We're often asked "How do you manage to take your bikes with you?" when we make a flight. So it might be a good idea to dwell on that subject and give some piece of advice.
To point out possible troubles let me first tell a short story I experienced a few years ago:
There was this flight from Frankfurt to Alberquerque, I'd booked due to the starting point of my bicycle trip to Salt Lake City. The travel preparations went well according to my meticulous designed plans. I put the bike into a box and rented a big car to get the 300 kilometers (190 miles) to Frankfurt. The evening before departure I picked up the car and went to sleep with the good feeling to have everything done ...
The surprise came next morning when I tried to put the bikebox into the car. Despite I had measured the whole thing, it didn't fit. Well, it would have, the rear door was big enough, weren't there these bulges of the cartwheels. What now? The first drops of sweat decorated my forehead. Fortunately the car had rails on its roof. So I heaved the box on the roof and fastened it with several strings. Slightly nervous I fetched my remaining stuff and started towards Frankfurt.
Everything went fine till I exceeded the speed of 110 km/h (70 miles/hour). Suddenly a loud bang scared the wits out of me. I slammed on the brake and jumped out of the car. The box was still on the roof but because of the airstream its front was heavily deformed. I fixed it more or less with the strings and carefully drove on, at a maximum speed of 100 km/h. There was still time to catch the plane, but now the time table was kind of getting tight.
The weather changed from sunny to foggy. Very foggy and moist! Strange noises came from above so I stopped at the next rest area with a queasy feeling in my stomach. The box, made of cardbord began to macerate! "Sh.." There was nothing I could have done. After fixing the strings I carefully continued the drive. It was a nightmare, my eyes glued on the rearview mirror, hoping not to see the bike flying behind me. I stopped at every rest area and fumbled with the strings trying to tighten the wet box.
Fortune favors fools, some time the sun was shining again and I reached Frankfurt airport, the shapeless cardboad thing still on the roof. It might have been a new kind of sport at the olympic games, "airport running with baggage". A little bit difficult to hold everything together, but my time was not bad. Actually I caught the plane on the last minute. A friendly man at the customs control helped me to fix the box with miles of small tape.
To cut it short, me and my bike met again in the US. Instead of lightheartedly starting my tour, the next trouble arose with a damaged wheel rim. Well, this is another story ...
As you see, a lot of unpleasant incidents can occur, one disaster might lead to the next. Below I give some hints about what to consider when travelling with the biycle as a piece of baggage.
Pack you bike in a cardboard box. Many bicyle stores have these boxes which they normally throw away, so you probably get them free of charge.
Box or not?
Some people prefer not to pack their bikes. The airport staff handles unpacked bikes more carefully than packed, so they argue. I'm not sure, especially when I see how baggage is treated at the airport. Anyhow, most airlines require packing.
Packing at the airport
In some circumstances you cannot pack your bike before you are at the airport. Make a rehearsal how to pack. Trouble is inevitable if you realize shortly before departure that the bike does't fit into the box. Make sure you can handle the box.
- How to get to the airport
Don't underestimate the size of a bikebox. If you don't have a pick-up you probably must carry the box on the roof. Wrap it in foil in case of moist weather (see above).
Again, make a rehearsal before the day of departure. It might be tricky to fasten the box on the car.
by train/by bike
In a train it's almost impossible to take a packed bike with you (at least in Germany). You have to carry the (folded) bikebox seperately.
The same problem when going by bike, somehow you have to carry the box:
This is how we cope with the problem of carrying a bikebox:
We use special frames designed to carry a bike-bag on the back.
At the airport
Arrive early to have sufficient time! The transport of baggage and bikebox to the counter can be stressful and exhausting. The Check-In is mostly pretty time-consuming.
Take adhesive tape with you in case the box will be opened for control.
The transport of a bike can be pretty expensive (overweight, oversize). The only advice I can give is to compare different airlines.
However, on transatlantic flights some airlines offer the so called "Two-Piece-Concept" which includes two pieces of baggage with a maximum weight of about 30 kilogramme each for free. Pack all your stuff in one big bag. This bag and the bikebox are two pieces which most probably don't exceed 60 kilogrammes.
This is a detailed list of how we prepared and made our recent flight from Hanover (Germany) to Denver CO and back from Las Vegas NV to Hanover: