Day 16: Lukla to Kathmandu
The Lukla airport has the reputation for being "the most dangerous airport in the world" because of its short runway ending on one side in a cliff and the other the mountain. It is probably "the least on-time airport in the world" and traveled should be much more worried about delays to their travel plans than the technical ability of the pilots or the length of the runway. I think people should be much more concerned with the scheduling of flights delaying their trek plans. This causes trekkers to shorten acclimatization days in order to finish the trek in time for their return flight. Acclimatization days are what make or break your experience.
Since it was the second time we waited nervously for our flight out of Lukla and having our own experience of leaving six hours late and hearing so many more horror stories along the trail, trekmate and I had planned to sit in the waiting area anxiously the whole day. I brought extra snacks. But this time, we were airborne an astonishing 30 minutes after our scheduled departure time!
I'm almost certain that the Sunny Garden lodge where we stayed at in Lukla had a hand in our miraculously timely departure. First, when we arrived in Lukla the first time our porter-guide ordered us to give our flight e-ticket print out to the proprietor of Sunny Garden. He said the owner would help us if we needed to reschedule our flight for any unforseen reason, confirm the flight the day before, and generally be helpful. I would have felt very uncomfortable parting with my ticket except for the fact that I had an extra copy. Second, trekmate had read on a blog vaguely about Sunny Garden having "pull" with flights.
When we got to Lukla the day before, we went in person to the Tara Airlines office to confirm the flight again ourselves. The agents at the office spoken Nepali among themselves as trekmate and I waited on the other side of the counter. Weirdly we heard them say "sunny garden" in their conversation. The rest of the conversation was in Nepali. We didn't tell them that that was where we were staying. In any case, why should it matter??
The next morning who do we see at the check in area peering over the shoulder of the ticket agent? The owner of the Sunny Garden. When I elbowed my way up to the desk and stuck my e-ticket print out to the agent, the owner looked me in the eye, and directed the ticket agent. The ticket agent gave me my boarding pass and ignored the another passenger who had elbowed his way up too.
Trekmate and I were so grateful to get a boarding pass issued and be able to proceed to the waiting area for passengers with boarding passes. As we hurriedly grabbed our bags, trekmate tapped the Sunny Garden owner on the shoulder and said, "thank you."
Flights take off and land in Lukla in batches so the printed departure time doesn't mean anything other than to indicate which batch you are in. We knew that anything around 9 or 10am was the second batch. We were airborne in the second Tara Airlines flight of the next batch. It was a mere 30 minutes after the printed departure time.
The rooms at the Sunny Garden were actually pretty bad considering we were at such low elevation and resources are plentiful. But if I were going to fly out of Lukla again, I'd make sure to stay at the Sunny Garden again too. Just in case it would make any difference.