After Everest, How Do Climbers Get Home From Nepal?

8000ers COVID-19
Qatar jet takes off from Kathmandu
File image of a plane taking off from the Kathmandu airport. Photo: Nepal Cheap Fly Ticket

For climbers and the few remaining trekkers, fleeing Nepal these days is far from cheap and easy. The lockdown in response to the latest COVID surge is part of the reason. But not the only one.

Currently, no regularly scheduled planes fly into or out of Nepal. Airlines neither offer flights nor allow ticket changes before the end of June. However, the government has allowed a limited number of charters to repatriate foreigners. Some of these work for NGOs, but most of the stranded are climbers — and many of these have just returned from Everest.

Normally, the way to go would be to call a charter airline, and agree on a price based on the number of seats, and hence the size of plane, required. In Nepal this is not possible. The Civil Aviation Authority approves the charters, and everyone must book their tickets and pay through one of two travel agencies licensed by the Nepali government: Megabyte Travels, which operates flights through Turkish Airlines, and President Travels & Tours, which uses Qatar Airways and links Nepal with Doha.

Climbers usually turn to their embassies and consulates to help secure seats, but these too must be purchased directly from those two charter agencies.

Kathmandu’s streets are empty until at least June 14. Shops only open two hours in the morning to sell basic items. Photo: Xinhua

A seller’s market

Nepal and India keep an open “air bubble” with at least one weekly flight between Kathmandu and Delhi. But that is only an option for residents of the two countries.

These two local agencies sell one-way, new tickets, even for those who had booked previous flights with Qatar or Turkish Airlines. As charters, and without competitors, the price is double to triple the cost of the return trip on a two-way ticket.

After consulting with President Travel and Tours, a South African climber bought a ticket to Johannesburg via Doha for $1,645 (a normal ticket is easily available from $700) in a charter plane from Qatar Airways.

As for their unused tickets on the canceled flights, consumers have to deal with the airlines after they return.

“Out of pure desperation and to get my husband home short of being stuck there for a month, we were forced to incur the cost and book the flight,” Ms. Johnson (not real name), the wife of an Everest summiter currently in Kathmandu, told ExplorersWeb.

“Having to fork out an additional $1,645 at the end of the expedition for something you know to be blatant corruption and taking advantage of climbers who are desperate to get home to their families is like having to pay ransom,” Ms. Johnson said. “It leaves an unfortunate last impression of Nepal and Everest.”

Tickets to Europe cost $1,295 and $1700 to $1,800 to the U.S., an outfitter said. “At the agency, there were no economy tickets available, only business class,” a European climber told ExWeb. “I paid €2,400 [$2,910] for a plane back to France.”

Another Everest climber was offered a black-market seat on a plane leaving the next day for $5,000, his guide told ExplorersWeb.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

A Spanish trekker who escaped Nepal on a Turkish Airlines plane two weeks ago told ExplorersWeb that passengers on the plane were mostly Nepalis working abroad. The protests of nationals needing to work (mainly in the Middle East) made Nepal authorities allow some weekly flights to Turkey and Doha, starting this week, The Kathmandu Post reported.

They distributed the following note among foreigners hoping to leave the country soon. However, the process of purchasing tickets has not changed. At time of publication, fares have not decreased. ExplorersWeb has contacted the travel agencies for further information.

Climbers and expedition outfitters fear that the waiting time may increase after nearly 200 climbers left the mountain in the last few days. Meanwhile, they must remain in their hotels, since COVID numbers are still extremely high in Kathmandu. The town has just extended its lockdown until June 14.

“If required we’ll allow more charter flights,” Raj Kumar Chettri, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), told Reuters.

Everest has forced climbers to use both patience and a significant amount of money. Now, they will have to use more of both. Or, as Marek Holecek waggishly suggested, “walk back home.”

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Don Paul
Don Paul
9 days ago

It’s open season on them. They’re probably unpopular because they’re on expensive mountain climbing vacations while people are dying in front of the hospitals in Kathmandu. It’s the same as their normal bribery mentality. The worse your crime, the more you have to pay the police.

+2
Pawel
Pawel
9 days ago

All of them knows where they are going, so not a big surprise that now flights are cancelled and the tickets on charter are very expensive.

+2
Tal
Tal
9 days ago

I am not surprised Ms Johnson used a pseudonym. Who wouldn’t, when displaying such a sense of entitlement in a Third World country? Pandemic repatriation charter flights were very much more expensive than that last year, for many expatriates stuck in various countries around the world. These flights generally cost more because fewer people are in them, and the plane may have to fly out empty, in order to pick people up. It’s not rocket science! It was the ‘Johnsons’ choice to persevere with an expedition in 2021, fifteen months into a pandemic. If they weren’t financially and mentally prepared… Read more »

MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
7 days ago
Reply to  Tal

Tal explained charter flights and tourist entitlement mindset perfectly. In addition, airlines are businesses (just like Everest expedition operators) and they (and their employees) took a big hit over the last year with shutdowns, cancelled flights and travel down generally. All are losing money, so the last thing they should be doing is subsidizing the return travel of these tourists by one-way charter flights. All the talk about mountaineers being risk-takers? Well they have just learned that risks are not only on the mountain. And recall they were so upbeat when they were still enjoying Everest, and spouting the rationale… Read more »

Last edited 7 days ago by MuddyBoots
Marie
Marie
7 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

On top of that, I think that people that have the means to pay around $ 60,000 for an expedition and $ 11,000 for a permit (not to mention the climbing gear etc.) should not get in great financial trouble when they have to pay an extra $ 2,000. I don’t think there are any more Doug Hansens out there…

+1
Last edited 7 days ago by Marie
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