4 mistakes only a fool could make packing their bike onto a plane

Bags inside bike bags lying on the belt at the airport in Frankfurt

As our plane freed itself from the gravitational confines of the earth, I tucked my head into my book. A calm flight lasting an hour and fifteen minutes lay ahead of me. However, the past three hours had been anything but calm.

Everything started at 4 am. Awoken rudely by my alarm I climbed out of bed, completely disorientated. Only a few hours ago I was loading up an Open Cycle Map of Germany onto a Garmin 705 and I had clearly not considered the huge amount of beauty sleep my body needs these days.

I packed the last few items into my panniers. I was already sure I was carrying too much but it was too late now as a taxi was waiting outside. I wondered to myself if I’d ever plan something a little better and how it would be to be organised for a change. Promising myself I’d one day be organised I taped the bike bag and carried it into the taxi.

Picking up my friend we reached Paddington station.

The train roared its way to Heathrow Airport. At this moment I realised mistake number one. The first part of our journey could have been an absolute pleasure had we made one crucial change in timing. Instead of struggling and calling on little used muscles to haul the bike to the airport we could have packed the bikes when we got there. Then, we would have enjoyed a short cycle to the train station, and wheeled the bikes onto the train.

Welcome to Terminal 5

Panniers

The next mistake soon presented itself upon being greeted by the British Airways employee. A lady who was clearly just as unhappy as we were to be awake at 5.30am. She quickly dished out the bad news. We had to pay an extra £35, each, to check in the panniers.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure why I didn’t realise the bike would count as one item of luggage and the panniers as another. However, I guess it is the fact British Airways claim to carry your bike for free. Unlike budget airlines that have a set fee.

My stupidity didn’t stop there. Owing to the early hour and my brain working at around 20% of it’s normal capabilities, we didn’t realise we could have tied all our panniers together and split the £35 fee. I’ll class that as mistake number three.

Welcome to Frankfurt

Before boarding the plane we made jokes of haulage employees launching our bikes onto the plane and amused each other by recreating the image of someone kicking the spokes of the bike as they struggled to cram it into the plane. We laughed, somewhat nervously. On arrival at Frankfurt we were about to find out if our predictions were to come true.

May I present you with mistake number four. As I pulled the bike out of the bike bag I looked for damage. It seemed minimal, a few scratches on the panniers and that was about it. However, placing the front wheel and trying to give it a spin a realised it was out of alignment. It had obviously had its share of banging during the flight. A little more padding and care taken to wrap the bike wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite our errors, ahead of us lay 400km of Unesco world heritage sights, traditional German towns and German beer. I couldn’t wait to get started.

Learning from my mistakes

  • Tape extra protection (clothes in carrier bags I’m told) around sensitive parts of the bike
  • Tie all your panniers together in one big bundle and pay for the extra luggage ahead of the flight to save money
  • Pack your bike when you get to the airport if it is in a bike bag

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14 Responses to 4 mistakes only a fool could make packing their bike onto a plane

  1. skippy 15/08/2011 at 9:39 am #

    When will Airlines realise that their clients luggage is MORE important than the ” on board service “?
    Over the years i have found that regardless of the care taken in packing a ” Bike Box ( usually cardboard from a bike shop ) ” the lowlife filling the cargo bay will do their best to give their ” stamp of approval ” !

    When you complain you are shunted through a longwinded claims process which starts with a handling agent that could not care , when they are eventually found . Settlement of a claim ? What’s that ? Hey it was your choice to bring the luggage wasn’t it?

    Airlines who needs them !

  2. Chris 15/08/2011 at 10:37 am #

    Could you not have wrapped the bikes with the panniers attached?

    • Friedel 15/08/2011 at 10:48 am #

      Chris, you can’t normally pack panniers with a bike. The airlines insist that only the bike is included in the package. Sometimes you can get away with using clothing to pad the bike, and – if you’re lucky – you might stuff a light sleeping bag and mat in a bike box, but definitely not all the panniers. We use cheap plastic shopping bags, which we usually get from Chinese markets. They have a zip and are very sturdy – you know the type I’m sure, often seen with a plaid design.

