Traveling With Your Bicycle, A First Hand Story

On March 19, 2004 March 20, 2004 I traveled to New Orleans, LA with my bicycle for a triathlon, the Abitaman. This was my first time doing this. Flying with a bike, not flying in general, and here is a detailed story of what happened.

Packing the box

When I picked up the box I got some rudimentary instructions from the salesperson at my local bike shop. So here are some better instructions.

Prepackage seatpost

Always make sure you know where your seatpost should be.

Packed box

Plan how to pack the box. this is where I first place everything.

Packed box

Remember,you can always get more stuff in the box than you think you can. Just be careful not to crush anything when you close the box.

Removed seatpost

The seatpost and headset will be very greasy, you should wrap them in something to keep everything clean.

Bike StemWheels in the box

When you put the wheels in it will probably be necessary to remove the skewers so that everything will clear the box.

Closed box

And finally you are done, just be careful when you close the box up, it can be easy to crush things that are less dense that the metal of your bike frame.

Getting down to the flight.

Anyway, to get down to traveling details, when I booked the flight things were kind of strange in that I had done some research online to see about the finer points of traveling with something like this. A lot of thing s that I found said things like “Don’t tell them that you have a bike in that ridiculous box that you are carrying, tell them that it is sporting goods, or that it is just plain luggage.” Now that would be something to pull off. I am fairly good at social engineering, but to get someone to believe that a 3′ by 4.5′ black box with some odd shaped & locked rotating fasteners at each corner is just plain luggage would be quite a feat, but I was willing to give anything a try.

Some of the other articles that I read said that some airlines outright forbid transporting bicycles on their flights. Now I realize that the box can be a bit unwieldy, but from what I know they stopped making bicycle frames out of weapons grade plutonium and detonator caps several years ago. They suggested that anyone looking into this type of transport should also look into possible deals with major bicycle clubs / organizations (USCF & USAT). I did not have any luck with these, primarily because the airlines that they had deals with did not offer (reasonable) flights to my destination. USAT, of which I am a member, did offer several discounts both on airfare with bicycles and on hotel stay. The problem as I mentioned was that even with the discounts the cost was still higher than piecing it together, albeit somewhat miserly, myself.

I got several quotes of airfare and bicycle shipping from several agencies(all shipping is in a Sesfas box weighed in a ~45 lb. packed):

  • USPS – don’t even bother- $120 each way, & you must ship it 2-3 weeks before you need it.
  • FEDEX – umm… forget-about-it! $120 each way

The deal that I wound up going with was Southwest. They offered reasonable fares, with a direct flight and best of all they seemed to be bicycle friendly! The booking agent said that I could transport my bike without a problem, but there would be an additional $40 fee involved. This seemed more than acceptable, especially after some of the other prices that I came across.

Now, when I arrived at the airport, I waited in the ridiculous line (that’s another story) and approached the ticket counter. The lady was very friendly and understanding. I had decided to try a little social engineering to get the best deal possible and I thought that I had almost made it through without an additional fee.

When she asked me what was in the box I initially gave the “Oh, just a lot of nothing.” And of course this didn’t’ fly (unintended pun), so I immediately offered some more info. “It’s sporting goods.” at the advice of one of the articles that I had read. She seemed pacified by this answer and things moved along. That is until she asked her supervisor what code she should enter in to the system for a monstrous box of sporting goods. They both scoured the screen for a plausible code and informed me that there would be an additional $45 dollars. Now being armed with the information about the $40 bike-shipping fee, I immediately pulled my trump card. (Maybe it’s only $5 each way, but it was principle now. At this point her supervisor asked me what was in the box an I fessed up and said that it was a bike and that I was told on the phone that I would only be charged $40 to stow it. They then returned to the screen and found a “bike” code for me and reassured me that it would only be $40 each way. Now I was amicable to that, after all that is what I had planned on spending.

Of course I had to try one more feat of fancy. I did not mention that I was running late for my flight (after that ridiculous line), but that comes into play at this point. The ticket counter lady was rushing so that I wouldn’t miss my flight. She handed me my ticket for the flight and then very deftly, I asked where I needed to drop off the box at. She pointed to the right of the counter and I made my way over to the drop off.

So far so good, but that didn’t last long. She trotted up right after I handed off the box and said that she had forgot the fee and that she needed a credit card. Oh well, time to pay up.

TSA we broke into your bags reciept