During the autumn trekking season, from October to November, every flight into and out of Kathmandu can be booked solid, and travellers sometimes have to resort to travelling overland to India to get a flight out of the region. To beat the rush, book well in advance and give yourself plenty of time between the end of your trek and your international flight home. If you are booking a flight in Kathmandu, book at the start of your trip, not at the end.
If you are connecting through Delhi on two separate tickets, you will likely need to collect your luggage and check in separately for the connecting flight, for which you will need to have arranged a transit or tourist visa in advance. Sometimes an airline representative can collect and check in the bags on your behalf, but you should check this. Some airlines have refused to fly passengers to Delhi to connect with other flights if they don’t have an Indian visa.
Nepal has one international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport, just east of Kathmandu. There are few direct long-distance flights to Nepal – getting here from Europe, the Americas or Australasia will almost always involve a stop in the Middle East or Asia.
In 2014 Tribhuvan was voted the third worst airport in the world. This is actually more than a little unfair as there are lots of worse international airports but they're just not ones visited by many international tourists. A new international airport is under construction in Pokhara and due to open in July 2020. Work is also under way to transform Bhairawa airport into an international airport by 2019. An even larger airport, capable of handling the A380, is planned for Hetauda. All three of these projects have experienced significant delays.
Facilities at Tribhuvan are limited – there are foreign-exchange booths before and after immigration, and there is a dusty tourist information counter by the terminal exit. Fill out the forms for your visa on arrival before you go to the immigration counter, as queues can be long here. A small stand provides instant passport photos, but bring some from home to be safe.
On departure, all baggage must go through the X-ray machine as you enter the terminal. Make sure that customs officials stamp all the baggage labels for your carry-on luggage. There are a couple of cafes in departures once you pass through security.
Because Nepal does not lie on any major transit routes, flights to Kathmandu are expensive, particularly during the peak trekking season (October to November). Budget travellers fly to India first, and then pick up a cheap transfer to Kathmandu, though this incurs its own visa hassles and the added expense often adds up to the same as the flight price difference.
Nepal’s flagship carrier Nepal Airlines is a shoestring operation; amazingly, you cannot even book through its website. Delays and cancellations are common: Hong Kong–Kathmandu passengers were delayed for two full days in 2011 when a rogue mouse was spotted on board, and in 2007, after a fault with one of their planes, two goats were sacrificed in order to appease Akash Bhairav, the Hindu god of safety and protection. Goats or not, the airline has had a number of serious incidents and is, like all Nepalese airlines, banned from EU airspace. There are flights to Delhi, Dubai, Doha, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai and Bangalore.
A number of other airlines serve Nepal from abroad, although this list changes frequently:
Air Arabia (www.airarabia.com) Serves the Gulf states and Russia.
Air Asia (www.airasia.com) Budget flights throughout Asia via Kuala Lumpur.
Air China (www.airchina.com) Daily routes to Lhasa, Chengdu and around China.
Air India (www.airindia.in) Serves the subcontinent, including Kolkata and Delhi.
Bhutan Airlines (www.bhutanairlines.bt) Serves Paro several times daily.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines (www.biman-airlines.com) Daily flights to Dhaka.
Cathay Dragon (www.cathaypacific.com) Four to five flights to Beijing per week.
China Eastern Airlines (en.ceair.com) Serves Lhasa, Kunming and Shanghai.
China Southern Airlines (www.flychinasouthern.com) Serves Guangzhou and Lhasa.
Drukair (www.drukair.com.bt) Serves Paro daily.
Etihad Airways (www.etihad.com) Daily connections via Abu Dhabi to the rest of the world.
Fly Dubai (www.flydubai.com) Several flights per day.
Himalaya Airlines (www.himalaya-airlines.com) Reaches the Gulf and Malaysia.
IndiGo (www.goindigo.in) The budget choice for Delhi.
Jet Airways (www.jetairways.com). Daily connections to Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Malaysia Airlines (www.malaysiaairlines.com) For Kuala Lumpur.
Malindo Air (www.malindoair.com) For Kuala Lumpur.
Oman Air (www.omanair.com) For Muscat.
Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) Daily connections through Doha, with excellent onward flights to the USA and Europe.
Sichuan Airlines (www.sichuanair.com) For Chengdu and Lhasa.
Thai Airways (www.thaiairways.com) Provides the most popular Southeast Asian route to Nepal via Bangkok.
Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com) Daily connections via Istanbul.
The departure tax for flights out of Tribhuvan International Airport is included in the ticket price.