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TSA handling of packed bikes

Old 07-27-21, 10:50 AM
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zweitesmal2
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TSA handling of packed bikes

Hello all, I'm about to ship my touring bicycle to France and I'm wondering how many of you have had your boxed bicycle tampered with by TSA/Customs. I'm flying from US to Paris, Delta all the way (bike checked free if under 50lbs). I'm tall and my bike is too large for travel cases so it will be in a cardboard box, both wheels off, probably fork also if I can't reduce the size enough. I will pack well and pad and ziptie everything but I'm concerned TSA will extract the bike and stuff it back in carelessly. All loose items will be in a small box on top inside. I've never shipped a bicycle before and have no faith in the TSA at all. Ideally my sleeping bag, shoes and helmet will be in there as well. Tires deflated, water bottles left open. I'd appreciate you sharing your past experiences and any tips. All my tours thus far have been US multi-month loops beginning and ending in my driveway. France will be wonderful if I can shake my shipping worries. I'll be reusing all materials on the return flight. Thanks for anything you can tell me.
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Old 07-27-21, 11:12 AM
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TSA has unpacked my bike every single time I have flown. Yes, they just throw stuff back in. Bring a spare hanger.
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Old 07-27-21, 11:43 AM
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Yeah ,sadly, every time I have flown I have been dealing in one way or another with some kind of effect on my bicycle...from chipped paint to bent rotors to bent cranks.... every time I get a little better with the packing but they manage to 'surprise' me. iMHO the handling of the baggage on flights is number one first world problem that goes on unresolved.
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Old 07-27-21, 11:52 AM
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Pretty much every time, TSA leaves behind a notification inside the box that they have checked the box.

I've used fairly large boxes with minimal unpacking e.g. pedals and seat off, wheels still on, sometimes slightly deflated. I haven't put many other things in the boxes. Sometimes on the outbound level, they have me bring the box to TSA and I can see them check the bike. However, that isn't the usual case.

I've also had inspections going the other way. For example, one time flying back from Vietnam, I was paged by their TSA equivalent to help them open the box and get it resealed.
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Old 07-27-21, 11:58 AM
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TSA always puts a notice inside my bike box or bag that they inspected it. It would be nice if they had the decency to close the container properly and put the lock back on.

Wrapping the tubing with foam tubing helps a little. I now take off both derailleurs, the crank, derailleur hanger in addition to the normal stuff.
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Old 07-27-21, 12:05 PM
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TSA did not do any damage the one time they opened up my S&S case, I have not taken a bike in a full size bike box. My other five times they did not open it.

They will be looking for compressed gasses and Li Ion batteries.

Remove your derailleur from the rear hanger when you pack it. Most steel frame bikes do not have a removable hanger, but most other bikes do. If it is removable and if you remove the rear wheel, you might also consider removing the hanger from the frame because without a wheel, your hanger is much more exposed. If I was packing up a bike in a full size box, I would be tempted to leave the rear wheel on, that is how manufacturers ship bikes to dealers.

Bring extra zip ties for the return flight. I use a small side cutter to remove zip ties.

I think it is common to leave the chain on the bike, but I would remove it and pack it with the other small parts in a heavy duty ziplock.

Just in case the pedals are so tight that you can't get them off, see if they are loose enough a few days before you need to remove them. Some bike shops put them on REALLY tight. You do not want to be looking at the clock when you are packing and discover that the pedals won't come off.

Assuming you are camping, are you bringing a camp stove?

When you get a box, I assume you are getting a used box from a dealer. Tell them you would also like all packing materials that came with the bike, such as the plastic things that go in the dropouts, etc.

If you are at one of the rare airports where you can see the TSA people doing inspections, go there and let them know that is your box if they have any questions.

You might leave a note for them that if they have any questions or any difficulty re-packing it, please call you at your cell number. Put a photo copy of your itinerary with it. I pasted below a couple paragraphs from the text I put in my TSA note in the bike case, but I edited out the info unique to me:
If you have unpacked the bicycle and have difficulty reassembling it into the luggage case, please contact me for assistance. In USA my cell phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. If I do not answer that number, please try XXX-XXX-XXXX, this is a number that may work in or outside of USA. If I could not be reached by phone, please have me paged in the airport, I will likely be near the gate.

