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  1. #1
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Going foreign: Airline travel with your bike.

    We've traveled by domestic air carrier with our tandem in a hard wood case with no problem. We recently returned from a European tour with the same bike and box. Due to some fortuitous picks of airline and the complexity of airline baggage charges, it only cost us $75 extra for the roundtrip. Our bike was not damaged in any way.

    Be that as it may, I started this thread as a warning to prospective European tourists. While waiting for a plane change in the Frankfurt airport, I watched the baggage handlers unload the bikes - there were several on this flight. This is how they did it: They positioned the baggage cart about 8' away from the end of the cargo belt. Then two handlers picked up each bike and threw them onto the cart, one atop the other, regardless of packaging. Not neatly, either, more of a pile.

    During my tour I spoke to a German tourist whose bike was "destroyed" by Lufthansa baggage handlers. He has not been able to recover damages. His bike was in a plastic bag, as advised by a Lufthansa employee. When we arrived back in the US, we found that our bike had been traveling with the bikes of a couple who had put them in cardboard boxes. Their boxes were destroyed, torn and punched full of holes. She was not about to open the boxes at the airport, preferring to do her crying in private, so we don't know the fate of the bikes in the boxes.

    Our box also collected a crack in the lid on the way back. They had thrown the bike so hard that it slid across the inside of the case and the captain's seat tube almost punched through the plywood box. One end of the rear hub was punched through the plywood, I can't imagine how. However, the bike was well-packed in the case and was not damaged. They also ripped the wheels off both our suitcases, one on the way over, one on the way back. I can't imagine how you can rip the wheels off a suitcase.

    So if you go foreign, my strong advice is to have your bike in a rigid case, not cloth, not padded, not framed and padded, and not cardboard. Only a rigid case will survive this handling. And take cheap suitcases.

    I was told that the baggage handlers are not employees of Lufthansa or any other airline, but rather low-bidder contract employees of the Frankfurt airport. I have no idea if this is also a problem at other European airports. I have not heard of this scale of a problem at any US airports.

  2. #2
    http://www.538.nl acidfast7's Avatar
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    Welcome to Frankfurt.

    One a more serious note, the airport has undergone numerous strikes/closures/court battles over takeoff/landing noise, so the service is really piss poor. Also, if the bike breaks, no biggie, just pick up a couple of Tout Terrain bikes in Freiburg that can handle a few drops/tosses (you know you want to.)
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  3. #3
    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    Baggage handlers don't work for airlines, they work for companies that contract their services to airport operators. How your bike is handled is the luck of the draw. I've seen them thrown, I've seen them handled as delicately as I would treat my own. There's no doubt that a hard shell case is the best answer, but of course that has its problems if you're touring and have nowhere to store it at the other end.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Thank you for the update! When people talk about the "gorilla" bag handlers at airports, they aren't kidding. This type of damages is not exclusive to Frankfurt. It can happen at any airport in the world.

    Casters on suitcases normally get damaged (ripped off) on the belt conveyors. It used to happen often with some older suitcases, but newer bag designs are less prone to it.

    I don't trust cardboard boxes for international air traveling, although a lot of people here swear they work well. I used it once to ship a bike and never again. If one is planning a lot of international traveling, one is better off investing in a S&S coupled bike, folding bike (Bike Friday, etc.)... basically something that can be packed small in a 62" bag with good internal protection.

    Glad to hear that your bike, at least, made it safely both ways.
    Last edited by Chris Pringle; 09-21-12 at 03:50 PM.

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    Senior Member 009jim's Avatar
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    It's they way our society is developing - everything is contracted out to the lowest bidder. Typically their is not precise specification for the level of service. There's only one sure way to treat the problem. Don't use the service. Businesses everywhere are always howling about how bad things are and expecting the government to prop them up with taxpayer's money. That's got to stop too.

  6. #6
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
    Baggage handlers don't work for airlines, they work for companies that contract their services to airport operators. How your bike is handled is the luck of the draw. I've seen them thrown, I've seen them handled as delicately as I would treat my own. There's no doubt that a hard shell case is the best answer, but of course that has its problems if you're touring and have nowhere to store it at the other end.
    The European hotels with which I corresponded indicated that they would store our box and luggage if they were our first and last hotel. Which means you'd have to do a loop, or find another way to get you and your bike back to the hotel, or find a way to ship your box ahead to a place that would hold it for you. Many hotels have special bike storage rooms. I presume that's where they'd put the case.

