Who's Checked Their Bike on an Airplane?

I was wondering what folk’s experience is with checking their bikes on airline flights? I would box it like I would ship it (obviously). Seriously, I won’t try to carry it on and jam it in the overhead!

It looks like it would cost a conventional luggage fee versus which is way less than shipping it via Shipbikes or other comparable service. However, if most people’s experience is they get a deformed and broken High tech garbage heap at the other end or simply don’t get anything at all I will reconsider this otherwise brilliant sounding plan…

Thanks and Ride Right!

28 Replies

Scott J, June 26, 2013 at 10:30 pm

I have no experience with checking a bike on a flight. But I investigated the cost and decided it was much cheaper for two of us and far less risky to the bikes to drive from California (San Diego) to Omaha. So that’s what we are doing. We have friends, relatives or reward point hotels along the way, both to and from. That helps immensely. And I have no job that interferes or limits my time. I’ve seen what the airlines can do to a very rugged luggage bag and I’m not about to turn my bike over to them. From what I read, if you don’t have a hard case and remove the handlebars, pedals and derailleurs you may regret it. Re-assembling the bike at the destination introduces its own problems.


jwsknk, June 27, 2013 at 8:05 am

Flew with one to London & back, Sydney & back and to New Orleans. Coming home from London it missed the connection in Chicago and came delivered to my door the next day. Just had to remove pedals, turn handlebars and remove front wheel. Got an old skewer from the bike shop to use as a spacer for the front fork and made sure deraliures were as far in as possible and had some extra packing between rear wheel and rear deraliure. Your other option is to use RAGBRAI’s shipper and pick it up in Council Bluffs and they will have boxes at the end to ship back home


Iceman, June 27, 2013 at 8:11 am

DON’T DO IT!!! If they misroute it, you – not the airlines – will have to go back to the place you were flying to in order to retrieve your bike. Plus, they are notorious for mishandling bikes. Finally – if they lose it, you are in for the fight of your life as: (i) they will not pay you even close to the value of your bike; (ii) they will not reimburse you for bike rental – even though they will tell you they will; (iii) they will not reimburse you for the “loss” of your vacation. Finally, you will be faced with either having to take you bike box with you during the week or getting another at the airport when you go home.

Ship your bike with Pork Belly or with High Country Shipping.


pmac, June 27, 2013 at 9:12 am

+1 on iceman’s advice. Shipping directly to Ragbrai, particularly if you’re using PBV, is a whole lot easier than flying with your bike. The box is shipped directly to the camp location, PBV stores stores your bike box for the week and at the end of the ride you grab your box from PBV, load your bike and hand it off to the Fedex truck guys at the PBV location less than 50 feet away. If you have any problems either putting the bike together or breaking it down there are plenty of folks to help. PBV has a great system and you can use it even if you’re not using PBV as a charter. I haven’t used High County so I’m not sure of their system, but I bet dollars to donuts it is also alot easier that flying with your bike.

If you haven’t done it before, removing the pedals, turning the bars and removing the rear derailleur is not difficult. Do it once or twice at home and you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Jwsknk’s bike packing advice is also spot on.


Low Rider, June 27, 2013 at 9:15 am

I flew out of and into Des Moines at the end of May beginning of June. So much damage in so many ways. Bent parts, chain was off gears, protection on the derailleurs was disturbed. After going through 8 tubes and 4 tires with chewed up sidewalls I discovered the brake was gripping on tire rubber not rim metal, that all started after going through the Des Moines airport.

Provided for your consideration.


Iceman, June 27, 2013 at 10:19 am

I was asked to add to my prior post.

I normally use PBV and pmac is correct about their shipping service for RAGBRAI. Very good service and I don’t think they limit it to just the folks using their charter service. Call ’em up and find out.

I have used High Country for several bike rides other than RAGBRAI and they, like PBV, contract with either FedEx or UPS to ship your bike to/from the ride. I remember years ago when we had to track down FedEx or UPS in the RAGBRAI ending city – you never really knew where they were going to be or whether they had sufficient supplies to ship your bike, and often they did not take anything but cash – but now PBV and High Country have that down to a science.

But I tell you, the airlines are bad, bad, bad about shipping bikes. They don’t like to ship bikes as they consider them “oversized” baggage and they charge a fortune to ship them. And here is the really, potentially large screw job – I forgot to mention in my prior post that if your flight into Omaha or some other airport near the ending city is on a SMALLER AIRPLANE (like, for example, an Embraer commuter plane), most airlines (at least in prior years, so I doubt it has changed) will tell you that bikes are subject to “CARGO HOLD LIMITATIONS.” Now I thought that meant that they would only ship my bike if it would fit into the “cargo hold” and surely mine would fit. Nope – what they meant was that they hold your bike until all the “normal” sized bags were loaded, and then if they were out of room, your bike just had to wait for another flight. So think about that. You take a flight on, say, a Boeing 737 to Ohare Airport or St. Louis, etc. Your bike case goes on the 737 just fine but you have to transfer in Chicago or St. Louis, etc. to a smaller plane to go to Omaha – and whammo – they fill up the cargo hold and your bike gets an unexpected delay (and do you really want your bike sitting in an airport where the baggage personnel can “inspect it”?). And your bike might just go to the other side of the world by mistake. Surely you have had a regular bag do that? And the airline has no obligation whatsoever to deliver the bike to, say, Harlan, Iowa or any other overnight town. It’s up to you to figure out how to get back to Omaha to get the bike. And in the meantime, you have to try to rent one in the start city. AND YOU WILL NEVER GET THE AIRLINES TO PROPERLY COMPENSATE YOU.

