Airline Baggage Regulations for Bikes
In the dark of winter 2007, and since, many airlines have effectively increased cost of a trans-Atlantic ticket for a bicyclist by as much as $500 (Lufthansa) and $400 (Delta). If the base ticket price is $900 that is over a 30-50% increase in the cost of travel. American Airlines, British Airways and most of the Asia/Pacific airlines are still bicycle-friendly and don't surcharge bicycles on trans-ocean flights.
Prior to January of 2007 most airlines let bicycles on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights go free, in lieu of one piece of baggage (as long as they were within the two-bag limit and under the weight 30kg). Early in 2007, most of the world's airlines seem to have entered into collusion and simultaneously changed their economy class baggage regulations for bicycles.
North-South trip (i.e. North America-South America and Europe-Africa) have long had less bicycle-friendly policies so the change has not been as abrupt. In fact, there are some seasons (~June to ~October and Christmas), that some airlines serving South America, ban (embargo) ALL over-size baggage (most bicycles) on flights. Often these embargos are not clearly published on the websites. You will need to call the airline and ask about "baggage embargo" to get the details.
Note: Around the world, if you are flying economy class, and NOT flying to North America, you baggage allowance is likely to simply be 20kg (44lbs.) [If a box is required it will take-up 3-4kg.] Any baggage weighing more than 20kg is subject to a surcharge.
None of this is not a pure weight issues because many of the airline's lean bicycling customers, plus their bikes, are going to weigh less than many of their other customers without any bags. It is not a size issue because today’s modern airplanes can, and have, easily accommodated bicycles. And, if it's a bottom line issue, the airlines are delusional, because there aren’t enough bikes flying to make a significant difference in there revenue.
While some of the airlines are talking green, they are simultaneously working to undermine green options by their customers!
The work-around for the bicyclists is not as easy as renting a bike at their destinations. There are very few rental bikes available in the world that are suitable for serious environmentally-friendly, multi-day, long distance, bike touring.
We encourage bicyclists who are incensed by this to react. As much as it might be good to write to the airlines, they apparently have big wastebaskets where paper falls silently, but if enough people write at least it will get full. It might be more effective to have the local media do a local story about a local person who has been hurt these policies. Almost every region has an airport, so there is also a broader local angle. Almost every region has a local bike club, if they can be recruited to the cause, you might start to get the critical mass necessary to be visible. And, it also wouldn’t hurt to find a representative in Congress who was willing to ask some questions.
Flying with your bike
Airline baggage regulations for bicycles are a moving target and the airlines can be very inconsistent (i.e. different charges in different directions, and applying amounts that don't seem to be reflected any where in their public, written policies.) One traveler going from Asia to Europe on Malaysia Airlines paid nothing extra for his bike going, but was charged €483 on the return. We have also posted the details of an experience of inconsistency with American Airlines, though it is not unique to customers of American Airlines.
The new environment of "cooperation" and code sharing has added to the confusion. For example:, we have heard of the following situation:
With Air "A" flight number and are flying on an Air "A" plane the bike is free in lieu of first piece if you have no more than two check bags.
The airlines argument for surcharges are bicycles require special handling and are quite bulky causing luggage holds to be loaded in very specific ways. This is also true for large musical instruments and very large dogs in kennels. Many airlines have specific charges for other sporting equipment as well: golf bags, surfboards, ski equipment, etc
Folding bikes, like Bike Fridays, that fit in suitcases, generally circumvent all of these hassles, as do S & S torque couplings (precision fittings for steel and titanium bicycle frames that allow the frame to separate into two pieces and be recoupled.)
Why can the airlines charge so much for bikes? Because the consumer (bicyclists) rarely complain and haven't organized a protest or campaign. In the USA the major membership bicycle-organizations (LAB, ACA, IMBA, USCF) haven't advocated or organized for general bicyclists on this issue.
The following is the best information we have. The airlines don't notify us when they raise their tariffs or change rules. If you have information that differs from the chart below please email it to us at "ibike (at) ibike.org". For a general essay on flying with or shipping your bike see "Flying With Your Bike".
Note: Airlines are adopting a zero-tolerance policy to ANYTHING pressured on board, including tires, gas filled shocks, CO2 cartridges, etc. While, if in good shape, most of these items are unlikely to explode, airline and security personnel don't know the maintenance, use or abuse history of any given item, so they draw the line at none. If you get caught with pressurized gas filled shock, we don’t know of any work around at this time.
As an alternative, though not necessary less expensive, you can send your bike and other luggage to yourself to your destination using a door-to-door shipping service. Domestically the fees tend to be worth considering. Internationally the fees tend to be for the wealthy. The service we have heard of are: The Luggage Club, UPS, DHL, FedEx, Carry-my-bags (UK), First Luggage, Luggage Free, Luggage Forward, Luggage Express. In the USA, an economical option is Amtrak, but it is not door-to-door and there needs to be a freight-handling station at both where you want to send the bicycle from and receive it.
If you feel you have been wronged by an airline, and you have exhausted you options for reaching a settlement with them, depending upon where you live, you can consider taking them to court. In the USA, because of the dollar amount, these case are often appropriate for small claims court. The website "Sue the Airlines" has information on this process.
Notes and Explanations for Table of Baggage Regulations:
Baggage Allowance: To/From North America
Basic free baggage allowance for economy class on domestic and international flights originating or terminating in the USA or Canada. Most airlines flying to and from North America use a "piece concept" on those flights. All baggage usually must meet standards for size and weight.
Baggage Allowance: Carry-on
The information here shows the number of bags (dash), the maximum size (slash) and the maximum weight of each back. The size is calculated as the sum of the length + height + width.
Bicycle Tariff: Domestic/Regional
Tariffs on a bicycle as baggage on a flight within the carrier’s home country and region. An asterisk “*”, indicates under the "piece system" no charge for one bicycle in lieu of one piece of checked baggage (waive oversize), if otherwise within the checked baggage piece and weight allowance. All prices are in US$ unless otherwise noted.
Bicycle Tariff: To/From North America
Tariffs on a bicycle as baggage on a on a transoceanic flight to and from North America. Flight between North and South America can have total different allowance and restrictions depending upon the country and time of year so you will need to contact the airline. An asterisk “*”, indicates under the "piece system" no charge for one bicycle in lieu of one piece of checked baggage (waive oversize), if otherwise within the checked baggage piece and weight allowance. All prices are in US$ unless otherwise noted.
Minimum Packing Requirement / Special Instructions
Indicates how the airline would like the bicycle to be packed for transport. "Box" also includes commercially available cases and travel bags ‑‑ in essence the bicycle must be packed. "Bag" refers to large clear plastic bags that are available from the airlines that allow them. "Handlebars turned" means, handlebars must be turned parallel to the frame. This column also gives other requirement of the airline that you might encounter when traveling with a bicycle. Some airlines require advanced notice from passengers traveling with bicycles.
Read more about bicycle touring around the world on GoNOMAD
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