Thank you for your cooperation in taking all practical measures to make sure that no damage occurs in transit.
<<My Name>>
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Old 07-27-21, 12:13 PM
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Remember the luggage commercial where the Atlanta Zoo gorillas were moonlighting as Delta baggage handlers? Their offspring work for the TSA now.

While it may be tempting to pack a sleeping bag and shoes in there, that'll entice TSA to pull everything all the way out of the box to look at it. Then they'll carelessly stuff it back in the direction of "in" and slap some tape on the box. It's probably wiser to wrap the frame in bubble wrap or thin foam to save as much paint as possible while not obstructing their view from the top. Remove the derailer and strap it to the inside of the frame to protect it. Partially deflate tires (leave enough air to provide some cushioning but make sure the tires feel soft). Your goal is to let them look inside, grunt "it's a bike alright" and go check somebody else's toothpaste tube. Check another bag, or a larger bag, with all the rest of your gear.
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Old 07-27-21, 12:39 PM
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One time I got the box back with one of the h-straps tied in a not because the TSA people couldn't figure out how to snap the buckle Back together. Another time, I saw an inspector trying to force the lid back down on someone's bike box. I left before he got to my box. I didn't want to see what might happen.

With that said, I have never had my bike damaged.

Maybe you will be lucky and your airport will have a full size scanner. When we flew back from Venice in 2013, security ran our bikes through those and literally gave us a "thumbs up." I-T-A! I-T-A!
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Old 07-27-21, 01:13 PM
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You can ask to be present when the TSA inspects the bike. Worst they can do is say no.
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Old 07-27-21, 01:25 PM
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Have airlines stopped providing the HUGE box? (both wheels on, bars turned with pedals off) It's been a few years since I've flown but in the past I've had absolutely no problem with damage, missing parts or TSA inspection. Four trips to France (Air Canada), multiple trips across the US and Canada.

Aren't you inviting damage and missing parts when you disassemble a bike to fit into a tiny box? On the AC flights to France it was only packaged in a big plastic bag. Pedals went into my carry-on. Seems worth even paying an oversize fee if required to keep the bike mostly assembled, not to mention the quick pack up and subsequent reassembly at the destination. The assembled bike is protected by it's components just as it would be while careening down a dangerous single track.
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Old 07-27-21, 03:03 PM
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I have had very little damage. None of it really significant. The biggest issue was that once they opened my little seat wedge. and slit the liner. I guess they were looking for something hidden there. All the tools in the bag were loose in the box and some got lost. As a result I didn't have what I needed to assemble the bike and ride out of the terminal. It was a hassle, but was once out of many flights.
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Old 07-27-21, 04:29 PM
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I've had very good service from the TSA folks, and I attribute part of that on how the bike is packed. Also don't pack a lot of other things with the bike.

I only have my phone now, so I'm not going into much detail

Check the ACA site for packing suggestions.

This is my post from a recent thread:
We usually box our bikes and take them with us when flying. We use the same setup on trains if they require boxes. Our empty panniers go in the box, That makes it easy for the
TSA folks to inspect. All the contents from our panniers go in two light weight duffle bags. No one has ever questioned the empty panniers in the bike boxes.

This is for a train trip, but it is the exact same set up for flying. We check the duffles when flying, but carry them onto the trains.