Just don’t ship by airlines. You have no idea of the expense and aggravation you can encounter.


DenBiker, June 27, 2013 at 10:30 am

Sorry to be a contrarian- In the past 5 years I have flown with my bike to FL, CA, TX, IA and even Switzerland without a lost bike, bent part or anything that couldn’t be solved with a set of allens and some careful reassembly. All that said I do use a hard case and I am careful as to make sure that the bike is well cushioned in the case and spacers in place in the fork and the rear drop outs. My biggest issue is/has been with TSA – they always open the case to inspect the bike and do not always get the latches realigned properly to get a proper close. I have solved that by adding a couple of external straps that they can use to get a complete close even if a latch may not be closed itself.


Iceman, June 27, 2013 at 11:02 am

Well DenBiker, you’re lucky. If you’ve ever had a lost bag (and who has not?), you can just try to imagine what it is like if it is your bike.

As to damage, guess what? They will say it is your fault (i.e., you packed it wrong or we did not do it so try and prove us wrong, etc.). And they have limits on what they will pay – which are not even close to what a high end bike is worth. With FedEx or UPS – it is not an issue. You declare a value and if damage occurs, the gr


Cycling Robert, June 27, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Never had an issue, I use a hard case. Also airline status may make a difference, all my bags get a priority tag.


Iceman, June 27, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I always use a hard case. I’ve had two of them broken. Actually one was by FedEx when I bought the case and it was being shipped to me (empty). FedEx replaced it with no hassle. The other case was broken by an airline which will go nameless here. Regardless, no case will solve the “cargo hold” problem to which I referred earlier.


Pdiddly, June 27, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Wow, ask and you shall receive! I appreciate the great information. Iceman you convinced me. As soon as you explained the “cargo hold” concept. I think I’ll stay with plan A and spend a few extra bucks to send it conventionally well enough in advance to avoid problems. I sometimes wonder how they fit suitcases on the small regional jets I make my connections with, let alone a bike box. I did discover for United, that if your case/box satisfies standard baggage dimension and weight restrictions you will not be charged a “special” bike handling fee ($100 on most airlines), just the standard checked baggage fee. That can be done. However, watching my plane back away from the gate with my bike box still on the loading cart, not so sure…..


Iceman, June 27, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Paul, my Serfas hard case (which is about the same size as the Thule case) does not meet the standard dimension restrictions of United. Even if it did and even if I believed they would treat it with care, the inconvenience of having to drag it around to the start and somehow get it to the end city and drag it back to the airport at the end – just is not worth it. It’s my vacation. And the risk of loss would kill me – I built my own bike and at last count it would cost me between $8-9K to rebuild it. You’d be lucky to get a 1/3 of that from the airlines.


tacook, June 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Flew my bike on Delta and American this year. I have a Serfas hardside case. No problems with damage. $150 oversize luggage fee each way.


Iceman, June 28, 2013 at 9:30 am

As an example, shipping your bike in a conforming size case (like my Serfas case) from Texas to Iowa and back on PBV’s shipping service is about $155 to $160 roundtrip (and I would guess High Country is about the same) with a declared value of $2000. You can insure for more or less and the price goes up and down accordingly. Not only is is half the cost of the airline’s fee, but you ship it from your hometown and don’t have to drag it to the airport and then from, say, the Omaha airport to your campsite in Council Bluffs and then somehow get the case to Ft. Madison at the end, then dragging it home on the airplane again.

I always pay an extra $50 or so and just hand the bike to the “packers” at PBV at the end (they contract with a bike shop to disassemble and pack the bikes at the end). So I’m in the shower, in the bus and drinking a few cold beers in no time at all at the end of RAGBRAI.


Pdiddly, June 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm

OK, I did some more checking with United airlines and to Iceman’s earlier point and found that my bike box (that meets the standard checked bag size and weight restrictions) will not fit through the cargo hold doors of the smaller regional jet equipment assigned to my upcoming flights. That would have been a big Aw-Sh_t! at the service counter the morning of the flight had I blindly decided to fly with my bike.

So the lesson here if you decide to use the airlines is to check with the airline beforehand to ensure your box will fit the cargo hold. The agent gave me the door opening dimensions (43″x33″ and 44″x39″) and low and behold the box won’t fit in even though it complies with their standard formula (L+W+H < 66″).

This doesn’t take into consideration the other disadvantage regarding remediating any damage that might be inflicted during the voyage and the airlines lack of responsibility in compensating you fairly for damage or lost articles.

Thanks again, great example of how these forums topics are incredibly appropriate and useful!


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