What’s the Best Way to Fly with My Bike?
Hauling it far from home is a drag, but careful planning can ease your pain
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There’s no getting around it: flying with a bike is no fun. But despite airline fees and greasy disassembly, taking the right steps will help get you and your bike to the perfect destination. So we asked pro cyclist Adam Craig for help. Since heading to his first Mountain Bike World Championships in 1999, he has spent the past sixteen years flying around the globe to race his bike. In that span, the now 33-year-old has discovered some key considerations when flying with his ride.
Before You Board
When you book your trip, see if you can pick an airline that doesn’t charge an exorbitant fee for a bicycle. On domestic flights, these extra fees can range from $50 to $150 dollars each way; it can be even more internationally. Be aware that the cheapest passenger tickets aren’t always the best bet, as you have to factor in extra cost of bringing the bike. JetBlue and Virgin America are among the cheapest airlines, charging $50 per bike on domestic flights, and Southwest is right behind—they’ll dock you $75.
When you arrive at the airport, Craig says there’s always the chance to work a little magic on the ticketing agent. “I’m really nice to check-in people. I try to be lighthearted, jovial, and talk about whatever to try to distract them from the fact that I have a bunch of BS with me.” Of course, sneaking a bicycle bag past the check-in attendant is no easy task, and the reality of a bicycle trip usually involves paying to bring along your toy. If you can, avoid American, Delta, or United. They want $150 each way on domestic flights.
The best way to avoid the fee? Craig says loyalty pays off. “My personal MO has always been to fly one particular airline, which for me has been United. They normally charge a lot for bikes, but once you have status they don’t hassle you.” If you are in good standing with a particular airline, contact them regarding the possibility of waiving the fee.
Protect Your Precious
No matter what you paid to get it on the plane, that pain doesn’t come close to how much it will hurt if your pride and joy is smashed into pieces en route.
So pick your case carefully: the Thule RoundTrip Hard Case ($600) offers the robust protection of a fully rigid case, while the BikND Helium ($600) has a unique take on protection (the sides inflate to shield the bike). Both cases have wheels to roll the bag to you final destination—your back will thank you.
Whichever bag you use, Craig says properly padding your bike when packing is key. “I just use a soft bag with a shoulder strap, but I pack it decently.” Craig recommends covering the frame with pipe insulation and placing a length of half-inch PVC pipe between the front and rear dropouts to keep the frame from snapping like a wishbone if anything is set on top of it. If your bike has disk brakes, remove the rotors and pack them in cardboard.
There’s no getting around the fact that bringing a bike on a trip is an expensive and stressful ordeal, but Craig counsels trying to maintain perspective. “I think just acknowledge that traveling on an airplane with your bike is like using a time machine to go exactly where you want to go and do exactly what you want to be doing,” he says. “Realize that that magic costs money and be cool about it.”