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  1. #1
    Wookie Fred chewybrian's Avatar
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    Getting a bike to Europe--What the...???

    I've searched the net and the forums, and I'm more confused than ever. What should be expected when trying to get a bike over to France and back, on a flight, or shipping separately? (I want to go to PBP next year)

    I've read horror stories and estimates all over the place, from no charge to a thousand on flights. Some tell of a surprise charge of hundreds at the counter before take-off. I assume some on this forum have made similar trips, and I apologize if you've discussed it.

    Does it make sense to get S + S couplings? (I am planning to get a new frame soon, and the couplers have some appeal outside the PBP trip, though I would not be getting them if not for this trip).

    How large a frame will fit in the S + S box? I need about 64 or 65 cm, and I've read conflicting info on this as well. S + S's site only says it's rare that a bike won't fit. Another site says larger than 62cm likely won't fit. If the bike has the couplers, and fits in the box, does it go free, or low cost on the flight?

    Finally, isn't there any other way to ship a regular or break-apart bike for any reasonable sum, if not on the flight? I got a couple quotes of about $850 r/t. Yet, I can order a new frame from Bob Jackson in England, and they'll ship it to me for $150 one way.

    Thanks in advance if anyone can get me pointed the right way to lock in a fair deal.
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  2. #2
    sniffin' glue zoltani's Avatar
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    I flew to France on Aer Lingus and bike was included as one piece of regular luggage. That was a year and a half ago so maybe their policy has changed. Otherwise you will pay around $100 each way. I have no idea how bikes are shipped here so cheap, trust me I looked. Ebay sellers always seem to ship bike from europe for $100-150, would like to know which company they use.

    BTW, my bike didn't show up the day of the flight, which was actually a blessing in disguise because then they sent it right to my front door, way easier than trying to fit it in a small french car. My wife's wheel was bashed up a bit, spoke broken and a small dent in the rim. Put on a new spoke and the wheel is still fine, even with heavy loads on it.
    Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.

  3. #3
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Read this article about flying with your bicycle: http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/travel/bagregs.htm

    Then do your own personal research on the airlines you might want to fly with. Not all airlines charge an arm and a leg, although US airlines tend to charge more than some others. Don't just check price, check all the regulations pertaining to bicycles. The bicycles section is usually separate from other baggage information.

    After you've chosen your airline, about a week before you fly, check all the regulations again. They may have changed and you may have to leave some items behind to be below the new lower weight limit or whatever.

    The day before you fly, check them all again in case you have to make a last minute adjustment.

    You shouldn't be surprised at the check-in if you check your information ahead of time.

  4. #4
    family on bikes nancy sv's Avatar
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    Another idea is to print out the regulations and take them with you to the airport. Sometimes, the check-in agent isn't aware of what the policy is.
    WE DID IT! Our little family of four cycled 17,300 miles from Alaska to Argentina! The trip of a lifetime for sure. www.familyonbikes.org

  5. #5
    imi
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    Baggage regulations are a swamp. Do your homework, make sure you know EXACTLY what the airline's policy means. Beware of "codesharing".

    Pack, weigh and measure everything in advance. Consider wearing ALL your clothes (yeah, rain gear, helmet... you get the point), maxing hand baggage with soft gear (tent (not poles), sleeping bag etc), buying disposables (toiletries etc) at destination...

    This may leave you with one oversized box with bike, panniers, pad, tools, stove, tent pole and pegs, all under 20 kg or 23 kg and nothing else to check in... but beware, some airlines even stipulate that nothing apart from sporting gear can be put in the oversize box.

    British Airways have a good policy (at the moment)... but once again, beware "codesharing"!

    S&S couplers may or may not help out... I get the feeling that they may actually not give any advantage with many airlines, as the tendency is towards ONE PIECE policies, which may mean you'll be better off with an oversized bicycle box if you keep it under the weight limit.

    Has anyone got a full sized (say 56-58", 700c) touring bike with fenders and two racks into an S&S sized box? Pictures and technique, pleeeez?

    Or go business class

    edit: oh, and maybe send a polite mail to airlines' customer service explaining why you chose to fly (or not to fly) with them. It won't help overnight, but maybe in the long run...
    Last edited by imi; 11-21-10 at 04:27 PM.

