Airline Baggage Regulation for Bikes
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History, Issues and Solutions
In the dark of winter 2007, and since, many airlines have effectively increased the 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. By February of 2007 the economy class regulations, for most airlines, call for all bicycles being charged on these flights. There was another big jump in fees in September 2008. The charges now range from $80 to $300 each way -- $160 to $600 roundtrip -- and maybe even higher because the changes aren't announced or published on websites so they are very time consuming to track!
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 airline 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 issue because many of the airline's lean bicycling customers, plus their bikes, are going to weigh less than some of their other customers without any bags. It is not a size issue because most of 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 their revenue.
While some of the airlines are talking green, they are simultaneous 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 anywhere in their public, written policies.) One traveler going from Asia to Europe on Malaysia airline 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:
For most code-share agreements, it is the rules of the operating carrier (the owner of the aircraft) which prevails in most cases as they are paying for the fuel, loading personnel etc.
If you are flying on ONE ticket with multiple segments (connections) and the different segments have different baggage allowances, you should be given the most generous baggage allowance for the whole journey. If you bought separate tickets for each segment of the journey, the separate baggage allowance for each segment will apply.
If you are flying on one ticket with multiple segments (up to three) with multiple airlines, ideally, and usually, the airlines have "inter-line agreement" so when you initially check your bags, they will be checked through to your final destination. In this situation, you should only face having to pay once. If they aren't checked through to the final destinations and you have to claim and recheck the in route, all bets are off. Save your receipt from your initial baggage payment as it may help you avoid additional assessments.
The airlines argument for surcharges is 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 a single suitcase, 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 re-coupled. Significant disassembly and reassembly is required.) Occasionally travelers have been questioned about the contents of suitably sized cases and when they answered bicycle they have been charged. [We think this is WRONG.] If you are questioned about the contents of a case AND have included a piece of clothing you can always say, in good conscience, "clothes and other stuff." If you feel you need to be closer to comprehensive you can say, "exercise equipment," or "tubing, gears, bearing and accessories." [It is more likely that customs will ask and an appropriate answer is "personal items" (which could be a bike, but more importantly affirms that you don't have a commercial samples or merchandise.)]"
Ruster Sports has a two-case system called the Hen House, which meets the dimensions to fly as checked baggage. The systems takes up two bags of any allowance and requires significant disassembly of the bike (pedals, seat, handlebars, headset, wheels and rear derailleur -- an instructional video and hard-copy instructions are available) .
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".
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.
E-bikes are prohibited by most airlines because of their batteries. Theoretically, they should be allowed if the batteries are removed, but there can still be a weight issue. We have one report of Lufthansa refusing an e-bike even with the battery removed.
Continue to Airline Baggage Regulations for Bicycle Chart
The International Bicycle Fund is an independent, non-profit organization. Its primary purpose is to promote bicycle transportation. Most IBF projects and activities fall into one of four categories: planning and engineering, safety education, economic development assistance and promoting international understanding. IBF's objective is to create a sustainable, people-friendly environment by creating opportunities of the highest practicable quality for bicycle transportation. IBF is funded by private donation. Contributions are always welcome and are U.S. tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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