When planning for an Everest Base Camp (EBC) hike: how to train, what to pack, and how to navigate the trail all come to mind in terms of potential challenges. One thing that may not come to mind is – how to get to the trailhead.
The start of the 12 day Everest Base Camp hike is in Lukla, also known as the most dangerous airport in the world. One of the reasons is the variable weather conditions that frequently close the airport. The chances are very high that your flight may be severely delayed or even cancelled. Here are some tips for planning your Lukla flights as well as what to do during a delay.
1. Plan A Buffer In Your Itinerary
When planning to hike EBC, it is best to plan a few days of buffer at the end of your trip to accommodate for these flight delays. We saw a lot of very stressed travelers at the airport on our flight delay day.
Book the earliest flight in the day. There is typically a 6:00, 6:30am, 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and onwards until noon. We had a 9:30 AM flight and when we arrived to the airport were told we had a 50/50 chance of departure. The ones with tickets for 10,11 and 12 were all told their chances are pretty slim. They wouldn’t check us into the flight as the first four flights of the day were checked but not yet boarded. We booked fairly late and were lucky to even get a 9:30 am ticket, if you plan to go during high season book early!
3. Consider Other Options
If your schedule is tight, you may want to consider other alternatives. First, there is a wide variety of other trails across Nepal that provide stunning Mountain views and challenges without the risky airport. When pressed by panicked tourists for other options I heard the gate agent simply say “Go hike somewhere else,” which makes perfect sense as Nepal is a country rich in amazing hikes. The flights to Pokhara are rarely cancelled – this is the starting point for Annapurna.
There are other options for reaching Lukla. You can take the bus from Kathmandu to Jiri or Shivalaya but this adds seven days to the hike. There are even helicopter charters that go to Lukla. The charters can fly in conditions that the flights can’t. We have heard that if you book early the flights can be as low as $200/person. However at the airport and on a day when most flights are grounded the price sky rockets. We saw panicked hikers (on tight schedules) throwing down $500 or more to get a seat on a helicopter. The baggage weight limit on the flight is 10kg, it is much less on a helicopter so we also saw these people frantically resorting to unloading their gear. (They were so panicked we didn’t have the heart to snap a picture)
4. Enjoy the Delay 😊
While it wasn’t what we planned, we ended up really enjoy our day waiting at the airport. We have the luxury of time and the flight wasn’t going to make or break our trip. We also had the support of a really great trekking agency Sherpa Society Trekking who was super flexible and helpful in setting our expectations. They told us to come prepared with drinks and snacks and that they would support us with any rerouting needed for our trek should the flight get delayed.
We actually had a great day waiting at the airport. We read, played cards, and found different spots in the airport to pass away the time. Many of the other travelers jam packed in the downstairs waiting area or hovered over the check in desks. There is literally nothing the agent can do about the weather conditions so hovering just drains everyone.
Lobby after the “Passengers Departure Gate” Sign: we originally didn’t go through because we didn’t have a boarding pass, but found out later it’s open to all passengers. There is a small shop that sells snacks, drinks, and coffee for 50 rupees (50cents) versus the 400 rupee ($4) coffee in the main lobby
“Secret” Restaraunt and Rooftop Balcony
Once you go into the second lobby there is an inconspicuous door behind the Sheer Air counter and next to the Fishtail Air office. Here is a photo of it:
This is door is critical to a long Lukla delay! At the top of the stairs is the only restaurant in the domestic airport. The menu is pretty basic momos (dumplings) and noodles but certainly better than nothing!
More important than the restaurant is rooftop balcony that is outside a door on the staircase just past the restaurant. From here you can read in the sun, do some yoga, and watch the planes take off, and if you’re lucky like us, spot a monkey picking through the trash!
Finally- don’t forget to Be Kind. As mentioned there were many people in a frenetic state regarding the flight who hovered, hassled, and we even saw one passenger berate the poor gate agent. They probably want the flight to take off more than us jut to get us on our way! We tried to be kind, calm, and understanding each time we checked in. When the flight looked like it wasn’t going to go, the agent I had befriended kindly changed our tickets before everyone else was notified of the cancellation and we got one of the only 7:30 AM flights leaving two days later, others were put on noon flights!
So in travel and in life- always be kind!