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Old 03-10-10, 12:51 PM   #1
kthomas
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TSA and your boxed bike?

This summer I will be flying to the UK to tour Wales. This is my first time taking my bike on a plane. I am pretty confident I can box it up and it will arrive undamaged. My concern is the TSA inspectors will open the box, pull out the bike and gear, and then not repack it securely. Leaving the bike vulnerable to damage by the luggage handlers.

Has anyone had this problem or have any advice on how to avoid such a situation?

Thanks in advance. Ken
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Old 03-10-10, 12:56 PM   #2
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You should assume that TSA personal will open the box, take things out, and then repack it.

If you have inserted packing material around the forks and the rear dropouts, you should attach it to the bike somehow (tape or zipties) so that it will stay in place when repacked.

I'm sure the people at TSA are experts at getting something to fit inside a suitcase!
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Old 03-10-10, 01:02 PM   #3
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Pack it so that it can be inspected and repacked by someone who doesn't care how hard he has to push down on the lid to make the box close.

If you pack it so it explodes when opened, it's just not going to be put back right.
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Old 03-10-10, 03:12 PM   #4
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Pack a starting pistol in with the bike. You MUST declare this when you check your bag at the counter. A TSA employee will ask you to open the bag, he will inspect it, you can then lock it with a non-TSA approved lock. The bag is very closely monitored from departure to arrival (seems TSA is touchy about missing firearms) and will not be opened by anyone else after the initial inspection.

The downside is you have a firearm that you have to deal with. You could leave it at the bottom of your pannier, or you could toss it, or you could swing by a local college and donate it to the track or swim team.

http://blog.jonudell.net/2007/05/09/...luggage-theft/
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Old 03-10-10, 06:33 PM   #5
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The suggestion I've heard is to either: 1) make the boxed bike extremely easy to pack, or 2) include printed packing instructions inside the bike box. If you include instructions, numbered steps with pictures seems to work better than large amounts of text.
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Old 03-10-10, 08:36 PM   #6
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I have flown with a bike several times. Each time TSA simply looked inside the box without removing the bike. I was permitted to be there during the inspection. After the inspection the TSA agent tapped the box back up, under my direction. They have always been very helpful and cooperative.


Italy was the strangest of all. They took a quick peak inside the box,, they then put it back in my possession and I was instructed to take it to the loading area (not accompanied by anyone).
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Old 03-10-10, 09:48 PM   #7
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I've gotten best results by not boxing the bike at all, just turning the handlebars sideways, lowering the saddle and taking off the pedals and lights. Baggage handlers see a bike and lay it on top of everything, and TSA doesn't have to open it. A big clear plastic bag is the most I've ever used.
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Old 03-10-10, 10:04 PM   #8
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I am not likely to ship my bike by air anytime soon. However, I have taken Amtrak several times from Portland Oregon and return. No hassle about the bike ever!
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Old 03-11-10, 02:45 AM   #9
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I have taken my bike from Denver to Emeryville by Amtrack. They provide a box for $5 and a baggage handling fee of $10. Never any problems. I am going to Italy this summer and purchased a Ritchey Breakaway with Case. Should be easy to pack so TSA can inspect and repack. I am going to remove the tires and tubes and fold them with rubber bands so they can easily inspect everything without taking too much out of the bag. I may or may not be charged for oversized baggage. I will try and pass for AL legal.
If you plan on travelling often with a bike then get couplers and a case.
Build a bike box like a gift box and use straps to hold the box together. That way they will lay the box flat, remove the straps, and open the box so that the entire bike is exposed. That way they won't have to remove and repack the bike in the box with much effort. Just an Idea.
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Old 03-11-10, 03:33 PM   #10
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It's been my experience that they do not take the bike out of the box. But a couple of times they have had trouble re-attaching the exterior straps. I watched them struggle in Portland and offerd to help. The TSA agent told me that I was not allowed into the area and could not touch the box since I had checked it. (Stupid with them standing there.) Later, the same thing happened in Philly. The TSA agent having trouble actually asked me into the searching area to re-attach the straps.

