Here is my Nepal Airlines review for the following October 2010 itinerary:
13 October 2010: RA402 Bangkok (BKK) to Kathmandu (KTM), 1545-1745, Boeing 757, Business Class
18 October 2010: RA401 KTM to BKK, 1025-1445, Boeing 757, Business Class
TICKETING AND FARE
Originally I ticketed economy class outbound and business class on the return. While I was still Stateside my friend in Kathmandu made the reservation and paid – in cash – $753US. This represented a reasonable and worthwhile ~$100 one-way upgrade to business class. For reasons mentioned below, at BKK I decided to upgrade the outbound to business class as well.
Total round-trip business class fare: $870 all-in.
NOTE: I had considered Thai Airways but its slightly more expensive economy class was unavailable on my dates of travel, and its business fare was quite dearer than RA’s.
Within minutes of the booking I received the electronic ticket and confirmation. The electronic confirmationsdid not show any seat assignments despite my explicit request for aisle seats. This would present a problem later.
OUTBOUND RA402 BKK-KTM 13 October 2010 BKK EXPERIENCE
Lengthy, foreboding queues at Nepal Airlines’ two check-in counters at BKK’s “U” section had formed 3 hours before scheduled departure. Some 15 minutes later my line still hadn’t progressed. Rather than wait for the dozen or so parties ahead of me and for other privileges, I decided to upgrade to business class. I paid the quoted 3500 baht (US dollars, Nepali Rupees and credit cards were not accepted), bypassed the check-in line and quickly received my boarding pass from friendly check-in personnel.
Nepal Airlines staff also provided me a complimentary pass to the quite comfortable Louis’ Tavern CIP Lounge, which I visited on the secure side of BKK. The CIP lounges – located both in the C and E terminal areas – offer Internet computers, comfortable lounging, finger snacks, complimentary soft drinks and alcohol, and various periodicals. Although several passengers occupied the C lounge around 2pm, there were only 2 of us in the E lounge around 245-3pm. NOTE: There are no baggage storage areas in these lounges.
Watch this brief slideshow the Nepal Airlines Ground and On-Board Business Class Experience
Upon enquiring, lounge staff advised me that the inbound flight was slightly delayed, but that the original departure time of 1545 had not been changed. So at about 1515, 30 minutes before that scheduled departure time, I made the few-minute walk up and over to Gate E2. There I sat and waited. And waited. Departure time came and passed with the cleaning crew still aboard the aircraft.
I am not inclined to complain about an airline simply because of a late flight, realizing that forces beyond the airline’s control can cause delays, and that all airlines experience delays from time to time. But Nepal Airlines did disappoint me by not making any gate-area announcements, even 25 minutes after the scheduled departure time. I gathered insight by noticing the flight attendants returning to the aircraft, knowing our delay would soon end. In any case, when I later enquired RA informed me that the delay was related to cargo loading.
ON-BOARD BUSINESS CLASS, BKK-KTM – RA402 13 October 2010 1545-1755 (Scheduled)
Once finally aboard (via outdoor steps) my 3500-baht upgrade began to payoff nicely. The 757’s business class seats were wide and comfortable – similar to those on US domestic 757 configurations – with each seat afforded a small, Nepal Airlines logo’d, yellow-orange pillow. Contrasted with the nearly full, cramped “tubular” economy cabin, the 16-seat “Shangri-La”-branded business cabin appeared especially spacious with only me and one other passenger. A single lavatory was located toward the front of the cabin, just prior to the cockpit entrance.
The lack of IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) seemed insignificant, due to the short duration of this 3-hour flight, listening to my iPod, reading the in-flight provided newspaper, and indulging in a generous meal service.
Hot lunch started with appetizers. I opted for a tasty and substantial portion of chicken served on a minced fruit and nut mix, roll and butter, and a fruit tart. Shortly thereafter the main course was served. Options varied from those listed in the menu (Chicken jhalfrezi, Grilled fish with Lemon, or the vegetarian Lauki Sabzi.) I ordered a pleasantly mild-flavored meat with rice and green beans. Strangely, the meal was served quite later in the flight than I’ve experienced on the vast majority of my international flights.
Here is a 4-picture slideshow of the food and menus aboard Nepal Airlines RA402 BKK-KTM, Business Class
The business class flight attendant and I chatted briefly. She was quite proud to hear that her native country was attracting me back for a fourth visit, and happy to hear I’d be joining in the Dashain Festival activities. She also informed me – and I would experience this first-hand upon the return – that business class was not always this wide open. Although the FA was fluent in English, I struggled with her accent.
Due to the late departure and vacant cabin (the other passenger turned out to be an off-duty pilot who spent most of the flight in the cockpit) I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunset from both sides of the cabin, moving between vacant seats to get different, gorgeous perspectives.
