If hiking up to base camp isn’t your idea of a good time (and I don’t blame you), you can opt for a scenic flight to Everest. Flights depart daily from Kathmandu domestic airport and last about an hour.
I was excited to do this flight because I didn’t have two extra weeks to hike to base camp, and truth be told Mr. T wasn’t keen on the idea of me hiking alone with a random sherpa guide/porter. So, I signed up for the next best thing – a flight to Everest. I actually hoped to fly to base camp, but I was informed by my guide that there is no airport in base camp because there’s no landing strip – doh. Seems so obvious, but I had to ask! 😉
The morning of my flight, I woke up at 4am so that I could get to the airport in time for my 6:30am flight. The airport was busy already with tourists all going on these flights but luckily, getting through the airport was a breeze. First, you pay a departure tax of 200 rupees (approx. $2-$3USD) then check in at the counter and pick up your boarding pass. Once you get the boarding pass, you walk through security (it’s actually the second security check of the day since you have to walk through one just to enter the airport) – women proceed on the left and men on the ride side of the belt. It worked out great for me because 90% of the people there were men so I didn’t even have to queue up! A quick note about the security at the airport: Despite having to walk through two security checks, I’m not sure how “secure” the check actually is. I didn’t have to take off shoes, I carried my cell phone on me, I beeped as walked through, and yet, they just waved me through. No body check, no hand scanner, nada.
When it was time for my flight, I walked through the gate and boarded a shuttle to get to my aircraft.
I flew Buddha Air which is supposed to be one of the best options out there, but honestly, there was nothing fancy about the plane. It sat about 15-19 people so it’s a small aircraft.
Inside it wasn’t newer or roomier than your standard plane. It is, however, configured so that everyone has a window seat.
I was immediately disappointed because this Buddha Air flight had windows above the wing, and of course, I got a seat right on the wing. Other Buddha Air flights to Everest had wings above the windows – I imagine the view would have been much better if I had one of those planes instead!
Once we took off, the flight attendant handed out a sheet that shows you what mountains you’re looking at and within a few minutes, we were already soaring above the pollution, smog, and clouds that blanket Kathmandu.
The left side of the plane gets to see the Himalayas first so everyone was busy taking photos. Meanwhile, the flight attendant invited each of us on the right to the captain’s cabin to take pictures out the front. This is a cool idea, but we had less than a minute each in the cabin to take photos before she’d tap us to hurry along back to our seat. Once the right half of the plane made it to the captain’s cabin, the left side went. Then the right side went again. After I went twice, the plane finally turned around and it was the right side’s turn to see the Himalayas.
Because the wing was in the way, it was hard to get many photos. Also, since we were moving so fast, I didn’t have time to refer to the paper guide the flight attendant had given me earlier so besides pinpointing Everest, I didn’t know what the other mountains were! The attendant, however, would come to each of us and point out some mountains, but it was hard for me to understand what she was saying so I resorted to nodding my head so that she’d move to the next passenger allowing me to return to admiring the Himalayas.
During our decent, the attendant walked up the aisle trying to sell souvenir t-shirts for about $10 or $20 (can’t recall the exact price). They were cheesy shirts that said, “I didn’t climb Everest but touched it with my heart” (gag me, haha). I tried to snap a pic while the attendant was making her way down the aisle but she saw me click a photo and told me “no photos” – too late! Muahahahaha! 😛
As we deplaned, we got (again, cheesy) certificates to remember the flight.
Was the flight worth it?
I’ll cut to the chase: I landed and had mixed emotions about the flight. I didn’t care for my seat since it was on the wing, the whole thing felt rushed (especially the captain’s cabin visit), and even the windows on the plane were dirty and scratched so the views were tarnished for me. Also, the flight merely passes the mountains. It doesn’t circle Everest or fly above the mountain range. It also doesn’t fly that closely to the mountains. In fact, I had a view of the Himalayas — albeit from twice as far away — when I arrived into Kathmandu on day 1 so it’s not like you can’t get that view elsewhere. Considering the cost of the flight (I paid $180 through my guide, but you can get the tickets for less by going through the airline yourself or bargaining with the tour companies), I’m not sure it was worth it. That said, the weather hasn’t been the best since I’ve been here and I actually haven’t been able to see the mountains at all from the ground so without this flight, there’s no other indication that I am anywhere near the Himalayas. At this point, it’s water under the bridge, but suffice it to say the experience gets a solid “eh” from me.
If you’re planning on going:
- Get a multiple quotes for the flight cost and bargain if you’re going through a tour agency. My guide obviously overcharged me since my ticket confirmation indicated the ticket was $140 but he charged me $180. You can also buy directly from the airline for cheaper either online or in person. I’ve heard that if you buy it in person at the airport, it could be even cheaper than the airline’s online price; you run the risk, however, that they have no seats left.
- The two major airlines that do this flight are Buddha Air and Yeti Air; Buddha Air has the better reputation.
- It’s not uncommon for flights to be delayed and/or canceled the day of the flight since the weather is unpredictable so make sure you have some slack time in your schedule. If the flight is canceled, you’ll get your money back.
- I can only speak from experience on Buddha Air, but I recommend asking for a seat on the right side of the plane all the way in the back for a few reasons: 1) Seats in the front may be obscured by the wing or the propellers. In fact, all the seats in front of mine were even more obscured than mine was! FYI, I was in row 5. 2) The left side sees the mountains first, however, this is when the plane is still ascending. If you sit on the right, you’ll get to see the mountains after the plane’s reached it’s full cruising altitude which gives you better views. 3) If you’re on a plane with wings above the windows, this won’t matter as much, but since you won’t know what type of plane you get, you hedge your bets by sitting in the back.
- Don’t forget to bring an ID card to the airport! I forgot my passport but I had my drivers license which was just as good.
- If you have one, bring a telephoto lens on the flight. The only way I got pictures that excluded the wings was because I used a telephoto lens. Also, it helps to use the telephoto lens when you’re in the captain’s cabin as well – the mountains are far away!
- Morning flights give you the best chance at seeing the mountains so pick the first morning flight if you don’t mind waking up before dawn.