I have also flown with a bike in a large, clear plastic bag. I (and the bike) took three flights to get back to the U.S. from Spain. Only concern was a minor tweek of the rear wheel. I think there is merit to this suggestion because I can see them being less likely to treat an un-boxed bike as "luggage" That's precisely how America West treated my boxed bike in 2002. One handler picked it off the luggage cart and tossed it forward about 5 feet from waist high onto the tarmac.
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Old 03-11-10, 04:46 PM   #11
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I have boxed a bike often, and always leave printed instructions with the box, including politely asking the TSA people to be careful. There's never been a problem. I'm sure those who swear by using no box have had good experiences, but I can't imagine shipping a bicycle worth thousands of dollars that way personally. Of course, if you have a hybrid or mountain bike, it's much more durable and able to hold up under rough handling.

Last edited by Frida1; 03-11-10 at 04:46 PM. Reason: added material
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Old 03-14-10, 12:08 PM   #12
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I boxed mine to Ireland last summer and while they did open and check it, they returned it to proper packed condition. I bagged on the way back, which was a bit more of a pain IMO as it was a bit more of a pita to move around the airport. However in both routes I had no damage. And with aer lingus there are no fees for the bike.
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Old 03-14-10, 01:30 PM   #13
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The following may or may not apply to a boxed bike. Having said that, I have flown many times with a Bike Friday which folds and partially disassembles and then packs into a regular hard plastic suitcase. At one airport that I have used several times, the TSA operation is visible to passengers. Each and every time, they have opened the bicycle suitcase, swabbed it (presumably for explosive residues), run the swab through a testing machine. Then when the swab passes (it always does), they have simply closed the suitcase and sent it on its way. I have watched this same procedure several times and it has never varied.

Personally, I wouldn't be the least bit concerned about TSA handling a regular bike in a box. Enjoy your trip to Wales.
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Old 03-15-10, 07:05 PM   #14
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I've flown from LAX Bradley (International) many times with my bike. They just put it in the ex-ray machine and thats it. Never have opened the box.
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Old 09-16-10, 04:05 PM   #15
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Just returned from Wales

I am now back from my tour of Wales and had no problems with shipping the bike.

I used the top load method (that's what I call it) to pack it. Obtained a bike box from my LBS and (after some disassembling) lowered the bike down into the box. To secure the top flaps down I cut small slits (3) into the each side of the box about 12 inchs down from the top. I then took the straps (with snap buckles on the ends) and pushed them through the slits and brought the ends up over the top, fastening them. This allowed an inspector to open the top of the box and easily look into it.

On arriving in London there was no damage to the box and I was able to open the box and quickly look inside. Everything was fine.

For the return flight I was able to get a box from a LBS in Cardiff and used the same method. Again there was no problems when I arrived in Denver.

All your imput was very helpful. Thanks, Ken
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Old 09-16-10, 04:50 PM   #16
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Curious if you guys put your panniers in the same box, or if you check them separately.
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Old 09-16-10, 08:07 PM   #17
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Curious if you guys put your panniers in the same box, or if you check them separately.
We usually get one of those 18" cube boxes from a Public Storage or whatever they call it place and put the panniers and a few other things in there. Seems some carriers have a 50 pound weight limit per peice of checked baggage, so putting panniers in the bike box might put you over and no sense giving people a chance to look for overweight charges.
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Old 09-16-10, 08:57 PM   #18
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We usually get one of those 18" cube boxes from a Public Storage or whatever they call it place and put the panniers and a few other things in there. Seems some carriers have a 50 pound weight limit per peice of checked baggage, so putting panniers in the bike box might put you over and no sense giving people a chance to look for overweight charges.
Good idea. Also, I assumed that the airlines charged a big fee for bikes. If so, do they still stick to a 50lb limit?
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Old 09-16-10, 09:10 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by kthomas View Post
This summer I will be flying to the UK to tour Wales. This is my first time taking my bike on a plane. I am pretty confident I can box it up and it will arrive undamaged. My concern is the TSA inspectors will open the box, pull out the bike and gear, and then not repack it securely. Leaving the bike vulnerable to damage by the luggage handlers.
Why would they do that when the X-ray machine your bicycle will have to go through is extremely detailed and can identify exactly what you've got in the box?

