23 November 2009

Bikes on planes? Yeah, and bags might fly

Until a few years ago, you could take your bikes on planes. Now you can't. And nobody told me.

Because now it seems the rules have changed. You used to be able to check in your bike like normal baggage, having first done some cubist rearrangement: twisting the handlebars flat, removing the pedals, and deflating the tyres lest they explode mid-air (an improbability smiled at by physicists).

Then you simply took it off the carousel at the other end, reconstituted it, and pushed it to the nearest bike shop to get your squashed derailleur mended. I did this several times in the days before flying became like telling racist jokes.

Yes, yes, we know all about the CO2 footprint stuff. But don't worry, I have a few flights carbon-offset already: I've been breathing very shallowly for a few years.

Anyway, we needed to get a bike between London and Hamburg recently. Rail proved surprisingly difficult (more of this tomorrow) and we considered the plane. But now all the airlines seem to require a 'recognised bike box' to transport your machine.

Which is effectively a ban. Because, if you're going on a bike tour, how do you get the bike box to the airport?

A cursory Google search provides plenty of pages telling you how to disassemble your bike and box it up safely once you're at the airport. But that's the easy bit. None of them tell you how to get it there.

Over the weekend I picked up a bike box for free through Freecycle (thanks, Catherine). Getting it back two miles to the house wasn't easy - the picture shows the least worst solution. I had to push the bike all the way. You couldn't get that lot plus panniers to Heathrow or Stansted. And even if you pack up your bike at home, and lug the box-with-bike-plus-luggage all the way to the airport, what do you do then with the box at the other end?

We suggested that airlines hire out bike boxes, but none of them were interested.

Well, don't worry about the environment. The box proved too small for my bike anyway. I think I'll turn it into a planting tub.

[Update added Thu 26 Nov 2009: The CTC website has useful info for flying with a bike, and if you're a CTC member, you can buy a polythene bike bag light enough to pack up in your pannier for under £7 that most airlines should accept. The CTC even provide a special document for you to print out to convince airlines that the bag meets approved specs.]


  1. I had this problem with Easyjet at Luton - I turned up without a bike box as no one had told us it was now necessary. Later it transpired that the requirements for bike carriage were detailed under the section on "Transit of hair curling tongs" in their Ts & Cs.

    Fortunately, you just need to convince the woman behind the check-in desk that some effort at wrapping had been undertaken. Some scrap cardboard from WH Smith, a couple of bin bags and a roll of masking tape was all that was necessary to create the illusion of sturdy bike casing. This complete, we flew to Vienna and had a great week's cycle down to Budapest.

  2. Glad you managed to persuade them - I'd be reluctant to risk turning up at an airport with a holiday booked if I couldn't be guaranteed of taking my bike though! Of course, CTC members have a helpful bag option for flying with a bike - I've updated the main post with details of this.