  6. #6
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    What Machka, nancy sv and imi said pretty well matches my experience. Research every airline's rules before you buy the ticket, the fees vary greatly and can turn a cheap flight into an expensive one before you know it. And yes, I agree with imi, British Airways seems to have about the most reasonable policies.

    Also, try to get a direct flight or one with as few stops or changes of aircraft as possible. Checking in early helps, too.

  7. #7
    imi
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    times are changing... caught between a rock and a hard place, sorry I mean airports' security and airlines' baggage policies, means that being charmingly persuasive just doesn't work anymore it's a sad hard world - well at check in counters at least...

  8. #8
    Wookie Fred chewybrian's Avatar
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    Thanks for the answers so far. It was about what I expected to see. What I did not see is any comment on shipping separately from the flight. Isn't it possible to lock in a price with some other service? I did try UPS and a "Sports" shipping specialist. Both those quotes came up very high. I don't see how the Ebay shippers, and even the bike builders, can ship it for so much less than I can. Any other options?
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  9. #9
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    I've got a 58 cm S&S coupled frame and I suspect a 64 cm frame would be difficult (but not necessarily impossible) to fit in the S&S case. I have gotten varied responses upon checking it at the airport - most agents seem to think a bike in a case under 62 inches and a full size bike are both subject to the dreaded bike fee. However I have yet to pay more than the 2nd bag fee. I always check with the airline I'm flying to make sure what their policy is and print out their email response and bring it just in case. Both Delta and Air Tran have said if under 62 inches and less than 50 pounds, than it is just another piece of luggage.

    When I did PBP in '99 I flew Air France because at the time they did not charge for bikes on international flights. I suppose that is no longer the case though.

    Whatever you do make sure your bike gets there when you do or before, or arrive a day or two early - there was one rider who ran around at the last minute getting a replacement because his was late.

    Mike in Atlanta

  10. #10
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nancy sv View Post
    Another idea is to print out the regulations and take them with you to the airport. Sometimes, the check-in agent isn't aware of what the policy is.
    And sometime the check-in agent is well aware of what the policy is right at the moment you're checking in, which is something quite different from when you printed the regulations 2 months ago when you booked the flight ... and all that matters is the policy at the moment you're checking in. Argue, and they can lay oversized luggage charges and overweight luggage charges on you.

  11. #11
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrveloman View Post
    When I did PBP in '99 I flew Air France because at the time they did not charge for bikes on international flights. I suppose that is no longer the case though.
    Nope. It's all different now. As of January 2007 everything changed. Read the link I posted in Post #3 - some very valuable information there. But that is just a starting point. Always remember to check and double check with the airline you're going with. It is all online.

  12. #12
    Sore saddle cyclist Shifty's Avatar
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    I looked into this recently, it's a real mixed bag. The cheapest I found (and I did not do a complete search) was Icelandic Air, from North America to Europe was $55 USD each way. The most expensive was Swiss Air at $250 each way. You will also pay a domestic US carrier to get to Airports serviced by Icelandic.
    Those voices in your head aren't real, but they have some great ideas

  13. #13
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    I think it really comes down to the airline you use and to a lesser extent, when and who you check in with. FWIW, I've always had good luck with British Airways and never had to pay for a bike. I also recently flew from the UK to the USA via Ireland on Aer Lingus and wasn't charged any extra for a folding bike in a box (and it could have easily been a full size bike I think, they didn't seem to care as I was first to check in for the flight). Of course, your experience may be different.

    The bad: I've found the baggage policies to be frustratingly vague -as some one else said, definitely print out your selected airline regulations just in case. For example, I've flown BA quite a few times and used cardboard bike boxes (the ones new bikes come in) but the last time I flew they seemed to have changed the rules to state they would only accept a hardshell bike box or a bike bag -no cardboard box. However, I feel sure they would have accepted my bike in a cardboard box -but because I really didn't want the hassle I used a bike bag which really isn't as good at protecting the bike as a box is (and I didn't want to buy an expensive hard shell case).

