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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Folding Bikes On United Airlines

by Larry Lagarde

If you're taking a commercial flight and want to go cycling at your destination, packing a folding bike into your suitcase is a great way to see the sights and get some exercise too. Beware of the fees some airlines charge for even a folding bike though because they can be ridiculous.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Los Angeles on United. As when I fly on Southwest, I expected that I could carry my CarryMe micro folding bike onto the plane; however, to be safe, I called United. The customer service rep told me that any and all bikes are charged a $175 fee each way and that the bike would have to be checked. Yesterday, a customer flying United to Asia shared a similar story with me.

One of the primary benefits of micro folding adult bikes is that they are small and light enough to meet the baggage guidelines of commercial airlines. When an airline charges prohibitively for bags that meet their dimensional and weight limits, either the airline is simply unaware of the disparity or is greedy and/or desperate.

To make sure United was aware of this disparity, I wrote them the following:
When can United flyers expect to see an updated baggage policy that removes the "Special" status from bicycles that fold within United's weight and size limits for either a checked or carry on bag?

I manage RideTHISbike.com, a blog/website about bicycling that specializes in folding bikes and is read by 600-1100 unique users/day. I recently flew with United to attend a transit symposium in Los Angeles. The flight arrived on time and my experience with all the United service personnel I encountered was positive. Nevertheless, based on United's outdated baggage policy regarding folding bikes, I cannot in good conscience recommend that travelers with folding bikes fly United.

A variety of folding bicycles currently meet United's weight and size limits for checked or carry on bags (some examples: A-bike, Brompton, CarryMe, E-Z Pack); yet, United's baggage policies do not acknowedge this fact. As a result, rather than incur a $175 fee, passengers with these compact folding bikes are flying with other airlines instead of United.

Since folding bike owners frequent my site when planning to travel, I am posting the above info there today. In the interest of fairness and accuracy, I will be happy to post any comment or reply I receive from United Airlines on this issue.
With United's bicycle policy requesting steps that clearly don't apply to folding bikes (like removing the pedals or turning in the handlebars), it's obvious that United bicycle policy was drafted to refer to standard, full size bikes. Hopefully, United will look at the facts and update their bike policy so flyers can rest assured that their compact folding bikes will no longer be subject to special fees.

9:30 PM: Just received United's acknowledgement of my complaint/comment. Unfortunately, it contains neither a direct reference to the issue (flyers being charged $175 for bikes that meet United's checked bag weight and dimensional guidelines) nor does it tell whether United intends to remove this unfair disparity. See for yourself:
Dear Mr. Lagarde,

I understand that you have concerns about United policy for carrying

We want to understand how policy change feels from your point of view,
so your candid comments will be shared with our management teams
responsible for decisions about products and services our customers most
value. Your feedback will help us evaluate our decisions that impact
your choice of airline.

Additionally, I am delighted to read your report about your experience
with United.

We value your business and hope that you give us an opportunity to serve
you onboard United again soon.


Manish Khurana
United Airlines Customer Relations

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At Wednesday, February 18, 2009 3:11:00 PM CST, Blogger Mole said...

Good for you! I recently communicated with my local Translink department regarding the use of folding bikes on light rapid transit trains during rush hour. Currently the policy is to only allow bicycles on LRTs during non-peak hours. This policy was clearly formulated before the advent of micro-folding bikes.


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