Perched precariously on the edge of a mountain cliff side, I recently flew from the World’s most dangerous airport and survived to tell the tale. Phew!
Despite the short flight time of just 40 minutes from Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, to reach the modest mountain dwelling of Lukla – this is not your average plane journey. Lukla airport has the hefty reputation of being the world’s most dangerous airport!
There isn’t any luxury service on board the 18 seater plane
You cannot pinpoint one particular reason why it has earned this fearsome title. It is a combination of many small things from the changeable weather conditions to the airport set up. All factors combined it strikes fear into even the toughest of travellers.
The town of Lukla is the starting point to many spectacular hikes and adventures in the region including the Mount Everest Base camp and the Annapurna circuit, this tiny little mountain hub is almost essential for all visitors during the Nepalese trekking seasons.
Nestled into the mountain side at almost 9,500 feet above sea level, it’s not your typical runway.
Built back in the 1960’s by the famous mountaineer and Everest legend, Sir Edmund Hillary, there isn’t much wiggle room for error with a runway measuring just 1,729 feet long. Barely enough length for a plane to gain elevation, it also helps that the runway is built on a downward slope; this means that your plane starts the engine and you almost swoop off the edge like a children’s slide.
With 2,000 feet of sheer mountain drop below, it’s sure to get even the bravest of travellers’ stomachs in a vice.
With pilots flying on expert skill without any visual aid, this is definitely not your average airport.
The majority of flights fly between 6am and midday due to more stable weather patterns in the turbulent mountain air. What the tour guides don’t tell you is that flights are almost always fully booked and if you aren’t lucky enough to get a seat on one of the prized morning flights then you can guess that you may have to wait until the following day to fly… or perhaps the day after that as we soon learnt.
Sitting waiting in the airport with no visual screens for information or any direction from the airport ground staff it can be a frustrating wait in this extremely basic airport. Think so basic that the window frames don’t have any glass and there isn’t even a tannoy for information.
Let me give you some advice after we were stuck there for 2 days: Expect to spend at least a few hours here. Bring something warm to wear & sit on – those plastic chairs are cold on your tush which you have already dragged up a mountain and back down! You will need plenty of snacks to keep you going as the only food place sells Pringles. To curb the boredom bring a book, crossword or pass the time by saying your prayers before you swoop off the end of the runway.
Sounds crazy, right?! What if you don’t fancy your chances of flying at the world’s most dangerous airport? You are limited to just two choices.
(1) You can take an 11-hour bus ride from Kathmandu to the town of Jiri and endure the 5-day-up-hill hike to reach Lukla.
(2) Perhaps dig deep in your pockets for a few more hundred dollars to pay for a private helicopter transfer.
The relief of landing safely in Lukla airport after a VERY bumpy ride!
Despite all of this, the novelty and anticipation of flying from Lukla airport is all part of the adventure of visiting the region. Surrounded by dramatic mountains, goats roaming the runway to keep the surrounding grass in order, and the buzz of excited travellers, there is something incredibly endearing about this mountainside wonder.
Stay tuned for the full Everest story coming soon!