    I think the bottom line is that when you choose an airline make note of all rules and regs, print them out, as well as making note of when you talk and who you talk with if you confirm any answers with a live person. A word of warning: this won't guarantee you an airline will stick to their web page description, but at least it gives you something to fall back on in case you have trouble. Another thing: be prepared that even if you are in the right with some stated rule, you might experience difficulty due to airline employees not knowing the rules or just not caring. It might be worthwhile to know how you want to handle this unfortunate contingency before hand -e.g. have a (calm!) plan of escalation. In other words, also be prepared for the worst case scenario and the best way to handle it.

    Some things I try to do:
    1. read all rules
    2. pack your bike accordingly (don't have anything that would obviously cause an issue like a handlebar sticking out)
    3. smile and be pleasant to the check in agent. I think it's more likely they'll be nice to you!
    4. I'm not 100% sure on this, but it seems to be a good idea to check in with a bike on the early rather than the late side -you never know if other cyclists or other heavy stuff is on the flight -and if they have to be strict with weight or dimensions, it's more likely to be later than earlier (plus -and again I could be wrong with this -I can't help thinking that once your bike is accepted, they aren't likely to refuse it later).

    I'll bet some other posters have some ideas too.

  14. #14
    imi
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrveloman View Post
    I've got a 58 cm S&S coupled frame
    Racks and fenders? Anything else fit in the box? thanx

    I've never had a problem with a cardboard box from an LBS, though do make sure anything you take off the bike, (pedals, mirror QRs etc) are well packaged in a plastic bag (or two) and taped to the frame. The box will most likely get slightly damaged and small stuff can easily fall out.

    Stay with your bike as long as possible to see it through the security check/X-ray - often at a special "oversized baggage" counter. Nowadays security will most likely open the box (and your bag of bits and pieces) so a roll of packing tape in hand and a pleasant "I'll put that all back together..." may save you losing stuff...

    As to shipping, it seems to be horribly expensive if you're a private customer.
    OTOH I once sent my bike from france to england with the regular postal service, cost about $85...

    Early check in? Yeah, sure can't hurt...

    + 1000 on not losing your cool.
    Know the rules, keep to the rules... the days of airport/airline staff reasonably bending rules as are virtually gone... they even have umbrella terms like "available space" "at our discretion" and "safety and security", which basically mean they can say "no" without any reasonable logic.

    Adhere strictly to their piece, weight and size regulations, and check in efficiently and self confidently - I mean, don't mess around trying to find your booking number or passport while mumbling questions like "is it ok to bring a bike?"

    p.s having a non-pristine passport or being drunk are other ways to f-up your airport experience

    oh and while I'm at it, when booking, make sure you spell your name absolutely correctly - as it is in your passport - failure to do so are grounds for instant and total refusal to board the aircraft.
    Last edited by imi; 11-22-10 at 01:33 AM.

  15. #15
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    One other thing to keep in mind is that if you've got to do some hopping to get where you're going (i.e. United Express to Chicago, then Chicago to Heathrow), the smaller plane could refuse to take your bicycle on the same flight you've booked. I was informed of this little update to the policies when I came to Australia.

    Air Canada had no problem having my bicycle on their plane from Calgary to Vancouver, but they weren't at all sure if it would be allowed on the United Express from Vancouver to LA. I had a fairly tight connection between United Express and Qantas, but if my bicycle missed the flight it was on, and if it went on the next United Express, it would have just made it in time for my flight to Melbourne. Fortunately, it was accepted, but I had a backup plan where relatives in Vancouver would claim the bicycle and ship it for me if it missed the flights.

    So ... if you've got hops, make sure you've got ample time between them so that your bicycle can catch up with you if it is left behind.

    Oh, and also, while you are checking the airline rules, don't forget to check the airport rules. Heathrow threw a wrench into the works for a lot of passengers in 2007 when they implemented a 1 carry-on bag rule for all flights leaving the Heathrow airport, no matter where you came from and where you were going. So Air Canada, for example, allowed passengers to have 2 carry-on bags for the flight into Heathrow, but if we had transfered there and carried on to another part of Europe, we would have had the options of:
    -- putting the 2 carry-on bags together so that they appeared to be one (and fit the size restrictions)
    -- checking one of the carry-on bags for a price of about $175
    -- tossing one of the carry-on bags.

