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  1. #1
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    Bikes on a Plane

    When flying to a destination, is it possible to pack a bike without couplers or is that darn near impossible? Or is it very expensive because it packs bigger? I'm wondering if I'm going to regret not having them put couplers on the bike I just had built -- never flown with my bike, but I see a strong potential of it in my future. How does this whole "taking your bike on a plane" thing work?

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    One option (and there are others): Get a bike box from your local bike shop. Remove your pedals and turn your handlebar; drop the bike in the box and tape shut. Take box to airport and disclose that it's a bike. Pay bicycle surcharge. Could be $200 each way on certain carriers, other (mostly international) carriers will take them at no charge. See airline baggage rule on their websites for exact amounts.

    Upon arrival, unpack bike, put back together, ride out from airport. If you're in an airport where they will store boxes (Shannon Airport) then just leave there an reclaim on your return. If not, acquire a new one from a bike store for your return trip.

    Make sure you're traveling on plane that's big enough to take a bike box; some commuter jets/props can't take them.

    Finally, consider alternatives such as shipping. Plenty of people have done so at a reasonable rate; will leave it to them to chime in.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Yes, you can pack your bicycle into a box and travel with it on a plane. I've done it many times.

    It can be expensive or very inexpensive. I've paid anywhere from free to about $150.

    Have a read over this article:
    http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/travel/bagregs.htm

    Then look up the website of the airline with whom you would like to travel. Look at their bicycle policy. Most have a bicycle policy which is less expensive than their oversized luggage and overweight luggage policies. So be sure to read the bicycle policy.

    Oh, and ... your box will not fit within allowable sizes. Sorry, but they set it up that way to ensure that you have to follow the bicycle policy rather than bringing your bicycle on the plane as ordinary luggage. So be sure to read the bicycle policy.

    Read it now. Read it a few weeks before you travel. Read it again a day or two before you travel. The bicycle policy is not etched in stone. It may change without notice, but whatever it is at the moment you fly, that's the official policy. Doesn't matter when you booked your ticket. So be very aware of the current policy as of the day you travel.

    And if you have any ideas of telling someone that you're carrying art or something ... give it up now. They know it's a bicycle. And it will probably be cheaper for you to follow the bicycle policy rather than the oversized baggage policy anyway.

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    Some airlines can take the Samuel L approach - "Enough is enough, I have had it with these MF'ing bikes on this MF'ing plane. "

  5. #5
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    I was facing that same dilemma a few months ago since S&S couplers is a really expensive feature on already a pricey custom frame. The builder was getting ready to paint the frame. Given how airlines are going crazy with all kinds of charges (up to $400 per R/T flight), it just made sense. So at the eleventh hour, I decided to bite the bullet and pay the additional USD $1000 for S&S couplers, case and other accoutrements. Yes, one could do it later but many builders charge more as the frame often needs to be repainted, stripped from all parts, etc.

    BTW, I got the backpack-style soft case and it's very well designed, except for maybe the shoulder straps needing more padding. I already flew once with it (in Mexico using a domestic airline) and the bike/soft case arrived without a single scratch. Now that I have them, I consider them as money well spent. No regrets whatsoever.

    The ways you can get charged... It's like walking on egg shells (need to know really well how the airline baggage policy applies!):

    - Bicycle box/case or luggage over 62 inches: Surcharge up to $200. Watch out for boxes over 90 linear inches. They may not be allowed AT ALL.

    - Bike box/case over certain weight normally 44 - 50 lb. (20 -23 Kg) is normally allowed, or you pay for extra exceeding Kg. Some airlines might look at both weight and size and add charges individually. Hard-shell bike cases can easily exceed this.

    - Bicycle (often under "sports equipment") - As little as free to as much as $200. This can raise many arguments/confusion with some airline staff. Some people declaring it's a "bike" (even under 62" linear) have been faced with steep charges at the counter. Doesn't happen often, so print out the airline baggage policy. It will often say something like "no extra surcharge applies if packed under 62" linear/#Kg and it's part of your allowed # of checked-in baggage."

