Flying with a Bike

Probably worth it if you are a cyclist. Be prepared to pay the bicycle baggage fee and anticipate delays. A proper case will give you peace of mind. My experience biking in New Orleans here

Sometimes, flying with a bike makes sense. For racing, training, convenience, cost, photos… Personally, I wanted to train for Rideau Lakes during my stay in New Orleans, and only found cruisers for rent (I later found out that Rouler rents out beautiful city bikes). I was told that bringing my own bike made me a true cyclist!

I looked into packing my bike in a cardboard bike box, however a friend told me that the box is opened when it is inspected and re-taped. My friend picked up his box from a baggage claim and the bike just fell out! I decided to rent a bike case from a local mobile bike shop, Mobivelo, at 50 CAD for the week with free pick-up and delivery. The bike case I used is biknd’s JETPACK and I highly recommend it. The sides of it inflate to protect your wheels, and the bike frame secures into axles in the case. Note that the chainstays of a track bike are too narrow to fit on the rear axle but the bike will still be well protected. The case has wheels and many handles, increasing the odds that your bike will be handled with care.

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About the airline’s baggage fees… Most airlines charge a hefty price for a bike each way. I flew with Delta, and their bike baggage fee is 150 CAD or USD, while the price for a standard checked bag is 25 CAD or USD. I heard that whether you get charged the bike fee depends on who you get at the check-in counter. The bike case is likely within the weight limit but definitely oversized (although cardboard bike boxes can be cut to fit luggage restrictions). A nice bike case might discourage the airline from charging the fee given that the bag is easier to handle.

My Experience

Delta requires checking in online or at a kiosk before going to the counter. At the kiosk, I did not register my baggage as a Special Item since it did not say bicycle specifically, only Sports Equipment as one of the options… (I later saw that it does list Oversized). I payed 25 CAD (no tax) at the kiosk. I placed my bike on the scale at the counter and the lady proceeded to prepare the luggage tag, not seeing the case. After the tag was printed, the agent asked me to bring the bag around the counter, at which she exclaimed: What is that!!! She asked if it was a bike, and I said it was a display. She asked to see inside, and when she looked, I said “it’s parts” (not my finest hour). The agent decided to reprint the tag as an oversized bag, not wanting to have to process additional charges. Oooooops. I was sweet and polite during the encounter. On my return trip, I marked the baggage as oversized at the kiosk, and I was directed to the counter. The agent asked me for my credit card and said, “That will be 19 dollars.” I must have looked surprised, and he added “They charged you 19 on the way here right? They’re nice.”

Packing tips. Jonathan at Mobivelo recommended not to pack too much in the case (such as pedals, shoes, kit, etc.) as I could count on the bag getting inspected and these could fall out. The case came with a zippered bag that secured onto the frame, in which I placed tools, grease, and a few personal items that I could not keep in my carry on. I ended up buying lots of spices in New Orleans which I mostly packed in my carry on, as they were the heaviest. I placed my clothing and other souvenirs in zippered fabric bags which I put in the bike case. The case ended up getting inspected during my short layover in Detroit and was delayed. I was among a handful of passengers with delayed baggage. I received it at my home a few days later, and it had a ‘heavy’ label on it! Placing food in the case on my return trip must have added to the inspection time, but I am glad I was able to pack so much into it!

Bringing my bike for a week-long trip cost me 107 CAD. It was totally worth it. Be charming and good luck!

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