The TSA guy just pulled the one loose pannier out; it is our insulated " food and drinks" pannier, and is semi rigid. He did not remove anything else to inspect the box. We have always started our "flying tours" from Portland, and I usually talk to the guy as he does his job. All the TSA folks I've interacted with have been great. One guy said he'd do a better job of taping the box back up than I did, and he did

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Old 07-27-21, 07:11 PM
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As a bicycle store owner for over 12 years I have seen my share of boxed bikes. I would recommend stoping by a L.B.S. and ask if you could see how bikes are packed. I would highly recommend that you leave the rear wheel on as with its removal, you can expect your chainrings to get bent. I remember seeing my boxed bike at Atlanta Intl. (a Cinelli) being placed at the top of a transport cart and seeing it slam to the ground. Result was a dented chain stay. Those airport guerillas can be brutal.
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Old 07-27-21, 08:21 PM
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Originally Posted by headwind15 View Post
...I would recommend stoping by a L.B.S. and ask if you could see how bikes are packed. I would highly recommend that you leave the rear wheel on as with its removal,....
Fully agree, in my post above I stated:
If I was packing up a bike in a full size box, I would be tempted to leave the rear wheel on, that is how manufacturers ship bikes to dealers.

I can help a little bit with what a bike looks like when a manufacturer packs it, I bought my road bike from Amazon, not a dealer, I took photos of it before I did very much unpacking as I thought I might want to replicate that some day.



And the other side, they had a large sheet of cardboard between the front wheel and the frame.



In my previous post, I suggested removing the rear derailleur and the chain. When I bought this bike I was a little bit surprised that these items were on the bike, but they packed it well enough that it would have been difficult to damage the derailleur or the hanger, this bike does not have a replaceable hanger, it is a steel frame.

I cropped the photo below from the first photo above, note the large plastic thingy on the end of the axle, that held the rear derailleur far from the box. In other words, if there was an impact to the side of the box, that big black plastic thing on the axle would have taken the hit, not the derailleur. Also note that the chain was on the big sprocket, that meant that the derailleur was angled inwards.



That said, if I was packing the bike, I would follow the advice I gave in my previous post, to remove the rear derailleur and keep the rear wheel on. And if you want to take the wheel off, if the hanger is removable, consider removing it.

I used to work as a mechanic in a bike shop, most of my bikes I built the wheels and built them up from parts, so I was quite comfortable with buying a bike from Amazon. This was actually the first complete bike that I have bought in several decades. But, I would not recommend buying a new bike from Amazon to someone that lacks appropriate experience, unless it is a really inexpensive bike.

In the photos, no, the canoe did not come with the bike, that was there before I bought the bike.
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Old 07-28-21, 09:18 AM
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Lots of very good information and advice for me- thank you all. Great photos, MSN, I appreciate your effort. My steel bike is XL so the wheels must come off (derailleur also), and I have piles of new bike foam and wrapping to use. I will now pack my extras separately to hopefully simplify their inspection. Thank you again!
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Old 07-28-21, 10:44 AM
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Are you bringing a camp stove? If so, liquid fuel?
https://www.msrgear.com/blog/flying-...camping-stove/

Twice I had TSA inspect my stove. First time it was in a carry on, the saw tooth shape of the pot support looked like a potential weapon on the X ray so the TSA inspector wanted to see it.

Second time, the Canadian security agent (their equivalent to our TSA) wanted to do the smell test, if it smelled she said she would confiscate it.

I decided to only carry butane mix stoves in the future on planes, the one time I took liquid fuel stove on a plane it was too much hassle cleaning it and removing all odors.

I have never been to France, this is based on what I have heard: It has been commented on this forum that the Decathlon stores in France sell the butane canisters that have threaded connectors for the types of stoves commonly sold in USA. But in France the unthreaded cannisters apparently are common. I took the photo below several years ago, the cannister on the left is unthreaded.



In other words, be careful what cannisters you buy.

There are a small number of stoves that will work on both, there is a Primus one and also the MSR Superfly. I have the Superfly. In the photo below, I have the Superfly on an unthreaded cannister, it will also work on the threaded type.



But, as I mentioned above if you shop at Decathlon stores, you can buy the threaded ones.