Due to the departure delay we arrived about 90 minutes late. We disembarked via an exit between business and economy classes. Fortunately it was not raining outside as deplaning occurred via portable steps down to the tarmac where we proceeded to awaiting shuttle buses.
As the only arriving flight at the time, immigration and customs went fairly quickly despite my getting strangely shuffled between immigration agents. I simplified the procedures by bringing the required Visa photos with me, and presenting the (now-completed) immigration form that RA staff had provided on-board. I paid $25 US for the Visa upon arrival. I didn’t check luggage and thus was able to quickly exit the airport.
RETURN RA401 KTM-BKK 18 OCTOBER 2010 1025-1445KTM EXPERIENCE
Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport is, well, less than luxurious, although it does offer one nice sanctuary that I’d eventually experience.
First of all there is a queue to enter the airport. My clever travel guide, however, escorted me to a queue-less second entrance area. He exchanged a few words with the authorities who quickly verified my credentials and granted me entrance. Once under the roof my belongings were immediately scanned and security patted me down.
Unable to find signs I had to enquire to receive direction to the Nepal Airlines check-in area — a couple of old, stand-alone pedestal-like counters. The waiting line some 2 hours before the flight was rather short, but did not seem to be progressing rapidly. I was directed to jump the queue since I was business class, and after a couple of minutes was handed my boarding pass and a pass to the lounge.
I headed upstairs where I quickly cleared passport control and noticed a long security line. Some 2 hours pre-departure, I opted instead to visit the lounge, a quite welcomed sanctuary located to the right when facing the security entrance.
Although the Kathmandu lounge serves several airlines there were few people inside, making for a very spacious atmosphere enhanced further by elevated views of the tarmac and the single, 10,000-foot runway. Staff serves snacks whose samples are displayed in a glassed enclosure. I had some strips of bacon and a canned soft drink. The lounge also offers Internet computers, a separate lounging area for passengers with lengthy connections, reading materials from various airlines, comfortable chairs, and rest rooms.
In contrast to the comfort of the lounge, I later endured a 23-minute wait in the security line. Although there are two lines, they are gender-segregated, lengthening the wait for males.
After clearing security I proceeded to the unpleasant gate area – with its ~300 plastic seats and uncarpeted floor – where passengers await any of several flights of various carriers. As always I encountered a crowded and noisy area with its occasional choruses of coughs sounding more like an infirmary than airport gate. NOTE: I strongly recommend using the rest rooms prior to the gate area, rather than the pungent facilities within.
These ground inconveniences are, of course, not unique to Nepal Airlines.
Boarding included another, albeit quick security inspection before we were allowed to walk, again outside, onto the tarmac and up the stairs into the awaiting 757.
ON-BOARD BUSINESS CLASS, KTM-BKK – RA401 18 OCTOBER 2010 1025-1445
Trusting previous verbal assurances, I had failed to confirm that my boarding pass showed my requested aisle seat. Unfortunately I was assigned bulkhead window seat 1F. Fortunately, despite a full business class, the flight attendant pleasantly accommodated me into aisle seat 3D.
The flight departed appreciably on-time. Time began passing quickly while conversing with a Kathmandu native in my neighboring seat.
The again later-than-expected meal was a substantial, tasty 2-serving affair. Despite the full cabin, the flight attendant provided both efficient and polite service. Upon finishing the meal, I occupied the remainder of the somewhat shorter 2 hour and 50 minutes of this flight with my iPod and some reading, reclining comfortably.
As on the outbound, the flight was pleasant, with announcements made in both Nepali and English. We arrived at BKK routinely and on-time.
I thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of the flight and on-ground aspects of flying Nepal Airlines. I appreciated the richly flavored and quite filling meals. Flight attendants treated me with respect and appreciation, and knew the English language well. Spacious seats, attractive colours and a clean cabin provided a comfortable setting. Granted, RA’s business class added to the comfort, in addition to granting me access to very accommodating ground lounges and expedited service at ticket-counter. The ground experience shared by international airlines at KTM was less than pleasant.
Based upon the airlines’ reasonably priced business class and the overall pleasant atmosphere I would quite likely fly Nepal Airlines when next provided the opportunity.
TIPS AND NOTES
— Business class offered fairly low-cost (3500THB one-way), worthwhile comfort – both in-flight and in Bangkok and Kathmandu airport lounges.
— The departure tax on international flights should be included in the ticketed airfare, precluding the need to pay at a window in the airport, the process for domestic flights.
— Leave plenty of time for check-in and security clearance at Kathmandu Airport. And prepare yourself for a less-than-comfortable experience in the gate area.
— Nepal Airlines was formerly named Royal Nepal Airlines.
— Although KTM airport offers what appear to be favorable currency exchange rates be aware of surcharges noted separately on the currency exchange marquees. Kathmandu (Thamel area) exchange houses offer better deals.