possibly cheapest way to go when you take into account the extra money you’ll spend while trekking.
On our return from the Everest region, we walked from Lukla to Phaplu and took the 13 hour white-knuckle bus ride to Kathmandu. It’s by no means an easy option and it’s not all down-hill. It was an adventure with highs and lows both real and figurative that will go in another post.
The Flight from Kathmandu to Lukla Airport
Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary airport at 2, 843m, is one of the most dangerous in the world. Some say it’s the most dangerous.
It’s also the most spectacular, I think.
This airport is where most trekkers and climbers start their journey to Everest Base Camp, other treks in the Everest National Park, ( there are plenty of trekking options up there) and to the summit itself.
A short uphill runway slows tiny planes enough to veer sharply right into an airplane car-park. All around are huge mountains. Once the pilot commits to landing there’s no space to manoeuvre so if anything goes wrong he has zero chance of pulling up. It’s land it, or crash it.
I have video of one tiny plane after another taking off and landing, the traffic volume is huge when the weather is clear. I’ll share the video when I can.
Our Lukla Flight Experience
We woke at 4.45am and were in the waiting taxi at 5.15am. We took with us only what we needed for trekking,most of our luggage stayed at our guest house in Kathmandu, free of charge.
We organised the early morning taxi through our guest house, it cost us 750 Rps, $7.50. Regular taxis are normally much cheaper than this in Kathmandu,( 3-500 Rps Aiport to Thamel ) but this was a large jeep.
Kathmandu’s internal airport opens at 6am, our flight, and most others, was scheduled for 7am.
Check in was easy, the queues were short, after all, most of the local planes only seat 14 passengers.
Our bags were weighed, surprisingly, we were not.
Our large backpack ( 17Kg) was taken away from us, checked in to be placed at the back of the plane, our smaller one, (7Kg), I kept.
After minimal security and a light pat-down we made our way through to the departure lounge for an expensive coffee and a Snickers. A lot of meals are replaced by Snickers when you’re trekking in Nepal.
There were seats, but as time wore on they all filled up and then some. There are a few shops and a washroom in the terminal.
Fog lay thick over the Kathmandu runway as we settled in to wait.
It seems that delays are common, even normal on these mountain flights. The planes can’t leave until the runways, both at Kathmandu and Lukla, are somewhat visible through the clouds.
The flight is only 30 minutes long from runway to runway and pilots guide the planes visually, there are mountains to dodge and that short airstrip to spot. Be grateful that they wait.
Once some degree of clarity was reached every pssenger in the departure lounge made their way to runway buses, one per flight. 14 people per plane.
We drove to the far end of the runway, picking our way through waiting aircraft before stopping.
“Is that our plane Mum?”
“I hate you!”
When we reached our Sita airlines twin-engine our driver announced that Kathmandu airport was till closed, so we’d just wait a little longer.
An hour later it was all systems go, the green light was given and every waiting plane had to get out of there while the skies were still clear.
We rushed from the bus to take or seats, buckle up and listen to the safety announcement before taxiing to take our place in the departure queue.
Yes, you read that right, there was a safety announcement, a liveried stewardess comes as standard on these flights. After her chat she hands out sweets and cotton wool for ears before sitting at the back of the plane with the larger bags. I wouldn’t want her job for the world.
Then we were off, soaring and roaring up through the fog and clouds.
We grabbed seats on the left hand side, the side you want for the best mountain views, but with fog, cloud and dirty windows, there was little to see. On a clear day the views must be amazing, we lucked out.
We bumped up and down and blew from side to side. I spent most of my time praying or in the brace position. The children read their Kindles as if it was an every-day bus ride.
In the final minutes of the flight it seemed the pilot is about to fly into a brown, craggy mountain as eagles flew just below us. At the last moment he took a right turn and Lukla’s tiny airport came into view.
The landing was fast and bumpy, but safe.
Within moments we were all off the plane, had grabbed our bags and were ready to go.
It was a flight that will stay with me always, something I’ve always dreamed of doing, but I don’t particularly want to do it again.
Tips on Flying to Lukla
- Don’t buy an open-ended return ticket. If weather is bad and flights are cancelled, you will be at the back of the queue for stand-by seats and could wait days. Get a fixed date or just buy a single. It’s easy to buy a return ticket from Lukla when you are ready.
- Sit on the left for best views.
- Take earplugs for the flight or use the cotton wool provided.
- Be prepared for a delay, take snacks.
- If possible buy the tickets yourself direct with the airline eg. Tara, Yeti, Sita. Kathmandu agents will over-charge you.
- Children’s tickets ARE less expensive than adults. The agent charged us full-price. (Trekking permits are also free for under 10s, the agent robbed us on these too, they cost 10000 Rps each, $10, not $20)
- Lukla doesn’t have much going for it other than plane watching. Namche is a much nicer place to spend a few days if you’re ahead of schedule. You can walk down from Namche toLukla in one day, but it’s a big day.
- Our tickets cost us $165 each, one way. Booking direct is cheaper.
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Thanks for following our story. There many more posts about travel in Nepal and trekking in the Everest region ( with children, although information applies equally to adults of all ages) to come.
If you need any specific help or advice just leave a comment. Thanks.