Shipping A Bike

There was once a time when the biggest problem in taking your bike on a plane was dragging it through the terminal and if they were going to stick you with a $20 "Bike Fee" but now we face a two-headed dragon. First is the TSA which is operated on Knee Jerk Reactions with many of their rules based on the whim or attitude of whoever you come up against. The other is the airlines struggling to keep out of bankruptcy by looking for revenue from any source possible. You can pretty well depend on facing one or both problems. Strictly depending on who you catch or who catches you at the security gate where the TSA people are likely to open the box containing your bike and depending on the mood of the inspector, drag it out of the box. Then getting it back in is highly questionable and sealing it back up even less likely. We were flying to Rome to begin a cruise and one of our pieces of checked luggage was my wife's travel wheelchair which fits in a special case. At some point between DFW and Rome security opened the case, which is simply two zippers and the whole chair can be viewed, and evidently pulled the chair out. Then, apparently unable to get it back in, they taped it to the case with yards of what looked like red duct tape with the word "Opened By Security" printed about ever two feet on it.

The other side of the coin you will face will be the airline charges. Most of them have stated fees for bicycles in the "Baggage Allowance" section of their General Information. They also have oversize charges and overweight charges. There have been reports where they attempted to charge all three of those fees.

The good news is there are options. Probably one of the best is to ship your bike ahead via FedEx, UPS or one of the other national carriers. That does require that you get it ready for shipment, get it off and arrange for someone to receive it at the other end. That means you will be without the bike for a week or more but it relieves you having to wrestle it through the airport and the associated cost and uncertainty. Most hotels will agree to receive your bike and store it for your arrival if you reserve a room for when you arrive, They will also store your bike until you are ready to leave if you spend your final night with them.

Another option is to ship it to a bike shop but I'd class that as more chancy than a hotel because you are generally depending on a single person. Below are several messages I've received over the past few years but they have probably changed by now so one should contact the individual airline they are planning to use.

If you get airline information over the phone, ask for the person's name and ask them to email their rates and policies or else where it can be found on their website. Then print out copies and take them with you when you head to the airport. There is nothing worse than to be standing at the gate and they tell you to hand over more money or get out of line.

There is (or was) an international agreement among airlines on charges for bikes on international flights between the US and Europe (IATA) but it's up the each airline if they want to honor it. It's not a law or any sort, just a hand-shaking agreement and there is no way you can hold them to it if they choose not to honor it.

Boxed and ready to ship. Note how buckles are placed over the hand holds and straps are tied. Whether it will arrive like that or not is another thing but at least you can tell if it's been opened.


ADDENDUM #1 (added 1/28/02):

There have been several changes in airport security following September 11th and much of it concerns checked luggage, IE: your bike. One of the big ones is that anything which will not go through their baggage X-ray machine will be opened for hand inspection. The second is that anything that is not recognizable in the X-ray triggers a hand inspection and finally, security people are told to consider as "suspect" all locked or sealed cases and packages. Since your bike box falls under all three of those parameters, depend on it being opened so do not tape it shut. It will likely arrive flapping open and who knows what small items will be missing. 

Instead of taping your box shut, buy a couple (or even three for extra safety) luggage straps long enough to go around the box. Cut them down to a length of about a foot longer than what it takes to go around the box. If you leave long "tails" on them, they can catch in their baggage conveyors and be ripped off.

If you look at the buckles on the luggage straps, you will see they are similar to those on toe straps; you press on a tab to release them. The problem is that if your box is laid with the buckles down, the weight of the box can cause them to release. To prevent this, when the straps are tight, bring the loose end around the buckle under that release tab and back up the other side of the buckle and do a "half-hitch" around the strap around the box. In fact, do several half-hitches to take up the remainder of the loose end and then tuck the tip under the strap.

Another trick to keep the buckles from coming open is to locate the straps to where the buckles are over the hand holds in the box. Once the straps are tight, turn them over so the buckles go inside the hand holds.

Since there is no reason to try to slip your bike through as a sales display to escape the fee, might as well spell it out. Print on each side of the box in big, bold letters; "BICYCLE, DO NOT THROW OR LAY FLAT". It just might help in getting it there with less damage.

