While there are several dozen airports in Nepal, only one has the capacity to accept international flights from cross-continental locations. Officially the Tribhuvan International Airport (Airport codes being: IATA - KTM, ICAO - VNKT), Kathmandu Airport is located about six kilometers from the city center, in the Kathmandu Valley. The Nepalese government has already laid out a proposal for a second international airport, to be called Nijgadh International Airport, although construction has not yet been started.
Tribhuvan International Airport
The site of the airport has been an airfield since 1949, and in 1955 it was inaugurated as the main airport for Nepal by King Mahendra. Originally, the runway was just a grass field, which was not concreted until 1957, and it has been renovated and extended several times since it was given its current name in 1964. The first ever jet landing at Tribhuvan was made in 1967, and in 1972 the airport commenced regular jet operations from international locations.
With only two terminals - one for domestic flights and one for international - the airport handles almost three and a half million passengers a year. At present, there are more than thirty international airlines that connect Nepal with the rest of the world, and the site serves as the main hub for domestic flights and several Nepalese airlines.
Tribhuvan was originally known as Gauchaur Airport, after the area of Kathmandu in which it sits. The formal use of the site as an international airport began in 1949, with a visit from the Indian Ambassador on a direct flight from Delhi. Six years later, the then king of Nepal, King Mahendra inaugurated the airport as the official international airport and customs desk of the country. He also renamed the airport to Tribhuvan, in memory of his late father, Tribhuwan Bir Bikram Shah, the former king who had died that same year. In 1967, ten years after the original grass field was covered with a new concrete runway, it was extended to 2,000 meters, and then extended again in 1975 to 3,000 meters, to accommodate the modern airbuses.
Tribhuvan International Airport
The first jet to land at Tribhuvan in 1967 was a Boeing 707, from Lufthansa Airlines in Germany, and local airline, Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation, started their first jet operations service at the airport in 1972, with a new Boeing 727 Airbus. For more than 25 years, Tribhuvan served as the international link from Nepal to Vienna, with several Austrian Airlines flights arriving each day. However, this was discontinued in May 2007, severing Nepal’s only direct connection to Europe. However, in 2013, that link was re-established after Turkish Airlines launched direct flights to Nepal from Istanbul.
Facilities and Access
Despite being an international airport accredited by the IATA, Tribhuvan has only one runway and no instrumental landing system in place. There are two public terminals - one for international traffic and one for domestic traffic - and there is a separate terminal for VIP visitors. The airport has two lounges for first and business class passengers, run by the Radisson Hotel Kathmandu and Thai Airways International. There are also a few shops and tea rooms outside the airport terminals, and a few ATMs to withdraw money, although international exchange rates are not favorable from ATMs in Nepal. It is always better to use one of the three foreign exchange desks in the arrivals terminal, although a much better rate can be obtained in Kathmandu itself. The site also has the Nepal Tourism Board information Counter, the Hotel Association of Nepal Counter (where you can book your hotel on arrival), a post office, souvenir shop, medical services, and an internet room (for pay-as-you-use internet terminals).
The Planes in Nepal
Tribhuvan International Airport is located just one kilometer from the famous Pashupatinath Temple, and connects to the different parts of Kathmandu City by city bus service provider, Sajha Yatayat. The nearest hotel is just 200 meters from the terminals, and is a 3-star hotel.
Baggage handling services at the airport are not the best in the world, and it is often a crush to get through the crowds of people gathered around the carousel to get your luggage. Since there is very little security for baggage, it is best to keep expensive and personal items in your hand luggage. You will also find many people with luggage trolleys gathered around the carousel, waiting for incoming passengers who they can convince to get your luggage for you, and convey it to a taxi outside. Unless you insist on handling your own luggage, someone will push in and do it for you, load it on their trolley, and take it to a taxi driver with whom they have a commission agreement. You will then be asked to pay for their services. While there is no set amount, a few dollars is normally sufficient to keep them happy. And since you cannot get Nepalese currency outside the country, foreign bills are going to be all you have, and they will be happily accepted.
Getting to and from Tribhuvan International Airport can be a bit of a struggle, since there are no trains and the buses, which leave the airport from the terminal gate half a kilometer away, are often crowded as they have no set timetable. Taxis or the mini-vans are the only real option, and the mini-vans are normally crammed to above-capacity to allow the driver to make as much as possible.
If you are booked into a hotel in the city, many of them have pre-arranged transport to Kathmandu and the hotel, and are often included in touring and trekking packages. Hotel reps will be waiting outside the doors with signs denoting which hotel they are from. This is a good idea if you are a novice traveler to Nepal.
The Taxi in Kathmandu
Pre-paid taxis can be obtained from the service desks of most airlines inside, and the average cost to get to Thamel is around NPR800. Make sure you do not give the driver the receipt until you reach the correct destination, as this is his proof for payment from the service desk. The fare is pre-arranged between the desk and the driver, so if he asks for more money, it is best to say no. Tipping taxi drivers is also not expected in Nepal.
Regular taxis can be found outside the doors at the taxi rank, where local drivers will vie for your trade. it is the easiest way to get to the city, but be prepared to haggle over the price. The average rate to get to Thamel is around NPR400-500, although you can get it cheaper at the airport entrance, where the taxis do not have to pay for the airport entrance fee. Here the rate to Thamel can be as low as NPR250-300. Make sure you agree fully on the price before you ride, as taxis rarely have meters, and the rate can go up a lot if you have not agreed to a definite price that both of you understand. Beware of drivers trying to get extra commission by taking you around to other hotels they have arrangements with. Insist on them taking you to your hotel only.
Airlines and Destinations
Tribhuvan International Airport is used by 34 different airlines, serving 45 international and domestic locations.
The airlines currently in service at Tribhuvan are:
Air Arabia , Air China, Air India, AirAsia , Bhutan Airlines, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, Buddha Air, Cathay Dragon, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Druk Air, Etihad Airways, Flydubai, Himalaya Airlines, IndiGo, Jet Airways, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air, Nepal Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Regent Airways, Saurya Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, SilkAir, Simrik Airlines, Sita Air, Tara Air, Thai Airways, Tibet Airlines, Turkish Airlines, US-Bangla Airlines, and Yeti Airlines.
The domestic and international airports served by the listed airlines are:
Bangalore, Bangkok–Suvarnabhumi, Bhadrapur, Abu Dhabi, Bharatpur, Bhojpur, Biratnagar, Chaurjahari, Chengdu, Dammam, Dang, Delhi, Dhaka, Dhangadhi, Doha, Dubai-Al Maktoum, Dubai–International, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Istanbul–Atatürk, Janakpur, Jomsom, Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Lamidanda, Lhasa, Lukla, Mumbai, Muscat, Nepalgunj, Paro, Phaplu, Pokhara, Ramechhap, Rumjatar, Seoul–Incheon, Sharjah, Siddharthanagar, Simara, Singapore, Thimphu/Paro, Tumlingtar, Varanasi, and Xi'an.
>> Check the details about flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu
Tips and Hints:
Fill out your arrival papers on the plane once they are handed out, although it is likely that the officials will not even read it. There are automated passport scanners in the airport, but if it is a busy time, the counters are often faster. Dollars is the best currency for paying the airport fees at the counters, as they are well recognized. If you are getting your visa on arrival, make sure you get the right counter - there are several, some for 15/30 days and others for 90 days - or you will have to queue again when you get to the counter and it is the wrong one. Make sure you hand over all receipts and your passport before you tell them which visa you want. Procedures at Tribhuvan can change at the drop of a hat, so be prepared for some surprises, even if you have been there before.
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