  7. #7
    Gear Combo Guru Chris_W's Avatar
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    Regarding travelling with hard S&S travel cases and not making a circular tour: We just booked a trip to New Zealand with our S&S-coupled tandem. We're flying into Auckland and out of Christchurch, and so I checked with a small motel in Christchurch who said it would be no problem for us to ship the cases to them after unpacking our bike, and for them to hang onto the cases for 4 or 5 weeks until we show up just before we leave - we'll either spend 1 or 2 nights there. I believe the cases are just over the size limit for NZ post to take, but they give a link to another company who ship oversize items, and their quote is not much more than NZ post would have charged - about NZ$150 for the two cases.

    I was thinking about using only one hard case, and putting some stuff in a cardboard box or other collapsible case so that we only have one item to ship, but based on the info given by the OP then I'm not so sure any more.

    BTW, stories about Frankfurt airport may not be representative of all airports; Frankfurt is the main hub for most of northern Europe and is absolutely massive. According to Wikipedia, only London-Heathrow and Paris-CDG are busier in Europe.

  8. #8
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    The European hotels with which I corresponded indicated that they would store our box and luggage if they were our first and last hotel. Which means you'd have to do a loop, or find another way to get you and your bike back to the hotel, or find a way to ship your box ahead to a place that would hold it for you. Many hotels have special bike storage rooms. I presume that's where they'd put the case.
    That's how we did it with our cardboard boxes in Taiwan and Japan ... just left them at the hotel which was our start/finish hotel, located at the airports.

  9. #9
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    "Wooden case"? What on earth does that weigh?

    Even with my plastic team case, it is a real challenge to get under the weight limit with the bike.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  10. #10
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    "Wooden case"? What on earth does that weigh?

    Even with my plastic team case, it is a real challenge to get under the weight limit with the bike.
    31 lbs. with four 2" swivel casters. Wood is lighter than most materials for the same stiffness. We got our steel Speedster under 30 kilos by putting the seatposts, saddles, cassette, drum brake plate, stoker stem and bar, tires, and tubes in our suitcases. Bottles, rack, and fender went in the box. Bar bag, frame bag, and saddle bags also in the suitcases. We used the panniers as carry-on, checking the suitcases. We pile all our gear on the box and use it for a trolley. Works great.

  11. #11
    Senior Member clayton c's Avatar
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    My experience has more to do with security opening and not closing. The locking system may be a little complex for them so I include (plain sight) new zip ties taped everywhere for their own use. I keep all separate bike components bagged and attached to the bike frame with ties. I've even taped the instructions of the travel case to the upper shell half for them to look at. Though I think I may install grips or straps all around to help with their handling in the future. Might make a difference in the overall condition of your bike.

  12. #12
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by clayton c View Post
    My experience has more to do with security opening and not closing. The locking system may be a little complex for them so I include (plain sight) new zip ties taped everywhere for their own use. I keep all separate bike components bagged and attached to the bike frame with ties. I've even taped the instructions of the travel case to the upper shell half for them to look at. Though I think I may install grips or straps all around to help with their handling in the future. Might make a difference in the overall condition of your bike.
    We solved the problem of security and latches/locks by simply taping the lid down with duct tape. That works perfectly. They always have tape. Had zero problems with security. Bike always looked untouched. I don't put anything in the box except the bike and wheels. The wheels are loose but securely wedged. Tires are completely deflated or removed. Bottles are in their cages. No bags, bike parts, pump, nothing to attract curiosity. That's what they tell you to do and I do it. Our box has built in handle-holes on each end to help with handling and of course wheels.

  13. #13
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Can you post a picture of your wooden bicycle box? I'm having trouble picturing it.

  14. #14
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Can you post a picture of your wooden bicycle box? I'm having trouble picturing it.
    Here ya go:
    top2.jpgside.jpgend.jpg

    Photos were taken before a US domestic flight, weight limits higher, hence saddles etc. still on the bike. I forgot that for the international flights we also removed both chains. Box size meets airline international maximum size regulations.

  15. #15
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Did you fly Lufthansa? I've heard they charge the most of any airline for bicycles. How did you find their charges?

    And how did you get your boxes to your first/last hotel?

  16. #16
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Machka View Post
    Did you fly Lufthansa? I've heard they charge the most of any airline for bicycles. How did you find their charges?

    And how did you get your boxes to your first/last hotel?
    Well, that's a funny thing. We flew Condor Flugdienst from Seattle direct to Frankfurt, then Lufthansa to Prague. Same thing reversed on the way back. For whatever reason, Condor charged us $75.00 on the way over. On the way back, we reported to the Lufthansa desk in Prague (Ruzyne, actually). The Schenken treaty baggage regulations are so difficult to understand, that not only can't you understand them, the deck clerks can't understand them either. So after numerous phone calls to various supervisors, who counldn't understand them either, they basically said, "Screw it, we can't figure it out, it's baggage, it's free." So the bike cost us $75 round trip. We don't expect to get that lucky again. Condor does, however, have generous allowances for sports equipment. We were prepared to pay $200 to Lufthansa, but didn't have to.

