Next up on our trip is a few days in Bhutan. Paro is only international airport in the country, and there are only 2 airlines that fly there, both based there. Due to flight schedules, we booked flights on both carriers, but due to a cancellation (I suspect it was due to low bookings), both flights were on national carrier Drukair.
Quick geography lesson: Bhutan is a landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, surrounded by India and the Tibetan region of China. There is very little flat land anywhere in Bhutan, there are a limited number of pilots qualified to fly into Paro. Somehow, they found enough flat space in a river valley near Paro for an airport. The asphalt runway is 6445 feet long, but approach and departure are an adventure.
After flying to Delhi, and meeting at the Andaz Delhi Aerocity, we flew from Delhi to Bhutan. (I’ll discuss our time in Bhutan in a future post.) Departing, we flew from Paro to Kathmandu to start on our Nepal adventure.
Drukair is a small airline, with 4 planes in their fleet, 2 A319s and 2 ATR-42s. Both of our flights are on 319s. Neither was full, although only on the Delhi leg did we have open middle seats next to us.
Drukair A319 Economy Class, Delhi to Paro
I’m excited for a new airline, to visit Bhutan, but $343 for a sub-2 hour flight is pricey. There is minimal competition, and prices are fixed. I didn’t bother with paying even more for business class. My friend and I both took window seats hoping for views of the snow capped himalayas, but being monsoon season, there were clouds obscuring the views. From Delhi or other places west of Paro, we sat on the left side of the plane.
The flight from Delhi to Paro is 1:50, and a full (and heavy) meal was served. The main meal was served on a tray, and then the option of “chicken or veg” was offered, which is the hot container on the left. The meal consists a large portion of rice with some lentil curry, some chicken curry, a cold chickpea salad, some yogurt, gulab jamun, orange drink, and a bottle of water. I always like spicy food, and on planes it works well. This meal was among the better economy class meals I’ve had in recent memory.
As we were approaching Paro, we finally got below the clouds, and had some views of the Paro valley. The airport is over 7000 feet of elevation, and the runway is pretty short. With all the mountains, there’s not a lot of room to maneuver, so the approach is pretty fun.
Here is a video of an approach into Paro:
Drukair A319 Economy Class Paro to Kathmandu
After our time in Bhutan, the next leg of our journey was to fly to Nepal. We originally booked flights on the other airline serving Paro, a private carrier called Bhutan Airlines, but a few weeks before our flight, I received an email that our flight was cancelled. So they rebooked us on a Drukair flight a few hours later. We chose the earlier flight to have more time on the ground in Kathmandu, but ultimately it worked out fine. Fixed pricing is distance based, so this trip to Kathmandu cost $231.60, for the approximate one hour flight.
Onboard service was similar to the outbound, although the meal for this flight was more of a snack than a full meal. Still, significantly more than was expected or needed. It consisted of a mango drink, a pastry, cheese sandwich and some peanuts. Now seated on the right side of the plane on the westbound flight, cloud cover again prevent much mountain viewing, Everest or anything else.
Note that Drukair offers online check in starting 24 hours before departure, and I had no problem reserving seats at this time for free.
Drukair flies to several destinations in India, as well as Kathmandu, Dhaka, Bangkok and Singapore. They are adding to their fleet, with a new A320neo and an ATR-42 scheduled to arrive in 2019. That will mean 6 planes in the fleet and in 2020, Drukair will add flights to Tokyo and Dubai.
It was odd to fly without worrying about an upgrade, or other things that often concern me during my more typical travels. Other than the high price, it was a nice experience. Warm friendly staff, on time flights, decent food, and overall a pleasant experience.