Have a great trip.
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Old 07-28-21, 12:13 PM
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Bikeflights has some videos (see bottom of page) showing their recommended packing techniques when shipping with them. Seems like good advice no matter how you're shipping.
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Old 07-28-21, 04:19 PM
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You might also check out the packing videos from The Pro’s Closet.
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Old 07-28-21, 10:53 PM
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okay.....so you're flying both ways on one airline.
you plan to reuse the box, so storage has been arranged.

now go to the airline website, find out what kind of aeroplane you'll be on.
( transatlantic flight, so cargo bays and doors shouldn't be a factor)

print off the baggage fees and regulations.
print off the policies for sporting equipment and oversized luggage.
carry these with you, along with the printout of any online chat
you have with an airline representative.

get the ezzact maximum dimensions permitted.
confirm those with the airline if possible.

hie thee to a home depot and secure a couple refrigerator boxes.
whilst there pick up a couple rolls of packing tape and a fresh box cutter.

now make your own dang box.


i usually fly the budget carriers between china and thighland and singapore.
always on A320's, with baggage dimensions such that i can usually stick a
nearly complete large-frame hybrid 700c into a box, along with helmet/shoes
and a stuffed pannier inside the triangle.

most i usually gots to do is remove the pedals and seat, ziptied onto the rear
rack, and then remove the stem and bars and ziptie to the top tube.

best of all, no tsa hoodlums, so bike always arrives unopened and undamaged.
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Old 07-29-21, 02:13 AM
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I brought my bike from Philadelphia to California and back for a business trip in Dec 2019 after American removed the charges for items up to 124 inches.
Summary - TSA opened box on each flight and expect damage to box (i.e. have an alternate plan if you can't reuse it). No damage to bike, but I did remove small items that could be lost, and packed the bike well (put spacers in if you remove wheels, lots of foam).

TSA inspected the cardboard bike box on both flights - they opened and rearranged items. I think they were most interested in the tent poles (which did not seem to be allowed in carry on items). No apparent interest in the empty saddlebag.

I would not count on reusing the box - When the box arrived in CA, the box was not in good shape. The narrow side seem to be broken or cut and the box had some new holes. Fortunately, a coworker took me to a local bike shop for another box for the flight home. The return box was not damaged much, I may use it again. Other items (plastic disks over axles I saved from earlier BikeFlights) were fine and I reused them

Fork/derailleur hangers - if you remove a wheel, make sure you put another hub or spacer in its place to keep the fork or rear triangle from being crushed. I specifically took a folding bike with 20" wheels and IGH 3 speed hub so the rear wheel was small enough to fit without removal, and I did not have a derailleur.

Small box with loose items - I would strongly suggest you bring this in carry on luggage if at all possible. I doubt TSA would lose pedals, but I suspect they will open your small box or X ray it and open it if it contains metal parts. I did not lose anything through the new holes in the box on the flight out, probably because I put small tools and parts in my carry on. I can also say TSA definitely did not tape my box as well as I did.

Last edited by AngeloDolce; 07-29-21 at 02:17 AM.
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Old 08-05-21, 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by zweitesmal2 View Post
Lots of very good information and advice for me- thank you all. Great photos, MSN, I appreciate your effort. My steel bike is XL so the wheels must come off (derailleur also), and I have piles of new bike foam and wrapping to use. I will now pack my extras separately to hopefully simplify their inspection. Thank you again!
I travel with steel frame bikes all the time. I use an Orucase Airport Ninja case. RD comes off, chain comes off, pedals come off and often the crank. We remove the brake rotors and package them between two stiff pieces of cardboard and put them internal to the case. I carry an extra RD hanger because the hanger also is how the axle is mounted and I need the axle to protect the frame from compression. I have cut two piece of PVC pipe that fit in where the hub would be and thread the axle through the pipe and into the dropouts so the pipe prevents the compression of the frame. The bike fork and rear triangle are pretty tough but are also very fragile to compression without the axle in place. A hanger is cheap and very easy to replace.

I then wrap cardboard around the dropout area to make it one unit and to prevent the hanger from poking down between the padding and getting near the bottom of the case.

Using this method, we have traveled many segments and the only time I every had a problem was when I bent a hanger because I didn't have the axle in place and the hanger wormed it's way to the outside of the case between the padding. That wasn't on the airline (Delta), it was on me for improperly packing. Anyhow in all those thousand and thousands of miles of air travel, not an issue at all. We travel a lot and we *always* take our bikes with us. I have no issue with Delta's/KLM baggage handlers - they're no better or worse than other airlines. With our cases we have never paid any fees for bikes anyhow but I'm grateful Delta has dropped the charge. This makes it a lot easier for those who would choose to use cardboard (wouldn't be my choice, but YMMV).