    We used a taxi service to move the one bike box, our luggage, and us, requesting a minibus. That works fine - the box slides in over the top of the seats. Costs a little more - 700 koruny or about $35 each way, Ruzyne to a Prague hotel. We found the drivers to be very conscientious, good drivers, and fair. We used AAA Radiotaxi.

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    Anyone have any thoughts on how the S&S bag will hold up with handlers? I just bought one for my LHT deluxe (now I am slightly worried).

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    That box is very cool. You close it just with duct tape? Wrap it all the way around, or what?

  19. #19
    nun
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
    We've traveled by domestic air carrier with our tandem in a hard wood case with no problem. We recently returned from a European tour with the same bike and box. Due to some fortuitous picks of airline and the complexity of airline baggage charges, it only cost us $75 extra for the roundtrip. Our bike was not damaged in any way.


    During my tour I spoke to a German tourist whose bike was "destroyed" by Lufthansa baggage handlers. He has not been able to recover damages. His bike was in a plastic bag, as advised by a Lufthansa employee. When we arrived back in the US, we found that our bike had been traveling with the bikes of a couple who had put them in cardboard boxes. Their boxes were destroyed, torn and punched full of holes. She was not about to open the boxes at the airport, preferring to do her crying in private, so we don't know the fate of the bikes in the boxes.

    Our box also collected a crack in the lid on the way back. They had thrown the bike so hard that it slid across the inside of the case and the captain's seat tube almost punched through the plywood box. One end of the rear hub was punched through the plywood, I can't imagine how. However, the bike was well-packed in the case and was not damaged. They also ripped the wheels off both our suitcases, one on the way over, one on the way back. I can't imagine how you can rip the wheels off a suitcase.

    So if you go foreign, my strong advice is to have your bike in a rigid case, not cloth, not padded, not framed and padded, and not cardboard. Only a rigid case will survive this handling. And take cheap suitcases.
    My bike hasn't had to survive Lufthansa yet, but it has survived two transatlantic flights in the Ground Effect Tardis bag. A bike should be packed so that there is no possibility of it moving within its case and using the wheels either side of the frame makes for a very strong package. Gear can be used as padding. Total weight of my bag was 39 lbs and each time I travelled it went on as regular baggage, no bike or excess baggage fees. The packed bike can fit into a regular taxi and goes on a bus easily. The empty bag folds down to the size of a phone directory (if you remember those things) and is easy to store in luggage lockers, leave at hotels or ship to somewhere you'll need it next.





    http://wheelsofchance.org/2009/09/10...th-the-tardis/
    Last edited by nun; 09-23-12 at 09:26 PM.

  20. #20
    just another gosling Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shelbyfv View Post
    That box is very cool. You close it just with duct tape? Wrap it all the way around, or what?
    No, like 4 ea. 20" strips. We take the roll so we can re-tape.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevo9er View Post
    Anyone have any thoughts on how the S&S bag will hold up with handlers? I just bought one for my LHT deluxe (now I am slightly worried).
    Which S&S bag do you have (they have several models)? I have their soft backpack case, velcro tube protectors for every part of the frame and one S&S compression member. I also bought the special netting for TSA inspection. Do protect the wheels by removing skewers and use small wheel compression members on each side of wheels (Your LBS should have these for free.) Use lots of clothes or corrugated paper in the external pockets. In my case, no problem flying with it to Mexico. Everything arrived without a single scratch. Many people have reported flying numerous times successfully with this particular case. It's really well designed! I doubt you will ever have an issue. The hardshell cases are definitely bombproof, but heavier and difficult to ship/store.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Pringle View Post
    Which S&S bag do you have (they have several models)? I have their soft backpack case, velcro tube protectors for every part of the frame and one S&S compression member. I also bought the special netting for TSA inspection. Do protect the wheels by removing skewers and use small wheel compression members on each side of wheels (Your LBS should have these for free.) Use lots of clothes or corrugated paper in the external pockets. In my case, no problem flying with it to Mexico. Everything arrived without a single scratch. Many people have reported flying numerous times successfully with this particular case. It's really well designed! I doubt you will ever have an issue. The hardshell cases are definitely bombproof, but heavier and difficult to ship/store.
    Yeah, the soft backpack case is the one I ordered. So put some pipe insulation around all the frame parts, and buy a couple of compression members, pack the pockets with clothes, toss in some foam, and it should be good?