ADDENDUM #2 (added 11/25/03):

I have had a number of messages concerning domestic and international flights with a bicycle so I sent this message to Delta:

I am planning to fly round trip OKC to London, UK in September and want to take a bicycle in a standard bicycle box, size 54" X 28" X 8" and weight about 50 pounds. It will be my only baggage except one carry-on. Since this in an international flight, will there be any charges for the bicycle?

Delta's reply (August 2003):

Dear Mr. Foreman,
Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.

Bicycles are not considered as part of the international baggage allowance and require a fee. A $90 fee applies to each checked bicycle for passengers traveling on a Delta ticket, including codeshare flights. This fee may vary per carrier or destination.

Any bicycle presented for carriage must be packaged in one of the following ways: handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed and enclosed in a cardboard container pedals and handlebars encased in plastic, Styrofoam, or other similar material Delta bike boxes measure 69" x 39" x 9" and are available at most Delta airport locations.

Note: Some connection carriers and aircraft may not accept bicycles as checked baggage, and may have different limitations.

We appreciate your interest in Delta's Web site.

Ann Welch
Online Customer Support Desk

Here's another message concerning this subject:

From a query on the Phred Bicycle Touring List (November 2003):

"We had been planning on using our Cannondale touring bikes for the trip [from USA to Ireland] but it's going to cost an addition $360 in excess baggage charges to carry them so I decided to investigate rental bikes."

Wayne Estes replies:

You shouldn't have to pay ANY oversize luggage fee for single-seat bikes if you check them straight through from Atlanta to Ireland. IATA passenger air tariff regulation requires a bike to be accepted as a standard large piece of luggage on international flights. You should only have to pay excess baggage charges if you check more than two pieces of luggage each, or if the second piece of luggage exceeds 42 inches length+width+height. To do this for a long bike tour, you usually have to carry a large pannier as carry-on luggage.

Below is a repeat of some information I posted to the touring list on April 28 [2003]:

Today I received a free temporary login and password which allows me to access the IATA Passenger Air Tariff regulations. I am finding conflicting rules about bicycles. In the rules section Baggage, General Baggage Rules, Special Baggage, Special items other than animals: Recreational/Sporting Equipment:
"Bicycles: may be accepted as checked baggage. Check with carrier concerned for charges and regulations to be applied. "

In the rules section Baggage, Baggage Piece Concept, Free Baggage Allowance:
"3. Baggage 3.3 Baggage piece concept 3.3.2 Free baggage allowance Checked baggage (a) Free allowance for adults.

The free baggage allowance for checked and unchecked baggage is determined by the class paid (and not by the class actually traveled) and is as follows:

First/Intermediate/Business Class -- Two checked pieces of baggage of which the sum of the greatest outside linear dimensions of each bag does not exceed 62 inches (158 cms.), and provided the weight of each bag does not exceed 70 lbs. (32 kgs.).

Economy Class -- Two checked pieces of baggage (measured together) of which the sum of the greatest outside linear dimensions does not exceed 107 inches (273 cms.) provided that the outside linear dimensions of each bag does not exceed 62 inches (158 cms.), and provided the weight of each bag does not exceed 70 lbs. (32 kgs.). The articles listed below, regardless of their actual dimensions may be considered as a piece of baggage at 62 inches (158 cms).

(Wayne's words now...) Bicycles are to be considered a standard 62-inch piece of luggage. If a check-in agent asks you to pay for a bicycle on an international flight, tell them that IATA Passenger Air Tariff regulation requires them to accept a bicycle as equivalent to a 62-inch piece of checked luggage.

Note that economy class passengers may only check 2 pieces with combined dimensions of 107 inches. So subtracting the 62 inch bicycle, that means that any other item you check may only be 45 inches combined height + length + width. I'm certain that my panniers lashed together exceed that dimension by a few inches. Hopefully they won't notice.