    I knew about the ruling, which did cause some minor packing issues for me on my way back after the PBP, but stood there and watched as women frantically tossed hairspray, makeup etc. etc. so that they didn't have to pay to check an extra bag.

  16. #16
    imi
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Heathrow...
    nuff said... I read a story (here?) about a guy getting detained and questioned for having a fixed blade knife in his CHECKED IN baggage when he was just in TRANSIT through Heathrow!
    He missed his connection and had to buy a new ticket...

    "Offence: It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches."

    Source: http://www.police-information.co.uk/...ndexeng.html#K

  17. #17
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Yep that story was here. He was ranting about it, thinking it terribly unfair that he wasn't allowed to have his knife in his checked luggage, or on him in general.

    I wonder if he ended up on one of the many "Customs" shows on TV these days. Those shows can be somewhat informative, especially if someone is inclined to travel with anything that might raise suspicion.

  18. #18
    Member psmiffy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    nuff said... I read a story (here?) about a guy getting detained and questioned for having a fixed blade knife in his CHECKED IN baggage when he was just in TRANSIT through Heathrow!
    He missed his connection and had to buy a new ticket...

    "Offence: It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches."

    Source: http://www.police-information.co.uk/...ndexeng.html#K
    True - on person in public place or without good reason

    However I have flown regularly out of British airport with all my touring caboodle including in my cutlery a small sharp belt knife for cutting bread and filleting fish/boning meat in my checked in hold luggage

    The UK rules clearly state that it is permissable in hold luggage - what on earth was going on in the example above is anybodies guess.

    As to flying with the bike as people have said above - you need to know the rules for the airline you are travelling with and have a hard copy of them at the check in - In theory the rules applying at the time you bought your ticket should apply - It is a contract after all - however, in practice you could be standing there arguing the toss after the plane has gone so making sure you have the most up to date copy is vital - particularly for the return trip.

    Also make sure that you are at the front of the queue when you check in - if there is a problem - or if they think there is a problem then they are less likely to be sympathetic if your stuff is going to hold up loading up the plane - also in my experience much less likely to get charged XS luggage.

    As someone said above British Airways for crossing the Atlantic is pretty good for bikes - fares can be higher but definetly less hassle all the way round

  19. #19
    imi
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    Quote Originally Posted by psmiffy View Post
    ...

    great link psmiffy! thanx... good to see that "sports parachutes" are allowed as hand baggage! oh and a seat near an exit pleez!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    nuff said... I read a story (here?) about a guy getting detained and questioned for having a fixed blade knife in his CHECKED IN baggage when he was just in TRANSIT through Heathrow!
    He missed his connection and had to buy a new ticket...

    "Offence: It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches."

    Source: http://www.police-information.co.uk/...ndexeng.html#K
    Apparently knives are the weapon of choice for many British criminals, since they can't just buy guns on every street corner like American criminals. So carrying a fixed blade knife or big folding knife is illegal in the UK, although I think they make allowance for hunting and stuff like that.

    I would have to wonder where the guy was in transit to. If he was going somewhere in the UK, or if he was going to a country that had similar laws then he would be breaking the law. If he had to claim his bags, clear customs, and re-check his bags to a new flight elsewhere in the EU, then he would have been violating UK law.

    My favorite BA baggage regulation is the one that says I can't bring "munitions of war" on the plane. I guess anyone who wants to start a revolution will have to find some other way to get there.

    All joking aside, anyone who leaves his own country would do well to remember that what is considered a basic right in one country (carrying weapons, innocent until proven guilty, etc.) can be completely illegal and earn you a nice long prison sentence in other countries. Telling the authorities that "it's legal where I come from" might make people laugh, but that's really the best you can hope for.

