Everest Base Camp Trek Day 12: fly out from Lukla Airport, the wildest plane ride in the world

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ March 9th, 2012. Updated on February 20th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » How to guides ... » Nepal.
Cockpit of the Lukla to Katmandu Airplane

It is one of the wildest flights you will ever take – Lukla to Kathmandu

Lukla Airport and how to fly out

It’s a bevy of frenzy even if you arrive at Lukla airport well before the first flight. Usually an hour after day break.

Be prepared for cramped conditions at the airport, no signs and a mass of people queuing for unknown things.

Everyone from summit climbers, scientific expeditions, expensive tours, base camp trekkers, locals, to the odd goat are all on the same level at this airport. Everyone wants to get out!

Best practice to ensure a ticket from Lukla Airport

1 ) Book well in advance. As in, before you start your trek from Lukla.

2 ) Don’t specify a return date! You don’t have to (yet).

3 ) While on the return leg of your trek call your booking agent in Lukla (or wherever you booked your return ticket)  from Namchee, or closer, a day before you want to leave. If you’ve been reading from the start of the Everest Base Camp trek, you’ll have noticed I mentioned making friends with a booking agent before leaving Lukla on the trek!

4 ) Arrive early, and don’t panic at the crowds.

5 ) There’s a row of stands with airline stalls in the main terminal area, go there and try to locate your airline. If you can’t see it ask an empty desk, the name may have changed. (fun eh!)

View from Lukla airplane window

Remember on the way back to sit on the right hand side to see the mountains. Unfortunately you might end up by a window covered in mucus like this one. (click on the photograph to see)

6 ) If the desk is empty, wait. They usually don’t open until it’s close to take off time.

7 ) Get your bags weighed, and put your knives and sharp stuff inside them, check them in. Keep your valuables on your body.

8 ) Keep a note of the locals who’ve just checked in. Stand near them and don’t move away.

9 ) Wait.

10 ) Upon seeing the locals run like crazy you might have heard a little voice mutter something about your flight number. Don’t panic, but follow them through to security.

11 ) Security here is a strange affair of men to the right, women to the left. Unless everything is running very late. In which case gender goes to bits.

12 ) If bored the security people will annoy you with stupid things like “why are you carrying a bottle of water?” Meanwhile next to you five locals pull a gallon drum through. If your guide is there, ask him to step in and translate. (in other words your guide should be politely telling the security person that you will not be parting with your water bottle nor any money to get it through)

13 ) Security dealt with you can now walk into the waiting area to … wait. Maybe for 10 minutes, maybe 2 hours. This is where your own water comes in handy as all you can find inside are overpriced cups of tea.

(regular readers might find the end of the video amusing. I climbed a wall to take this video,  Narayan starts shouting at me as our own plane has just been called for boarding. Finally I jump down from the wall!  RSS/Email subscribers click here to view)

How to get on a plane at Lukla Airport

1 ) As above, wait for someone to whisper the plane number and then rush out the door in a mad crush. Follow the soldiers directions around the edge of the airfield to avoid various bits of propeller running into you.

2 ) At some stage someone will ask for your ticket as you all hurdle towards a plane, let them look at it. Wrong plane? No problem, just go back. Right plane, continue pushing to the front like the old Nepalese ladies with sharp elbows.

GPS in an Nepalese airplane

Notice the red warning text on the GPS (click to enlarge the photograph) It’s a little blurry due to me being thrown around the cabin a bit.

3 ) If you are nervous about flying don’t look at the plane: the goats being loaded off, nor the heavy bags of rice being thrown in under your seat.  Nor perhaps the maintenance crew trying to get the propeller moving outside.

4 ) If you’d like to get one last look at snow-capped mountains fight for a seat on the right. Beware of monks with big cameras as they are worse than the old ladies for sharp vicious elbow prodding to get these seats. Monks up here also have the additional battle skill of strong body odor.

What is the flight from Lukla to Kathmandu like?

Sit back and relax. Take the boiled sweet and cotton wool the hostess gives you. Put the cotton wool in your ears as you will need it!

As you can hear from the video the noise from the planes two prop engines blew out my microphone. So yes, it’s very loud, and very exciting!

Ignore the cockpit instruments as the cockpit door bangs open and various alarms are set off along with lots of flashing red lights.

Be prepared for even more loudness as the plane maneuvers into take off position. Then join in the occasional gasp for air as the plane roars to a scream and blasts forward along one of the world’s shortest runways over a cliff.

Looking out the window is advised only if you have no fear. Four seconds later and the ground falls out under you and the little plane groans like a wooden box under the strain.

And, everyone shouts in joy at making it over “the edge”.

You are airborne, well done for not wetting yourself. Now enjoy the view!

(the video is taken inside the plane looking into the cockpit. The sound is terrible as the sheer volume of the engines broke my microphone! RSS/Email subscribers click here to view)

What to expect when you arrive at Kathmandu domestic airport

The plane lands on the runway, and you get off right there. It’s cold and windy. A mini bus “should” be waiting for you. Get on, and get off when everyone else does.

