Flying from Canada, you can go east or west around the globe. Fares from Vancouver through Asia tend to be slightly cheaper than flights from Toronto via Europe or the Gulf. Jet Airways offers a convenient single-airline route from Toronto through Brussels to Delhi and on to Kathmandu.
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. In May 2015 British Airways recommenced direct London–Kathmandu flights. These are the only direct flights between western Europe and Nepal.
Nepal’s flagship carrier Nepal Airlines is a shoestring operation. Delays and even 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. Following the goats’ demise the plane flew successfully. 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 and Kuala Lumpur.
A number of other airlines serve Nepal (this list is not comprehensive and changes frequently).
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.
There are no direct flights between continental western Europe and Kathmandu. The most direct option is via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, but tight connections in Istanbul can cause problems if your inbound flight is delayed. Other than Turkish Airlines, most people fly via India or a Middle Eastern country.
North America is halfway around the world from Nepal, so you can go east or west around the globe. Flying west involves a change in Asia – Korean Airlines offers good connections through Seoul, but you could also change in Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore. Flying east normally involves a stop in Europe and, quite often, again in the Gulf or in India. Jet Airways has a convenient route from New York with stops in Brussels and Delhi.
With the reintroduction of British Airways flights in 2015 on the London to Kathmandu route you can now, finally, fly direct from western Europe to Kathmandu again. Other easy connections to Kathmandu from London and Dublin are with Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways, changing in the Gulf. All three airlines also fly from Manchester, Edinburgh and other regional UK airports. The fastest connection from London to Kathmandu is with Jet Airways or Indian Airlines, with one smooth change in Delhi. Cheaper Jet connections via Mumbai require an overnight stay.
There are easy connections from Australia and New Zealand through Bangkok, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Seats between Kathmandu and Delhi can be found for less than US$140, especially if you book in advance online. Jet are the best carriers flying the Delhi–Kathmandu route, though budget Indian airlines like IndiGo and SpiceJet offer the cheapest fares. All fly daily. Fares are best booked online, though you may have trouble using a non-Indian credit card on some sites.
Indian Airlines flies from Kathmanda to Delhi, Kolkata and Varanasi. Buddha Air flies to Varanasi.
You can get to Dhaka with Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and to Karachi with Pakistan International Airways (PIA).
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, but progress is very slow so don’t expect to be able to use it anytime soon.
Facilities at the airport 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.
There are plans to transform Bhairawa airport into an international airport by 2017.
The most popular route between Southeast Asia and Kathmandu is the daily Thai Airways flight to/from Bangkok, though Nepal Airlines also covers this connection, as does Jet Airways on a much longer connection via Delhi or Mumbai.
There are also convenient flights to Hong Kong (Dragonair), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia Airlines) and Seoul (Korean Airlines). There are no direct flights to Japan.
For China there are flights to Beijing, Chengdu and Lhasa (Air China), as well as Kunming (China Eastern) and Guangzhou (China Southern Airlines). Flights are insanely priced, costing around US$415 to US$450 to Lhasa, US$350 to US$450 to Chengdu (some flights via Lhasa!) and around US$380 to US$420 to Beijing.
You can only buy tickets to Lhasa as part of a tour-group package. You must also join an organised tour of Bhutan to fly to Paro.