    - Many foreign airlines have a semi-friendly bike policy with charges under $50 (often free!) When this happens there is a lax policy on size for your box/case (under 90") but there might be a weight limit (around 50 lb)

    - First Class Ticket - They will often roll down the red carpet for you making all kinds of concessions.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 09-02-12 at 10:55 AM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by ILClyde View Post
    When flying to a destination, is it possible to pack a bike without couplers or is that darn near impossible? Or is it very expensive because it packs bigger? I'm wondering if I'm going to regret not having them put couplers on the bike I just had built -- never flown with my bike, but I see a strong potential of it in my future. How does this whole "taking your bike on a plane" thing work?
    Yes it is possible. What you'll pay (if anything) will depend on the airline and your chosen method of packing. I have flown across the Atlantic on IcelandAir and Virgin Atlantic and was not charged anything to fly with my bike. This may be different for US internal flights. I packed it into a soft sided case from Ground Effect called the Tardis (http://wheelsofchance.org/2009/09/10...th-the-tardis/). You have to do a fair amount of disassembly, but the advantage is that the Airlines don't even know you have a bike.

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Even in a hardshell bike case, with no need for couplers, it can be free. It depends on the airline. BA, for example, treats a bike box as baggage. If it exceeds your baggage allowance by weight, they charge you the excess on exactly the same basis as if it were an extra suitcase. Seems fair. Some other airlines have much more punitive policies, you need to check.

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    If you fly from smaller regional airports they generally take better care of bikes than the major hubs.
    I pack my bike in a clear heavy guage polythene bag with the frame protected by plumbing insulation foam split tubes.
    Couplers are useful on a tandem but not needed on a solo.

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    For US travel Southwest and Frontier are very reasonable and bike friendly. Southwest is $50 with no charge for your other bag. Frontier, it depends on the type of ticket. With any but the cheapest class of ticket it is free. It is reasonable with their budget ticket. You need to keep the bike box under 50 pounds.

    I think Southwest acquired Airtran so they now have the SW policy.

    I usually use a box that bikes come in or a soft case if I will be flying to and from the same city. If I use the soft case I pad it well inside with cardboard.

    Sometimes I Fedex or UPS my bike. I most often do that for the trip home. I have several times paid a bike shop to box and ship it for me. That has always been for the trip home when I didn't feel like dealing with boxing and shipping a bike in a strange city. The cost was always about $100, $40-60 for the shop and $40-60 for UPS.

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    Used to fly with my regular bike quite a bit and would just drop by my LBS and they'd give me a box from their last shipment of new bikes. I'd do enough disassembly of my bike to get it to fit in the box, take it to the ticket counter, sign the damage waiver form, and they'd check it through at no extra charge. Never had any problem with damage, but on a couple flights the bike didn't get on the same plane and was delivered later that day or the next morning.

    But then many airlines (esp. on domestic US flights) started charging significant surcharges for bikes and other oversize items. So I got a Bike Friday folding bike which fits in a regular suitcase (mine's a Carlton) that meets the airline's 62" (L+W+H) rule. Still have to pay a little for having a checked bag on many airlines (SW is an exception), but it's much more reasonable than the charge for regular bikes.

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    Thanks for the replies everyone. So it sounds like it's a huge variable based on airlines. Good to at least know I haven't backed myself in a corner. Mr. Pringle, unfortunately my "11th hour" has passed. The frame's built and the full build should be in my hands (or under my arse) in a few days.

    Follow up question:
    Whether in a box from the LBS, or something soft-sided like the Tardis case that was mentioned, I'm assuming people pack SOMEthing around the bike for cushioning, yes? I don't have a problem doing a fair amount of disassembly, but I have visions of spokes crushed in.


    Quote Originally Posted by Trueblood View Post
    Some airlines can take the Samuel L approach - "Enough is enough, I have had it with these MF'ing bikes on this MF'ing plane. "
    The broadcast TV version is even funnier, with all the ways they have to come up with to cleanly replace MF'ing.

