Flying With Bikes

Leaving Heathrow to SingaporeProbably the biggest headache while cycle touring over seas is transporting the bikes – something which I seem to have done a frustrating amount of recently.
As if packing up all your equipment into a small container wasn’t bad enough, airlines often make it no easier to determine how a bike affects or is affected by luggage allowance. It would seem often that people working for airlines are unsure of specifics. Clearly bikes need more promotion!

One thing that I find incredibly frustrating are airlines’ attitude towards bikes. Tell them that you want to carry golf clubs, and thats no problem. Even skiis are usually welcome. Bikes however, can be met with sharp intakes of breath and uncertainty (and almost never any weight leniency).

Sri Lankan AirlinesSince finding accommodating airlines can be a pain, I’ve listed all the airlines below who I’ve flown with, and what they allow in regards to bikes. Airlines tend to have very specific rules for bike boxs (usually linear dimensions), which in my experience not one person at the check in knows or cares about. As long as it’s within the weight limit, and a standard bike box (like the free ones from bike shops), they’ll take it.
And although individual airlines might not care if you’re one or two kg over, one important thing to remember is that most airlines won’t take any one item that is over 32kg, usually to protect the health and safety of those handling the baggage. Jack found this out recently for himself when trying to check in at Heathrow….
But with the bike and extras all packed away into one box, and a pannier and handlebar bag slung over one shoulder packed to the top with clothes, sleeping bag and anything else heavy, it’s certainly all possible.
The information no doubt changes minute by minute, so its always worth doing as much research as possible before hand.
The main website I have found to be most useful for searching for flights is Skyscanner.net, as they show many budget airlines that sites like lastminute.co.uk and opodo.co.uk do not.
These are just my own experiences – there are links at the bottom of the page for those in America, as well as other British cyclists’ experience…

London to Tokyo (2008) – JAL
JAL don’t offer any allowance additional to the standard 20kg in ecomony, though they had no problems with taking bikes which were suitably packed.
This was the first time I had flown with my bike, and so I was rather paranoid about box sizes etc. There were no problems at all however, when flying my road bike and panniers with them to Tokyo.

Damascus to London (2010) – BMI
BMI are probably my favourite airlines for flying bikes – they make it very clear what they offer in terms of allowance, and have a specific rate for taking a bicycle on board.
It cost a very reasonable extra £30 to take a bicycle on board, which is in addition to your standard 20kg ecomony class allowance.

London to Mumbai/Calcutta to London (2011) – Air India
Air India offer a very generous 46kg baggage allowance for international flights (max 32kg per item). Initially it wasn’t clear at all from their website that this was the case, and took a couple of calls to verify. Again, they had no problems with bikes as long as they were within the weight limit, but it might be handy to have in writing the weight limit agreed. Checking in at Calcutta airport the lady was rather surprised by this allowance, and had to double check with her manager.
Landing in Mumbai was another issue. The customs officials kept insisting that I may have to pay tax on bringing the bike in. I just kept saying it was an old bike (my claims getting increasingly ridiculous, going from an old bike, to my father’s bike, to my father’s old bike…). Eventually the customs guy got bored, and just wandered off… Oh well…

London to Singapore (2011) – Sri Lankan Airlines
Sri Lankan Airlines were a big headache when I flew with them, but I have a feeling a just had a bad experince. There was no entertainment onboard (the system was down), the plane was delayed by 3 hours, and… well I was pretty jetlagged and cranky! But their 30kg baggage allowance meant that again, the bike and bits could all be fit into one bag with a pannier slung over one shoulder to take up the extra weight. Jack found that his booking only showed the limit as 20kg, so again check, and if possible make sure that you have your allowance in writing from them.

Singapore to Cairns (2011) – Jetstar
Jetstar is actually a budget airlines, but the one advantage of booking with them is that they offer fairly flexible baggage allowances. If you want to take more than the standard 20kg, you can specify exactly how much you want to take with you (all, of course, at a price), choosing between 5kg, 10kg and 20kg. Buying an extra 10kg of excess baggage cost 120 SGD (about £60), which given the relatively low cost of a ticket meant flyiing to Ciarns with a bike was reasonable.
These options can be a bit tricky to find on the website, but are all very clear when you start to book a flight (and can be seen long before you enter any payment details or confirmation).
The drawback seems to be their slightly hidden information, and lack of any contact method if you’re in the UK….

Sydney to Tokyo (2011) – Jetstar
Once again we climbed aboard Jetstar for another long-haul and semi-uncomfortable ride.

Interestingly,m this was the first time we actually encountered any problems with flying – not because of the bikes, but because we had decided not to book an outgoing flight from Japan, so we could take our time. We were informed by the check in desk that they (or rather “Japan”) would not let us board without  proof of an exit ticket. Our only option was to buy (any) ticket from Japan, which we would later get refunded. Handy, considering the only tickets available appeared to be £3000 business class tickets…

Tokyo to Seattle (2011) – Singapore Airlines
This was without a doubt the best flight of the whole trip. Singapore Airlines is an absolute joy to fly, not just because of the airlines themses (the A320 was surprisingly comfortable), but also because of their attitude to bikes. To begin with you have a generous amount of luggage allowance (especially when flyding to the states), and so you are only charged for a bike if you exceed that.  It’s charged at a flate rate of 6kg worth of luggage for a bike going over the excess, but the fact that their allowance is generous to begin with meant that we didn’t have to purchase anything, even with the amount we were carrying!

New York to London (2011) – Iceland Express
The last flight… and the only one where they managed to lose our luggage.

Iceland Express are another budget long haul airline that allow you to pay a flat rate amount in advance for your bike (in this case around £20). Again, the cost of luggage was all broken down separately, so we just payed for what we needed. Being the end of my trip however, I had managed to add an extra 5kg roughly purely from bottles of maple syrup secreted about my luggage. You can usually get away with one or two kg over the limit – with Iceland Express I was lucky to get away with 2kg extra, as the people at the desk next to me got charged for exactly that.

Landing in Heathrow, we found out that our luggage had never left Newark airport. People were in tears and tantrums, but for us, it didn’t matter. We were home.

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Useful Links:
CycleTourer.co.uk (All manner of info on flying with bikes)
Real Geeks Ride Bikes (US Info)
Airline Luggage Regulations (not really used)
iBike.org (US Info)
GFOnline (Global Info)

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