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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Airline Baggage Fees For Bicycles

by Larry Lagarde

If you're thinking about flying with your bicycle as checked baggage and don't want to get socked by high airline baggage fees, beware.

Up until this past February, travelers could fly on major US airlines pretty much without worry of being charged for 2 checked bags. Then, United opened Pandora's box by charging $15 for your first checked bag.

Currently, 2 checked bags on United will run you $80 for a round trip flight but United is upping the ante again. Effective November 10th, flying on United round trip with 2 checked bags will cost a minimum of $130.

What's A Flyer To Do?

Be Selective.
Choose the airline you fly on carefully. You can still avoid checked baggage charges on Alaska and Southwest. In fact, as long as your bike will fit in a container that measures no more than 62 linear inches, both Alaska and Southwest will accept your bike as one of the 2 free checked bags that they'll carry for you. Unfortunately, only bikes that fold will meet these dimensions.

Transport Your Bike In A Hardcase.
Packing your bike in a hard case provides maximum protection; however, hard cases are large so they're prone to excess size and weight charges. Hard cases are also likely to get handled with less care. If you plan on using a hardcase, review the baggage policies for the airline you plan to fly and be aware of the fees you could face. Measure the case; if it's larger than 62 linear inches, expect to be charged a fee.

Transport Your Bike In The Original Shipping Carton
Some folding bikes are packed in shipping cartons that meet airline specs for checked bags (examples include the CarryMe, E-Z Pack & Strida folding bikes). If you're the owner of a folding bike like this, save the shipping carton. Chances are that your shipping carton will come in handy the next time you travel.

Transport Your Bike In A Softcase.
Soft sided bags or carry cases provide less protection than a hardcase but tend to be much smaller. As a result, it's possible to pack a full size bike that folds into a soft case and check it aboard some airlines with no fee at all. I've transported micro folders like the Mobiky and full size folding mountain bikes (like the Montague Paratrooper) this way without any damage to the bikes. I do wrap the frame members, crank, crank arms, etc. with foam pipe insulation as well as zip tie and bungee the bike to prevent components from rubbing against one another.

Other Options:

Carry On
If you have a tiny folding bike like an A-Bike or CarryMe, you may be allowed to take the bike aboard as a carry-on. With the way flights are over sold these days, you probably have a 30% chance of carrying it on; however, if the flight attendant tells you no, the bike will be one of the very last items to go into the cargo hold (so it's more likely to be on top of all the other checked bags).

Rent A Bike
With large cities like Paris, Barcelona and Washington D.C. offering sophisticated bike rental programs, it's very possible that you could rent a bike at a minimal charge. The drawback is that bikes may not be available and who knows what condition the bike will be in.

Ship It
There's always the option of shipping your bike but shipping fees are quite high these days. Shipping a full size bike can easily cost in excess of $100 one way for ground shipping within the USA. Internationally, shipping charges regularly exceed $350. Also, there is the risk that the lodging accommodations will loose the bike or refuse to hold it for you.

My Choice
Based on my experience, the option that works best for me is to take along a folding bike when I fly and transport the bike folded within a soft sided carry bag. For added protection, I normally place my clothing in the bike carry bag. To prevent the clothing from shifting or becoming soiled by the bike, I use plastic zip lock bags like the Hefty One Zip and insert those bags around my pipe foam protected folding bike. There is a risk of the bike being damaged but there's risk of that with a hard case too. Besides, traveling without a bike is just not an option.

For more information on airline baggage regulations and fees for bicycles, visit Ibike.org. Also, do check with the airline you're flying and take their terms of carraige with you just in case.

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