  12. #12
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ILClyde View Post
    Follow up question:
    Whether in a box from the LBS, or something soft-sided like the Tardis case that was mentioned, I'm assuming people pack SOMEthing around the bike for cushioning, yes? I don't have a problem doing a fair amount of disassembly, but I have visions of spokes crushed in.
    We use cardboard boxes, and we will stuff our empty panniers into the box to provide a bit of cushioning. Or occasionally, if we have a bit of foam or something, we'll put that around various parts of the bicycle. You can sometimes buy those colourful pool snakes or similar things and cut them up to use for padding, or bubble wrap.

    On our current tour, we were able to purchase two cardboard bicycle boxes from Qantas (who does not charge anything for bicycles ), and we had some packing material - bubble wrap and some foam. We packed the bicycles in Melbourne and flew to Hong Kong. There we did not even open the boxes because we opted not to cycle in Hong Kong. Then we flew from Hong Kong to Taiwan (and then the charges for bicycles started). In Taiwan, we built the bicycles and were able to store the boxes at the hotel where we stayed on our first and last nights. Then we flew to Japan, built the bicycles, and stored the boxes at the hotel where we spent the first and last nights of our stay in Japan. Then we flew to London ... and there, sadly, we had to get rid of the boxes because we couldn't haul them all over Europe for 3 months.

    We will have to see what we can find in Paris in a month's time. Evidently the airline we're flying with sells cardboard bicycle boxes. We'll have to see if that is still true when we get there. As for packing material, perhaps we can find some bubble wrap or something in a shop at the airport.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by ILClyde View Post
    Follow up question:
    Whether in a box from the LBS, or something soft-sided like the Tardis case that was mentioned, I'm assuming people pack SOMEthing around the bike for cushioning, yes? I don't have a problem doing a fair amount of disassembly, but I have visions of spokes crushed in.
    Very year, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of bikes get shipped from China to the U.S. in the very same boxes that you get from your LBS via boat then truck with possibly rail thrown in. Just pack in like it is when shipped from the factory. Or pay a LBS to do it.

    Also, have you considered the UPS/FedEx option for domestic travel? It can often be cheaper than flying. We went that route for out last two tours out west. Last year, we shipped two bikes (one in a cardboard box and one in a semi-hard case) and a third, smaller box containing a B.O.B., my racks, stove and empty fuel bottle. Total shipping cost from Philly to Missoula was around $200 one way. That was much less than what the airline wanted for the two bikes alone ($350). We used the savings to pay to have the bikes assembled and tuned and waiting for us upon arrival. The shop also held our boxes and re-packed and shipped the stuff home at the end of the trip.

    Heading out to Cycle Oregon on Friday. We will be lying with the bikes this time because we are flying Southwest. The bike charge is only $50/each.

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    Senior Member Doug64's Avatar
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    There is a real break in price when shipping FEDX. The take the Length + 2x W+2x H to determine size. If you can keep the size under 130" it will be substantially lower. My wife's bike with couplers just met the 130"= and it shipped from Oregon to Michigan for $60. My bike which I had a hard time keeping under 160" cost $160.

    All our empty panniers, some tools and water bottles are also in the boxes. As long as it does not go over 50 lbs., the price did not vary significantly. UPS prices were very similar. It was still cheaper than the airlines that we looked at.

    We just shipped these last week for a tour through Michigan and Canada that we are starting Saturday.

    From the FWIT Department: Handling the other gear is always a challenge. This is a method that has worked well for us regardless of the mode of transportation. We originally started using it on trains, but it also works well for air travel.

    This happens to be an Amtrak bus, but we are using the same setup for our flight tomorrow. The bikes and empty panniers are in the boxes in the cargo compartment. All our other gear (full camping gear included) is in 2 very lightweight duffle bags and our rack packs. The duffle goes as checked baggage, and the rackpack and bar bag ( holding camera, tickets passport etc) as carry-on. Also by checking baggage things like my Swiss Army knife, pointed tent stakes, chain oil etc does not get held up at security. The duffle bags are rip-stop nylon, and while looking fragile have been on several flights, and numerous trains and buses. I hope I can say the same thing tomorrow afternoon



    Sometimes getting a bike and gear through a busy airport can be a challenge.
    Last edited by Doug64; 09-03-12 at 11:54 AM.