Then wait for your bags to arrive. Again, 10 minutes to 1 hour is normal. And, keep an eye out all the time. There’s no luggage checking here. Just lots of pushing.

How to get a taxi from Kathmandu airport to Kathmandu city

There are prepaid taxi’s available and a stand to buy said ticket. It’s more expensive here than bargaining for one by about 25 – 50%. That said it’s still under USD$10.

If you are on a budget, or like bargaining, avoid all plea’s to take a pre paid taxi or even a parking lot taxi. Just keep walking towards the exit until the last two taxi men are left hanging on. Then start the bargaining process. Fix a price before you get in.

Okay you made it to your hotel, now what?

Hope they have hot water. If they don’t, ask them to boil some for you. Trust me, you smell bad right now.

Enjoy the wash and go out to celebrate your great trek with a well deserved big slap up meal!!

Small notes:

  • Prices, and the heavy crowds mentioned above change depending on seasons, fuel prices, and other unknown elements that make Nepal such a unique and great place.
  • Please remember to back up all your great photos. I’ve written an extensive review of online back up solutions.
  • If you’ve only just come across this article, it’s one of a series that covers the entire Everest Base Camp Trek.
  • I’ll have another big trekking article up in a few weeks to help with planning and round things up … stay tuned!

A full index of the Everest Base Camp Trek in Winter: 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series!

Coming soon:

The Holi Festival in Nepal … A festival of color and fun that’s endangered by grouchy tourists and the Nepalese themselves 

The Everest Base Camp Guide:

Planning a trip to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp? For all the details on what to do, when to go, permits need, costs, maps and much more check out my dedicated Guide to Everest Base Camp & if you want something a little different this list of treks in Nepal. You can find even more Nepal guides on the sidebar of my travel guide to Nepal.

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15 Great responses to Everest Base Camp Trek Day 12: fly out from Lukla Airport, the wildest plane ride in the world

  1. hayadeen says:

    it sounds like a scary flight!

    interesting videos, interesting articles, even the way to get out from lukla to kathmandu is interesting..:D
    what not to love about this series. :)

    it’s a wonderful experience, thank u so much for sharing this and congratulation!

  2. Mandy says:

    Your post is hilarious & a bit sarcastic like the sharp elbows, strong body odor, rush out in mad crush, etc. :D

    Missing the EBC part in my life is okay for me but I would love to take that adrenaline rush flight!!

  3. Kristina says:

    I’ve enjoyed the series! This post reminds me of two similar flight experiences I’ve had; flying from Pokhara to Jomsom in 1998 and more recently to Isla Contadora in Panama.
    When we flew into Jomsom, the runway wasn’t paved, just gravel, and the plane fishtailed on landing. Wonder if it’s paved now?
    On Isla Contadora, the runway is super short, like in Lukla and has water at both ends. It’s a little scary to say the least (photo here: http://www.wired2theworld.com/2010/07/29/isla-contadora-panama-day-3/). I took video too, on departure, but it doesn’t do it justice.

    • Yep Jomson is now fully paved. Unfortunately so was KTM international last year. So this year it’s barely functional due to many new holes appearing!

      The usual blame game is ongoing.

      You’ll soon have enough photos to write up something about the most horrific short runways in the world!

  4. Anna's World says:

    Thank you so much for these posts! It’s been like reading an exciting novel. Really enjoyed them. Any more coming up? :)

  5. Michael says:

    Loved the videos. Made my tummy cringe a bit. You well deserve a big slap on the back from Indiana Jones himself.

  6. How awesome is that flight! Also, haha I can perfectly imagine “the additional battle skill of strong body odor”. That’s a very formidable skill, we need advice on how to beat the stinky monks!

  7. Enjoyed the read and the videos too! ;-) Kinda humorous tips, yet still very good to know.

    Wish you got photos of the goats though. I’ve always wanted to ride in an airplane with goats and chickens.

    I think it’s crazy that the strip goes off the cliff. Crazy. Eek, my stomach would def. lurch on that.

  8. Jason says:

    I for one can confirm that this beats any thrill ride you’ll find at an amusement park. Certainly gets the blood pumping that’s for sure.

    It’s been many years since I’ve taken this flight. The Himalayas are a beautiful place, but once its in your head that your heading back, it seems everyone gets a little grumpy whilst trying to fly out.

    Nice video Dave. I know you like your still photography (as do I), but sometimes a short video such as those posted portray the scene so much better than a single image….

  9. James says:


    This was a hilarious read ; I have a friend that works for an NGO in Kathmandu. Every time he comes visiting, he regales me with horror stories about the place. Here’s the funny bit : he actually bought a house in Kathmandu, and is looking to spend the rest of his days on earth there. I love the country charm and overall gorgeous vistas…maybe one day I’ll take a flight to Kathmandu!