Wayne Estes
Mundelein, IL, USA


ADDENDUM #3 (added 03/20/05):

Since airlines fees for bicycles are now approaching $100 each way, many people are shipping their bikes ahead via either UPS or FedEx. There are two price break points for shipping. There is a 90" (length + width + depth) and 50 pound class and the next step is 108" and 94 pounds which just about doubles the cost of shipping. If you exceed either the size or weight, it automatically jumps to the next weight class.

The usual bicycle box of 54" x 8" x 28" exceeds the 90" limit and is charged as if it weighed 94 pounds. The new Cannondale boxes are 47" x 12" x 28" which will comes in under the 90" limit and most bicycles weigh less than 50 pounds so it cuts the cost just about in half. The other good point about the Cannondale box is that it will stand up much easier than the 8" deep boxes and are less likely to be laid down with heavy things stacked on top of it.

You will need to remove both wheels for the Cannondale box but it's much easier to pack than the older style ones.

ADDENDUM #4 (added 11/27/05):

I saw a bit on TV this morning about the place in Scottsboro, Alabama where lost (misdirected as they call it) luggage finally ends up at  While they were talking about a surfboard that someone lost, I could see a rack of about half a dozen bicycles in the background. Couldn't tell what they were but it would be very easy for a nice touring bike to exceed the maximum the airline would pay for it. You can bet if someone was willing to pop for the fee to ship it, then it was a fairly expensive bike. I've seen one or two posts on the Touring List about people losing their bikes while traveling.

The airlines claim they are able to match 99% of the luggage with the passengers, but that remaining 1% fills a good size store where people can buy your belongings for half of the original value or less.

It takes very little effort to help the airlines return your luggage. First and foremost is a sturdy nametag on the outside (two on large items) I don't mean those little paper things with the rubber string that you can pick up as you check in but one of the really tough ones with a strong strap or better still, a pair of Zip Ties that can't come loose. Try to place them in locations (like under a handle) where they are less likely to get ripped off by the conveyor belts.

Print your name, address and phone number inside the box containing your bike, and then put an identification tag on the bike frame. All my luggage, no matter whether checked or carry on, has a nametag on it as well as one or more of my business cards inside. We all get sheets of our names and addresses to put on envelopes, stick a few of those on small but valuable items.

Believe me, the airlines do try to reunite bags with passengers because they ultimately have to pay for the lost luggage and I'm sure they never get that amount back when they sell it to the lost luggage store. Let's make it as easy for them as possible.

ADDENDUM #5 (added 09/10/08):

I decided that it was time to update the information on shipping your bike but after talking with half a dozen customer service people with various airlines, I've come to the conclusion that the best description of the rules covering bicycles on airlines today are a Dog's Breakfast. I had one guy tell me that the fee for a bicycle was $150 but since the box was more than 62 united inches, there would be a $75 oversize change and if it weighed more than 42 pounds, there would be an additional $50 charge for that. Another one told me that the rules were so confusing that he didn't really know and it would be up to the agent when the bike was checked.

I'm not faulting the airlines, most of them are struggling just to keep flying and the rapid increase in jet fuel has put even more pressure on them. They are trying everything possible to keep the bottom line from getting any worse and cutting back on the cost of luggage is just one of them.The weight and bulk of the luggage of the average airline passenger has more than doubled in the past 20 years to the point where the belly of the plane won't hold everything the passengers are dragging along and the chances of your bicycle arriving on the same plane with you is getting less and less. This, coupled with the uncertainty of its trip through the TSA Hell, makes it even more likely that your bike won't come sliding (or tumbling) down the chute as you are standing in baggage claim.

So rather than taking the chance of finding yourself butting heads with an obstinate ticketing agent who is demanding more than what your bike is worth to check it, while the clock is ticking down to when the boarding gate slams shut like a jail door (and you still have to get through airport security) I'd suggest that you ship it ahead by UPS, FedEx or one of the other such shippers. That way you can show up at the airport with nothing but a carry-on bag in one hand and your passport in the other. It's not only cheaper in most cases but will make your trip a lot less hectic.

There is also some very good information at this URL:

Click here for an article on how to box a bike.

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