  3. Matt 15/08/2011 at 11:25 am #

    Oh dear! I had a similar experience, outlined here:

    http://travellingtwo.com/resources/flying-with-a-bicycle-in-a-plastic-ctc-bag#comment-17232

    All got sorted, but soooooo stressful!

  4. chris 15/08/2011 at 11:37 am #

    I have S&S couplings on my bike (http://www.sandsmachine.com/p_i_seq.htm) that means the bike will pack down into a case 26″x26″x10″.

    Not cheap (nor is the case) but I can guarantee that my bike comes out the other side in the same condition I packed it in.

  5. Adam Edwards 15/08/2011 at 11:51 am #

    How about next time you go going Eurostar to Brussels with bike checked in and then Brussels to Frankfurt with the bike in it’s bag on the ICE?

    No charge for the panniers at all, so might work out as a similar price.

    Adam

    • chris 15/08/2011 at 11:55 am #

      This is how I went to Luxembourg to go cycling around Echternach.

      On Eurostar, as long as the bike is packed down into a bag, it is considered luggage and can be carried onboard (or you have to have it over to them and collect at the other end, for a fee).

  6. Christoph 15/08/2011 at 12:15 pm #

    On a flight in the other direction (Berlin – London) I made a fifth possible mistake: I didn’t deflate the tyres before flight. They claim it to be safe, because there’s some pressure balance in the luggage compartments also, but obviously not sufficient: My tyres WERE deflated after landing …

    • Friedel 15/08/2011 at 12:18 pm #

      Usually the airline staff will do this for you, if you haven’t done it, or if they feel that you haven’t done it sufficiently. We once were greeted with big holes punched in the side of a bike box, where they reached in to fully deflate the tires (we’d only taken about half the air out).

  7. s 15/08/2011 at 12:51 pm #

    BA & other non-budget airline used to allow a bicycle & 1 piece of checked luggage. This policy changed in the last year. I flew last summer on BA, and was allowed my bike and 1 checked bag. Last March when I flew BA between London and NYC, I was hit with an extra bag charge.
    I was told that Virgin still allows a bicycle and a checked bag.

    On another note, I would never fly with a bike that wasn’t packed into a bike box or some sort of purpose built bike travel box/bag. Otherwise you can land expecting wheels to be out of true, derailleurs bent, dropouts crushed, and the frame deeply scratched.

    • Andreas 23/08/2011 at 7:57 pm #

      Good tip, was surprised by BA saying “free bike” kind of false advertising as inevitably you’ll need to take another bag with you which you’ll then be charged for.

  8. Fortec 16/08/2011 at 9:08 pm #

    Regardless Andreas – have a good trip

  9. David@How To Stop Sweating 23/08/2011 at 1:44 pm #

    I guess several lessons learned with your escapade to Germany! I definitely appreciate the heads up on how to save money when traveling on a plane with your bike. I am over in the UK right now for several months and have already figured out that taking your bike on a train is a fairly simple process providing you are not trying to do it during rush hour! I will be making a trip to Switzerland soon so this has definitely helped me to prepare for that knowing how I need to prepare my bike and packing for the flight etc. Cheers

  10. Paul 04/08/2014 at 1:41 am #

    Follow the advice in the CTC’s ‘Bikes by Air’ guide.
    http://www.ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/bikes-public-transport/bikes-air

    I’ve been going on overseas cycling holidays with groups for 30 years packing the bike in a sturdy polythene bag which I carry around strapped onto the top of a front pannier rack. I always cycle/train to and from the airport. Be prepared to put up with some superficial damage (scratches and dents etc) but if you take the recommended precautions it’s unlikely you’ll have any serious problems. Mostly using Easyjet recently so remember to print off the CTC Letter and travel light (one saddlebag or pannier). In a group pay for an additional hold bag to take stuff like tools etc that can’t be carried as hand luggage otherwise you might get away strapping these to your bike..

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