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    Yep, and packing a bike so that it doesn't move much when you tip the bike box on its ends makes manoeuvring much, much easier in airports and other places such as on to trains and along the aisles of buses/coaches.

    I learned this trick long ago when I arrived an airport door with box on trolley the "correct way up" and being unable to get through. I tipped it up on its end, and have been doing it ever since.

    You do have to walk alongside the trolley so you can see other people and objects. I'm 5'11", and I can't see over the top very well.

    It's also likely you will do a fair bit of dragging the box along the floor and footpath outside if trolleys are in short supply, or at hotels and such. Reinforce the bottom ends of the box with three or four layers of packing tape. FWIW, I've found gaffer/gorilla/duct tape to not be so good for use on cardboard. There is a variety of packing tape, however, that has a fabric reinforcement through it that is quite good. But good quality, ordinary clear (not brown) packing tape, such as from 3M, does the job very well.
    Dream. Dare. Do.

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    Senior Member burbankbiker's Avatar
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    Does anyone know the United policy for Premier Executive frequent flyers... or Star Alliance Gold (as I think it's called in the new Continental merger)? I know I get up to 3 normal bags checked free, first class upgrades fairly often when I fly, and a host of other loyalty program niceness... so I wonder if the bike policy changes for that frequent flyer status level too? Hope so!

  17. #17
    Senior Member GeorgeBaby's Avatar
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    Well, the United web page makes no mention of bicycles, so I suspect there is no special treatment.

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    Forgot to mention... Performance Bike has an inexpensive soft case that has worked well for me for those times when I use a case. Probably not as nice as the Tardis, but it is usually $59.99 and sometimes on sale. It is the TransIt Soft Bike Case. I add cardboard sheets to both sides to make the case hold it's shape and protect the bike.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by burbankbiker View Post
    Does anyone know the United policy for Premier Executive frequent flyers... or Star Alliance Gold (as I think it's called in the new Continental merger)? I know I get up to 3 normal bags checked free, first class upgrades fairly often when I fly, and a host of other loyalty program niceness... so I wonder if the bike policy changes for that frequent flyer status level too? Hope so!
    Call and let us know. You have a generous allowance of 3 checked bags at 70 lb. each. I have the feeling you can negotiate one or two of those bags for a bicycle bag/case around 60 lb. at no extra charge.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 09-03-12 at 11:22 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Oh, and ... your box will not fit within allowable sizes. Sorry, but they set it up that way to ensure that you have to follow the bicycle policy rather than bringing your bicycle on the plane as ordinary luggage. So be sure to read the bicycle policy.
    In the US, the size limit for all luggage is standard at 62 linear inches (h+l+w). It's seems unlikely that that number was chosen to exclude bicycles.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pringle View Post
    - Bicycle (often under "sports equipment") - As little as free to as much as $200. This can raise many arguments/confusion with some airline staff. Some people declaring it's a "bike" (even under 62" linear) have been faced with steep charges at the counter. Doesn't happen often, so print out the airline baggage policy. It will often say something like "no extra surcharge applies if packed under 62" linear/#Kg and it's part of your allowed # of checked-in baggage."
    As long as the dimensions and weight don't exceed the standard luggage allowances, the airlines don't care what is in the box/suitcase. Unless you claim for damages. (Keep in mind that the airlines are not the TSA.)

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    Thanks for the replies everyone. Fun times ahead!

  23. #23
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
    In the US, the size limit for all luggage is standard at 62 linear inches (h+l+w). It's seems unlikely that that number was chosen to exclude bicycles.
    And yet ... it does. Just.

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    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeBaby View Post
    Well, the United web page makes no mention of bicycles, so I suspect there is no special treatment.
    Actually they have a bunch of requirements and a $100 charge. Check out:
    http://www.united.com/web/en-US/cont...ge/sports.aspx

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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    And yet ... it does. Just.
    A bit paranoid, are we? The dimensions of the bike boxes the airlines (and shops) provide are significantly larger. It's not "just".

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