Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Austin, Texas, USA
Bikes: Trek 520, Lightfoot Ranger, Trek 4500
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I have generally flown more than 30 times and generally used one of two methods:
-- Big box (most common); remove pedals, remove seat, turn/remove handle bars. Leave racks, wheels on. Sometimes they'll ask to deflate tires and sometimes I'll do this.
-- Small box (less common); remove pedals, seat, wheels, racks, rear derailer (tape to chainstay). Brace the fork/rear dropout (e.g. with old hub).
On one or two occasions I've also flown with a plastic bag or without any box at all.
If you have your bike in a box, you can assume it will be loaded onto a luggage cart and then have other luggage stacked on top of it. If it flies in a plastic bag, more likely they see it as a bike.
The boxes I've used, particularly the large ones frequently get ripped when they carry from the handle holes. If you slip anything else into the box, use tape/string to attach it to the frame. Also take care with lights or other things that easily pop off.
In those 30+ times flying, I've had an aluminum frame dinged twice and otherwise no damage or loss. Sometimes I wait a while before the bike finally comes. On one occasion it missed the connection in Frankfort and came on the next flight.