Flying with bicycle? Fly with a bike the easy way
If you are wondering what it’s like flying with your bike for the first time then this article is for you. We will take you through the basics of what you need to know about flying with your bike to make the process as smooth as possible. We first took our bikes on a holiday in 2013 and flew from Australia to France for four weeks of cycling. Since then we have had many more international trips with our bikes and learned plenty along the way.
Before that first trip, we had lots of questions about what it was like to fly with a bike. We were lucky we had some friends who had undertaken multiple trips with their bikes and were able to ask them how it all worked. Drawing on our experience of the past 10 years, here is what we believe are the basics of flying with your bike and what you need to be aware of before you book your ticket.
Airline bike policies
Firstly, the good news is that all airlines, with the exception of one or two, will allow you to fly with your bike as luggage. The not so good news is, every airline sets its own policy when it comes to checking bikes, so there is no single rule to follow. Each individual airline’s policy will detail the cost of flying with a bike, maximum weight allowance, dimension allowance, packing requirements, and booking process. To make things easier we have researched over 120 airline bike policies and included them in our Airline Bike Fee table. The table includes all the information you need to know as well as a link to the airline’s website. We update the table regularly throughout the year to ensure it remains as accurate as possible.
We think the single most important thing to know about flying with your bike is to fully understand what the policy is for the airline you are flying with. This will help save you any problems at the check-in counter and possibly additional fees as well. There are stories of check-in counter staff not fully understanding their own airline’s policy and looking to charge fees where there should be none. We always contact the airline and speak to someone beforehand, if we are unsure about any aspect of their policy and this has served us well in the past. This means at the point of check-in we are confident with the airlines’ rules.
A newer trend for flights with bicycles
One trend we have noticed that is on the increase over the past few years is airlines are requiring passengers to advise them beforehand if they will be flying with a bike. For some airlines, it is simply a notification process, whereas others have to grant you permission to check your bicycle as luggage before your ticket is confirmed. As an example, we booked tickets with Air France in 2021 and had to have our bikes approved by the airline before the ticketing process was finalized. It took 24 hours for the approval to come through and we were fine to proceed, but had we simply turned up at the airport we may have had problems.
The cost of taking bikes on planes
Flying with a bike is not necessarily an expensive undertaking. Many airlines allow you to check your bike as part of your standard luggage allowance meaning your bike costs nothing. The fees on airlines that do charge for bicycles range from US$30 to US$350. Fees are charged for each leg of your flight, so a return ticket will mean paying the fee for the outward leg and return leg. You need to make sure your bicycle is not overweight or oversize, otherwise excess luggage fees will apply. This gets very expensive.
Our flight experience with a bicycle
Our flights between Australia and France have always included bikes as part of your standard luggage allowance and they have cost nothing extra. The important thing again is to make sure you do not go overweight or have a bike bag outside your allowance. By comparison, we have also flown domestically within Europe and have always been charged a €50 fee per bike per leg.
Packing your bike in a bag for air travel
To check your bike on an airline it must be packed as you would other luggage. There are four options to pack a bicycle for flying, a cardboard bike box, a hard-shelled bike box, a soft-shelled bike bag, or plastic wrap. All airlines will accept the first three options while some airlines may reject bikes wrapped only in plastic. Airlines generally require you to turn handlebars sideways, remove pedals and deflate tires. Many airlines also state that only the bike should be in your bike case or bag, although in our experience, the contents of our bike bags have never been checked during the check-in process for our flights.
Different types of bike boxes
If you are new to understanding the different types of bike boxes to choose from head to our How to choose a Bike Box article as a starting point. We have used both an Evoc Bike Travel Bag and a cardboard bike box for our trips and recommend both options. The linked articles go into more detail about each of them as well as some packing tips.
Damage to bikes during flights
One of our biggest concerns before our first trip was that our bikes would be damaged by the airlines. A search of the internet has plenty of stories about people who had damage to their bikes after a flight. While you can never guarantee that your bike will not be damaged there are a few things to do to reduce the risk.
The first is to make sure you take the time to pack the bike well in a bike bag or case. If you are not sure how to do it, a quick search on YouTube will unearth plenty of videos about it. We always protect the frame with pipe insulation, remove the rear derailleur, put spacing blocks between the forks, and zip tie anything loose to give the best chance of damage free travel.
Secondly, we make sure our travel insurance covers our bikes so we are covered in the event of anything happening. We recommend you take the time to read through different policies as many are not too generous for bicycles, especially if they are a few years old. We discovered our home contents policy covered our bicycles for international travel which saved a lot.
Watching my bike bag fall
We have never had any damage to the bikes on our many trips. I did witness my bike bag falling from the plane to the ground as it was being unloaded on one occasion. When I opened the bag expecting the worst, it was as I had packed it. Not a thing had shifted and there was no damage anywhere.
Navigating the airport when you fly with a bike
Once you have your tickets booked and your bike packed the next consideration is getting to the airport and getting checked in to the airline with your bike. If you are booking a taxi, remember it will need to be large enough to fit you and your bike box. Many standard size cars will not fit a bike box in them and you may have to order a small van or find someone who can drive you there.
Our biggest tip when navigating the airports is to allow yourself plenty of time and get to the airport as early as possible. Getting around the terminal building may take a bit of extra time with your bicycle as oversize luggage than it would otherwise. The check-in procedure with a bicycle is essentially the same as without a bike. The only difference is that once checked in you will usually have to take your bike to an oversize luggage counter as it won’t fit on the standard conveyor. We always aim to get the check-in process out of the way as soon as possible so we can relax and get ready for the trip.
At the end of your flight, your bike will be sent to the oversize luggage area and will not be sent down the normal luggage carousel. We have never had any issues finding the oversize luggage area at any of the airports we have flown into. We also recommend grabbing a trolley for your bike, even if you have a bike bag with wheels. It makes life much easier, especially when you have multiple bags.
Shipping a bike vs flying with a bike
Something we considered before heading off overseas was shipping our bikes rather than taking them on the plane with us. The quotes to ship our bikes from Australia to France were quite expensive, especially when the airline was not charging us anything to fly with them. We decided that this was not a feasible option for us.
Our research has found that in most cases, even when an airline charges a fee for your bike, it will be cheaper to take your bike on the plane rather than shipping it. That being said there may be circumstances where the extra cost is worth it from a convenience viewpoint, especially if you compare it to hiring a bike at your destination. We explore this in greater detail in our article all about shipping a bike.
Other considerations when flying with a bike
A couple of other points that often come up when talking about flying with a bike are taking bike lube and CO2 canisters on your flight. Bike lube can be brought on board an aircraft as long as it is not flammable. Check your bottle to see if it has a flammable mark on it. If it has no mark then it is fine to take with you.
CO2 canisters are a little different in that some airlines allow them and some don’t. The regulators for air travel allow up to 4 X 28g CO2 canisters on passenger aircraft but not all airlines accept them. Again it comes down to checking the policy of the airline you plan to fly with.
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We have a range of articles about Traveling with a bike whether you plan to fly with your bike, catch a train, or ship it somewhere we have you covered for how it’s done.