Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Nepal Airlines, A Tale of Woe, Pokhara, Nepal, June 2014

Nepal Airlines, a tale of woe, perhaps a blessing in disguise....

A paper ticket handwritten at the airline office, now that's pretty unusual in this modern era of air travel where everything is computerised and tickets are DIY (do it yourself) - except in Nepal!  My intention is to fly to Jomsom and return after a few days of relaxation in crisp mountain air. All smiles at the Nepal Airlines office in Pokhara where the staff are keen to get to work on my request, all 5 of them.

Two prices for seats on planes within Nepal - white skinned tourists have to pay considerably more than folk from Asian nations. This blatant pricing discrimination, down to the government by all accounts, is not limited to air travel either. Having said all that, it's off season and the kind folk here at the airline office hastily apply a discount as I frown at the official tourists price, about $110. Possibly the most expensive flight per passenger mile as it's only a 20 minute hop upto Jomsom. So, at $70 and with a Nepal Airlines paper ticket in hand, all set for a 6am departure on Monday - that's if the weather improves. It's been low clouds and rain for several days now as the rainy season approaches, not uncommon this time of year but hopefully there's is still a week or 2 left before it all turns into a monsoon proper.

300 rupees for the taxi to Pokhara Airport at 4.45am Monday.  Dawn breaks into low clouds and mist rolling off the, lake rising into the hills and obscuring visibility towards the mountains and Jomsom, When a plane crashes in Nepal it's usually down to the pilots loosing their way in clouds and coming to grief on a remote hillside so it's not without trepidation and slight disappointment that today there won't be any of those dramatic mountain views. Actually there won't be any views at all - my ticket is cancelled. The same guy who sold me the ticket has turned up, takes it and gives me back the same cash I used for the purchase on Thursday! He says it's the weather, looks quite flyable to me but of course Jomsom may be socked in!  Oh, I can take a flight with Tara for $40 extra, which actually brings the price back up to the discriminatory tourist fare. So why would I be offered a seat on another plane that appears to be going to Jomsom in spite of the weather? Well, not usually one for conspiracy theories but I suspect some dubious transactions somewhere along the line!

So there you have it - Napal Airlines pulled the plug despite those flights going ahead after all as I stomp away from the airport towards the bus stand and a 10p ride back to lakeside. Mixed emotions abound, it was a cheap flight on a plane not owned by Nepal Airlines, and why is that? The last of their planes they had based at Pokhara crashed a few months ago hence an already bad reputation made worse. I wouldn't have seen much of the mountains anyway, one reason for taking this flight so let's chalk this one up as a blessing in disguise.

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