    Thanks for the advice!

  23. #23
    Senior Member Chris Pringle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stevo9er View Post
    Yeah, the soft backpack case is the one I ordered. So put some pipe insulation around all the frame parts, and buy a couple of compression members, pack the pockets with clothes, toss in some foam, and it should be good?

    Thanks for the advice!
    Yes, pretty much that's it! Allow yourself a few hours to experiment the first time you do it and take pictures of the set-up that works for you. Check out some videos on YouTube on packing S&S bikes. Some people remove the crankset (I did) and protect it with the velcro fabric, but old newspaper or rag should work well. Wheels (actually spokes) are the most prone to damages. So, do take care extra care of them by getting small wheel compression members from your LBS (they come standard in every bike box) and corrugated paper in between the wheels and other metal parts. Once you pack the bike the first time you'll realize how the bike frame itself is really well protected by virtue of being demountable w/ couplers and design of this bag w/ compression members.

  24. #24
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    I own four S&S backpack soft cases, and that's all I use anymore (I also have the hard case). I've posted elsewhere on the forums about packing strategies and whatnot, but I've found that as long as you use enough clothes as padding in the outside pockets you'll be fine. I've flown our tandem, triplet, and single bikes on multiple trans-atlantic flights with zero issues. All told, I probably have 40+ bag-segments flown with the backpack cases (when you consider two bags per tandem x each r/t flight = four bag-segments). In August we flew PHL-Munich-PHL with the triplet in two S&S cases, and last week I got back from 10 days in Germany with my Co-Motion single in one S&S case, flying in/out of FRA from PHL. So, in the past month alone I have six "segments" of use with the S&S backpack cases. I only mention that as a relevant data point. The only snafu was on the flight back last Sunday, where US Airways forgot to put my bike bag on the flight, and I didn't get it back until Tuesday morning. But it came through without any issues.

    The one and only time I've had a problem with shipping an S&S bike is when I used the hard case. Somehow the case must have gotten a really good whack, as the drum for my Arai drum brake (cast aluminum) got cracked and I got a small dent in the downtube on my Santana tandem. As an aside, when packing the tandem or triplet, I pull the axle, cassette, and Arai pad assembly to reduce the protrusions in the rear wheel (dang Santana 160mm spacing causes packing challenges, for sure).

    For my single bike, it took about 15 minutes to pack up for the return flight, and maybe 20 minutes to put together when I arrived (jet lag doesn't help). In addition to the wheels (obviously), I remove the wheel skewers, drive-side crank, handlebars, and rear derailleur. Padding is S&S Velcro and foam pipe insulation. The bike (Co-Motion OR 26" Co-Pilot) and all my clothes for 10 days went in the S&S case and I topped the scale at exactly 50 pounds. Extra stuff went in a carry-on bag.

    Photo 1 below: Co-Motion OR single bike (26" flat bar bike) packed in S&S backpack case. Also in main part of case was my helmet, Ortlieb handlebar bag, Blackburn rear rack, some tools. In outside pockets were almost all my clothes for 10 days (including a week of work meetings). Case weighed exactly 50.0 pounds.

    co-motion_packed.jpg

    Photo 2: Our Santana Cabrio triplet and all our gear for 16 days in Europe this past August, including clothes for two adults and our seven-year-old son. The center section of the Cabrio is in the cardboard box on the bottom in a custom crate I created (see the thread on making the crate) Most clothes went in the S&S backpack cases' outside pockets. We had two carry-ons as shown in the photo. All checked bags flew for free and were within the size and weight limits. At arrival, I collapsed the crate, one S&S case, and the two carry-on bags and put them in the second S&S case, which we stored at a hotel we were staying at on the last night of our trip near the airport.

    cabrio_packed_2012.jpg
    Last edited by briwasson; 10-01-12 at 09:17 AM.

  25. #25
    djb
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    In May I flew with my bike in a cardboard box for the first time in many years. Went through Montreal, Toronto and san Jose, Costa Rica with no problems either way.
    That said, I really do believe its complete luck of the draw about which workers handling your bike that you get, their mood of the day, if they've been fighting with the wife, are pissed off at the world in general, and/or don't give a flying fudge about anything anyway.
    I've always just done my best with thinking when packing of what will schmush up against what when jackass baggage handler is a jackass, pile in the cardboard and foam , and then just cross my fingers.
    Ain't nuttin we can do after its out of our sight....

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