  21. #21
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    I fly my bike to Europe at least once each year, sometimes twice. However, my "bike" is an S&S tandem, and, now an S&S triplet. I've flown my S&S single once to Europe. Some comments on your questions:

    S&S couplers are GREAT if you are going to fly somewhat regularly. As you have seen, the prices that the airlines now charge for bike transport now make the S&S conversion (or new frame surcharge) financially viable. Bilenky Cycles, one of the best S&S retrofitters in the USA, says they can fit up to a 64cm frame into an S&S bag, with the cranks removed (see http://bilenky.com/retro_FAQs.html). For big frames you may have to remove the fork, too (hint: splurge on a Chris King headset if you get an S&S bike, as it makes it much easier to pull the fork). I'm a big S&S fan. Their utility is well worth their cost, IMO.

    1n 12 years of flying small, big and bigger bikes across the pond, we've never had damage or a bag loss. Lucky, I guess. Whenever possible, I do my best to fly direct. We're in Philadelphia, which is a US Airways international hub, so we can usually do that without too much hassle.

    While I generally can't stand CDG airport in Paris, they do seem adept at dealing with bikes as baggage. They get a lot of practice around Tour de France time in July! One time I was there it seemed like every second person at baggage claim was waiting on their bike to show up. You might check and see if the PBP organizers have any sort of discount with Air France or other airlines.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that European airlines often have much more restrictive policies on baggage weight and size for domestic (intra-EU) flights. I would avoid booking tickets separately on different airlines for that reason. Have one itinerary for your trip, preferably on the same carrier, or at least on the same alliance. Usually they will honor your EU legs as part of a transatlantic ticket, with the rule of the transatlantic ticket taking precedence.

    Shipping bikes directly to Europe can be difficult due to customs (and cost). I've been a staff person on commercial bike trips in France, and have seen the challenges some clients went through that shipped their bikes via UPS/FedEx. Most came through OK, but some were held up in customs for one reason or another. I think taking it with you on the plane is a much better option.

    Airlines have widely varying charges for flying bikes. Not too long ago they were free in lieu of second piece of baggage. Now, a bike in a non-standard box (i.e., one that is over 62 total inches) can cost you between $100-$250 each way, maybe more. $200 r/t isn't terrible, $500 r/t is extortion, IMO.

    Even with the S&S bag, you are still limited to the 50# weight limit on most US carriers for international flights. Be very careful about this. It's a challenge for us taking a triplet with tools, bags, helmets, etc. We always get to the airport much earlier, when the lines aren't too long. Be super-nice to the counter person, never tell them it's a bike, etc.

    BTW, if anyone is thinking of getting their existing frame retrofitted, I just noticed that Bilenky is currently running a $100-off special, with steel retrofits at $395. http://bilenky.com/Retrofits.html
    Last edited by briwasson; 11-22-10 at 12:41 PM.

  22. #22
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by imi View Post
    nuff said... I read a story (here?) about a guy getting detained and questioned for having a fixed blade knife in his CHECKED IN baggage when he was just in TRANSIT through Heathrow!
    He missed his connection and had to buy a new ticket...

    "Offence: It is an offence for any person, without lawful authority or good reason, to have with him in a public place, any article which has a blade or is sharply pointed except for a folding pocket-knife which has a cutting edge to its blade not exceeding 3 inches."

    Source: http://www.police-information.co.uk/...ndexeng.html#K
    If I am remembering the same guy it wasn't a fixed blade. He referred to it as a flick knife, which as I understand it is what we call a switch blade in the US. I figured he was very lucky to not be arrested.

  23. #23
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    Rent or buy in Europe

    I took a cycling vaction in Romania this summer and I had planned to taking my bike. After looking at all of the packing confusion I just rented when I got there. It was MUCH easier and quite cheap. I also had the option to buy a cheap bike and if I had stayed longer that would have been the best option. I saw a nice bike for about $ 80 with both fenders, lights and a rack. Sending your bike by plane is not worth the hassle.

    John

  24. #24
    Senior Member bktourer1's Avatar
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    Check this site:

    http://www.bikeaccess.net/bikeaccess/

    You can get some ideas here

  25. #25
    Senior Member Nigeyy's Avatar
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    Flick knife? That might explain it then.

    Quote Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
    If I am remembering the same guy it wasn't a fixed blade. He referred to it as a flick knife, which as I understand it is what we call a switch blade in the US. I figured he was very lucky to not be arrested.

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