Taking your e-bike on a plane, the news is not great.
This article outlines the current rules that apply to taking an e-bike on a plane. More and more people are enjoying cycling for the first time or getting back into it thanks to the development of e-bikes. It is only natural then that many e-bike owners will want to continue their riding on their annual holiday. However, if getting to your holiday destination involves flying, the news is not good if you plan to take your e-bike with you. Read on to learn the current rules about taking your e-bike on a plane and some of the alternative options you could consider.
Can I take an e-bike on a plane?
Taking your electric bike (e-bike) on a plane is currently prohibited due to the size of the lithium-ion battery that is used. Some airlines go as far as banning e-bikes completely while others will allow your e-bike with the battery removed. You could consider shipping your bike, hiring a bike at your destination, or using a different form of transport as an alternative. We will explore this in more detail below.
Under current regulations, any lithium-ion battery with a capacity of over 160-watt hours (Wh) cannot be carried on a passenger aircraft. Ebike batteries are usually 400Wh to 500Wh and significantly in excess of the limits.
These rules are set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and all airlines must comply with them. So if you are thinking about a holiday where flights are involved and were thinking about taking your e-bike you will need to consider your options. You can read the IATA guidelines here.
Calculating e-bike battery size
If you are not sure what the capacity of your battery is in watt-hours (Wh) there are a couple of ways to work it out. Firstly, many batteries will have the capacity in Wh printed on the compliance label and it is a simple matter of reading it. If the Wh is not printed on the compliance label then the Volts and Amp Hours generally will be. The Watt-Hours can be calculated easily by multiplying the volts (V) by the Amp Hours (Ah). At present, none of the e-bike batteries currently on the market are below the 160Wh limit and most will be at least 400Wh.
Why are lithium batteries a problem on aircraft?
Lithium batteries on aircraft are a problem for a couple of reasons. Firstly, lithium itself is a highly flammable material and secondly, this type of battery can get very hot should it short circuit or get damaged in any way. So you can see the reason for caution when it comes to carrying these items in the hold of an aircraft, especially large batteries that are used in e-bikes.
The rules at present for lithium batteries on aircraft are as follows:
Less than 100Wh – no restrictions. This covers most personal items that passengers are likely to have eg. mobile phones, cameras, laptops, etc
Between 101Wh and 160Wh – need prior approval from the airline before they can be carried. This makes allowances for larger equipment for example tools.
Over 160Wh – banned on all passenger aircraft.
Airlines require passengers to carry spare smaller lithium batteries (camera, phone, laptop, etc) in their carry-on luggage rather than putting them in checked-in luggage. This is for the simple reason that if anything does happen someone will see the smoke and be able to deal with it before it creates any significant issues. There are plenty of examples of phones, e-cigarettes, laptops, and other devices catching fire aboard aircraft, so it does happen.
What do airlines say about e-bikes?
While e-bikes with a battery installed are not allowed onboard an aircraft, airlines determine their own rules as to whether you can bring your e-bike without the battery. While this may seem pointless for many people, it may open up some options for others as you will see further below.
If the airline you are flying will allow you to bring your e-bike without the battery you will need to make sure it meets the weight allowances. We have a table with over 90 airlines and their rules for bikes which you can check here.
We checked the websites of a number of major airlines to see what their policy was regarding e-bikes on planes and you can see the details below. Some airlines do not make any mention of an e-bike in their luggage policy so you will need to check with them directly to see if they allow the bike without the battery. Remember, no airline by law is able to carry the battery on a passenger service so the ability to take an e-bike is without the battery only.
US and Canadian airlines
American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines only accept non-motorized bikes.
Air Canada, Air Transat, Alaskan Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Jet Blue airlines do not mention e-bikes specifically on their website. Check directly with Airline.
Air France – e-bike allowed with the battery removed
Alitalia, British Airways, Easyjet, KLM, Lufthansa, Norwegian Airlines, Ryanair, SAS, Swiss Air, TUIfly, and Vueling – e-bikes are not permitted
Asian Airlines e-bike rules
Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines, and Philippine Airlines specifically say no e-bikes.
