Flight Review: Buddha Air's Beechcraft 1900D
A one-way flight to Everest? That's basically what happened when I flew on Buddha Air from Kathmandu, Nepal, to have a look at the world's tallest peak from Buddha Air's Beechcraft 1900D.
I rarely do group tours when I travel, but my friend and I were glad to find one that matched the dates of a cheap fare I'd found from Los Angeles (LAX) to Delhi (DEL) — India was truly mystifying and we didn't have the time to research how to explore the vast country on our own. Even better, the tour started in Kathmandu, Nepal, a place I'd wanted to see for years. After landing in Delhi, we hopped a quick flight to Kathmandu on Air India and joined the tour. I thought this would be the last flight we'd take until we returned home two weeks later, but then an intriguing option presented itself: a tour add-on to fly to Mount Everest. It didn't take much debate to answer this question: Should we take an airplane to fly over Mount Everest? Hell yes.
Though the flight could be booked on our own, in order to go with our tour group (and have the entire plane to ourselves), we had to book the flight through the tour company. We paid our guide $190 in cash — it killed me not to earn points on this one! — and after he ducked into the tour office, we received our confirmation.
On the itinerary e-ticket, I was delighted to see that the airline was named Buddha Air, but nervous to see the flight was showing as one-way! I was assured the aircraft would indeed return to the airport in Kathmandu. The airport codes showed KTM (Kathmandu) to MTN (i.e., "mountain"), which I found both cute and weird, especially since the IATA code MTN is actually assigned to Martin State Airport near Baltimore. I was not looking forward to the 7:00am departure time either, but it was the only time this flight was offered.
The tour company naturally made a profit on the transaction, as the flight cost $140 when we went. The flight (now at 6:30am) can be booked directly with Buddha Air for $192. Be sure to use a travel card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve so you can earn 3x points for your travel purchase.
Check-In and Boarding
After arriving a few days earlier, we were back at Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM), this time in the domestic terminal. Though it was before dawn, like many public areas in Kathmandu, the perimeter was dotted with souvenir peddlers, beggars and monkeys — yes, you read that right.
Security checks took longer and were more thorough than I would have expected for a boomerang flight at a domestic terminal with no luggage — a passport was required and we weren't even leaving the country. Even at such an early hour, the airport was crowded with passengers, with most going on similar sightseeing flights on other carriers.
Fortunately, the airport's food and coffee counters were open, and there was a lively vibe in the air as people anticipated the novel experience we were all about to enjoy. After yet another check of our documents, we were given boarding passes and shortly before 6:30am, we were instructed to line up at the gate. Then we walked a few minutes out to the parked aircraft, a Beechcraft 1900D with twin turboprops. The flight is also offered on larger aircrafts: the 24-passenger ATR 42-320 or the 36-passenger ATR 72-500.
As promised, each person had a guaranteed window seat. With the Beechcraft 1900D's 19 seats arranged in a 1-1 configuration, everyone could enjoy the views. The seats weren't particularly comfortable, but as they say in monster-truck commercials, you pay for the whole seat, but you only need the edge.
Though a lone flight attendant occasionally pointed out the different tall peaks, there was no other service offered on this flight — no snacks, no movies and no Wi-Fi. And yet it was one of the best flights I've ever taken. There was one central amenity to this flight: the view. And even though it's repetitive — think mountains, mountains and more mountains — it never gets dull. Even if you didn't know you were among the highest places on the planet, you'd still feel humbled. The photos just don't do it justice; that view is glorious.
But it gets better. As Everest approaches, each passenger is invited up one at a time to visit the cockpit, where the pilot will point out the tallest peak on the planet. Behold: Mt. Everest from the cockpit:
It is cool to see the mountain from a window on the side of the plane, but it is stunning to see it through the wide-angle windows of the cockpit. For #AvGeeks, it's even better if you still get the giddy thrill of being in an airplane cockpit, which I do. Even though you don't get closer than 20 miles from Mount Everest, it still feels like you're right next to it.
The engine propellers were loud, but the flight was strangely peaceful. There's something about a shared experience of awe that turns the engines into 1,279-horsepower meditative singing bowls.
About 50 minutes after takeoff, we were back at the airport. As if the experience wasn't unforgettable enough, this is probably one of the only passenger flights in the world that ends with a certificate of accomplishment.
There are a few experiences you get to have as a traveler where you realize what a privilege it is to see the world. This was one of them. It was also a great reminder of the wonders of flying. As the stress of security screenings, crowded flights and cramped seats only gets worse each year, it's easy to forget a basic fact: Flying is fun. And when you get this kind of perspective on the highest possible vantage point on Earth, flying can still be thrilling.
Have you taken an Everest flight? Were you as touched as I was? Tell us about your experience, below.
All images by the author.