J.
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Old 08-05-21, 04:47 PM
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I pack our bikes much the way Tourist in MSN's pictures show.

We have a good supply of packing materials from our LBS: fork spacers, derailleur protectors, Axle protectors, etc. We use pipe insulating foam to protect the frame. The front wheel's quick release skewer is zip tied to the foam on the seat tube; and the pedals are put is a plastic bag, and zip tied to the seat tube inside one of the water bottle cages.

My wife's bike, with a 47 cm frame, my not even require removing the seat to fit in a medium sized box recycled from our LBS. The front fender and rack are taken off. If I do have to take the seat off, I pull it straight out to prevent scratches on the seat post. Even if I could get a good fit pushing the seat down, I don't do it to prevent scratches to the seat post. Mark the seat post height with a piece of tape.


If you are not using canti brakes, use a Problem Solver locking spacer to hold your fork in place, and you don't have to worry about headset adjustment.


This box was on four different flights (4 loadings and 4 unloadings) getting to the start of one of our tours in Europe. It is a little the worse for wear, but the bike was not damaged at all. I've started reinforcing the hand holds on the boxes with duct tape and they don't tear out as easily.

Last edited by Doug64; 08-18-21 at 06:59 PM.
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Old 08-06-21, 08:34 AM
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Thank you folks, this has altogether shown me how critical my simplifying contents and protecting components is. Obviously a bike must be well packed but all of your collective input (and photos) are the how and why of this process. I have obtained two Ebike boxes stuffed full of packing material; I'm packing only the bike (wheels off cuz it's huge) inside- all other bits are going into a second checked bag. Seat, tools, pedals and chain(s), along with helmet, seatbag and clothing will be in that bag. It's important to mention Delta ships sporting equipment free, under 50lbs and 115" but if it's over 50lbs it will cost $400 extra each way (!). A 2nd bag is $100 each way. I have been shipping vintage motorcycle parts worldwide for years and feel I can pack well and my worries about TSA have been answered here with all necessary precautions noted and much appreciated. I fly out on Monday 8/9/21 and have the weekend to box up. Lastly I'll post a few pics of the results here for y'all to see. Thanks-happy travels to you.
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Old 08-06-21, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by zweitesmal2 View Post
Thank you folks, this has altogether shown me how critical my simplifying contents and protecting components is. Obviously a bike must be well packed but all of your collective input (and photos) are the how and why of this process. I have obtained two Ebike boxes stuffed full of packing material; I'm packing only the bike (wheels off cuz it's huge) inside- all other bits are going into a second checked bag. Seat, tools, pedals and chain(s), along with helmet, seatbag and clothing will be in that bag. It's important to mention Delta ships sporting equipment free, under 50lbs and 115" but if it's over 50lbs it will cost $400 extra each way (!). A 2nd bag is $100 each way. I have been shipping vintage motorcycle parts worldwide for years and feel I can pack well and my worries about TSA have been answered here with all necessary precautions noted and much appreciated. I fly out on Monday 8/9/21 and have the weekend to box up. Lastly I'll post a few pics of the results here for y'all to see. Thanks-happy travels to you.
Have a great trip.
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Old 08-06-21, 05:41 PM
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Doug64
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The ride from CDG Airport into Paris is exciting. I think I still have a copy of the route we took if you need it.

Not a very good picture, but it shows our crew unpacking 4 bikes and getting them ready to start our ride into Paris. There are a lot of places where you can work on your bike in the terminal, at least there was at our terminal.





We met this guy on the way to Paris, and he said, "follow me". My wife, two daughters and I did, and he took us to a canal path that led right into Paris. We spent four days in Paris before starting our 2 month ride. What a great way to start a tour

Last edited by Doug64; 08-07-21 at 07:11 PM.
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