Air China, China Airways, Garuda, JAL, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airlines do not mention e-bikes on their websites. Check directly with the airline.
Middle eastern airlines
Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar do not mention e-bikes. Check directly with the airline.
Australian and New Zealand Airlines
Jetstar, Air New Zealand, and Qantas do not mention e-bikes on their websites. Check with the airlines.
Regional Express does not allow the carriage of e-bikes.
Virgin Australia allows e-bikes with the battery removed.
Alternatives to taking your e-bike on a plane.
It is unfortunate that e-bike owners are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to taking their e-bike on a plane. We have put together some alternatives that you may want to consider so you still get to enjoy plenty of bike riding at your holiday destination. We have included some pros and cons of each option for you to consider also.
1. Rent an e-bike
The first option is to leave your own bike at home and hire a bike at your destination. We think this option is the easiest and most feasible alternative to taking your own e-bike. The hire of e-bikes is becoming more and more popular as is the range of bikes for hire. It will not suit everyone and can become expensive if you are planning to spend some time away.
Pros – availability of e-bike hire, easy to organize, can be organized before you go
Cons – will be expensive over a longer period, may be hard to get in popular holiday spots, may not be able to get the exact type of bike you are looking for
2. Consider driving or catching the train to your holiday destination
The second option is to consider driving or taking a train instead of flying if this is possible. Obviously, if you are traveling from the USA to Europe or from Australia to the USA or Europe this is not possible. For those who live in the USA and plan a bike trip within the USA or Canada then driving or a train could be an option. Likewise, those living in Europe and planning a holiday within Europe have plenty of land-based options.
Sure, it may take a lot longer than you planned but if taking your bike is an important factor then this could be a consideration. For those based in the UK and Ireland, you can catch a ferry to mainland Europe with your own car and drive. You can also catch the Eurostar from the UK either in your car from Folkestone or on foot in London or Folkestone.
Pros – bringing your own e-bike is not a problem
Cons – not possible for everyone, extra time needed for travel,
3. Ship the battery separately
The third option is to ship the battery separately using a freight company. While a larger lithium-ion battery cannot be transported on a passenger aircraft, it can be transported on specialist cargo aircraft. However, it is not as easy as arranging the pick-up of your battery as you would for any other item. As stated above, lithium batteries of this size are inherently dangerous and courier companies are cautious about carrying them. This is especially the case if the battery is being transported on its own, ie not installed in the item it was intended for. Lithium batteries are classified as dangerous goods and there are various rules that need to be followed.
If you are considering this as an option you will need to contact the likes of FedEx, DHL or UPS and discuss what is possible. There are no guarantees they will actually ship it for you and if they do it is likely to be at a premium cost due to the dangerous nature of the goods.
Pros – you can still ride your own bike
Cons – expensive, may not be possible for all circumstances
4. Battery hire at your destination
The final alternative option to taking your e-bike on a plane would be to hire a battery at your destination. You first need to check with the airline that you can in fact bring the bike without the battery. At present, there do not appear to be many dedicated e-bike battery hire outlets available. Your best bet for this option would be to source some e-bike hire outlets and see if they will be able to help you.
Pros – you can still ride your own bike
Cons – not a service that is readily offered, cost over an extended period
We did also consider buying a battery at your destination as an alternative to taking your e-bike on a plane but did not think it was really viable. Firstly the batteries are very expensive and secondly, you have the same issue at the end of your trip in that you cannot bring it back with you.
In researching this article we came across a company called Grin Technologies. They offer e-bike batteries as a bank of batteries, each of which is less than the 100Wh limit for aircraft travel. It is possible that other manufacturers may offer something similar in the future to enable people to travel with e-bike batteries.
As you can see there are no easy options if you do want to take your e-bike with you on holiday and need to fly. Due to the inherent risk of lithium batteries, it is highly unlikely that this will change at any time in the future. The only hope is that future generations of batteries are smaller and meet the 160Wh limits currently in place, or an alternative material to lithium is used that does not have the same issues.