-- Arrive at the airport early.
-- Check your luggage in.
-- They will send you to the X-ray machine and if you've arrived early enough and they aren't too busy yet, they will let you look at the monitor. If they have any questions, they will ask you.
-- Take the bicycle box wherever they tell you to take it after it has been cleared by X-ray.
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Old 09-16-10, 09:11 PM   #20
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Curious if you guys put your panniers in the same box, or if you check them separately.
It depends.

But one thing you've got to be careful of is weight. Airlines are cracking down on the weight limits of all luggage so you don't want to pack your panniers in your bicycle box if they will make your bicycle overweight.
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Old 09-16-10, 09:18 PM   #21
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It depends.

But one thing you've got to be careful of is weight. Airlines are cracking down on the weight limits of all luggage so you don't want to pack your panniers in your bicycle box if they will make your bicycle overweight.
I did some googling and see that each airline has its own prices. I see they're still flying golf clubs for free, but not bikes. Grr..

Not sure, however, what the price difference is between checking an additional bag or paying an overweight fee for one checked bag.
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Old 09-17-10, 03:14 AM   #22
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I did some googling and see that each airline has its own prices. I see they're still flying golf clubs for free, but not bikes. Grr..

Not sure, however, what the price difference is between checking an additional bag or paying an overweight fee for one checked bag.
Why would you have to check and additional bag?

When I tour, I pack my stuff in two "bags":

1) Bicycle box with bicycle and empty panniers
2) Duffel bag with the stuff that will go into the panniers.

OR

1) Bicycle box with bicycle
2) 2 full panniers, bound together with a cinch strap so that they are 1 bag.

And I take my Carradice and handlebar bag as carry-on.


This site gives some information regarding travelling with your bicycle:
http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/travel/bagregs.htm
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Old 09-17-10, 04:49 AM   #23
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Curious if you guys put your panniers in the same box, or if you check them separately.
I never put stuff other than the bike and racks in the bike box. I figure that the TSA is less likely to actually remove the bike from the box that way and are more likely to just open the top and look in. And yes they do often inspect bike boxes.

The following ways of packing panniers and gear have worked for us:
  1. We bought thrift shop suitcases ($6-7 each) and discarded them at the destination.
  2. We used cardboard boxes, but have had to sign a waiver saying the airline was not responsible for damage (only loss) or else they said they would refuse the boxes.
  3. We packed the panniers and their contents in a canvas duffel bag.

On Amtrak I have just strapped the panniers together in two bundles and taken them as carry on. I would be nervous about that method for checked baggage on a plane though.

Last edited by staehpj1; 09-17-10 at 04:58 AM.
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Old 09-17-10, 04:56 AM   #24
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Good idea. Also, I assumed that the airlines charged a big fee for bikes. If so, do they still stick to a 50lb limit?
Yes on the 50 pound limit or else the bike will either be refused or hit with another large fee. BTW: we found SouthWest to be quite bike friendly. They take the normal two checked bags for free and only charge an additional $50 for the bike (which counts as one of the two checked bags). Since most of the other airlines charge for any checked bag and hit you for a much larger fee for the bike that is a good deal. Note that SW flights often do not show up on expedia and similar sites, so if necessary go directly to the SouthWest site to book.
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Old 09-17-10, 06:45 AM   #25
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We travel with our S&S tandem internationally at least once a year. It's in two boxes. We almost always have one of the TSA's "we inspected it" cards inside at least one case. Never any troubles with things being repacked.

Several years ago we were flying home to Philadelphia from the Munich airport. We were taking apart our tandem outside the departures terminal and packing it up. An airport worker on a smoke break was watching us intently, and asked a few questions. When we went inside, it turns out he was one of the security checkers and basically waved us through,telling us he would make sure everything was ok with the bike. Now that's good luck!
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