A Complete Guide to Air Travel with Your Bike
December 30, 2021
Whether you’re traveling for a big race or just excited to explore some new terrain, bringing your bike is a must. Unfortunately, air travel is a little more (fine, a lot more) complicated than strapping your bike into the rack on your car just before you hit the road. Bringing your bike on an airplane requires much more planning on the logistics front, as well as the financial front.
Do all airlines allow bikes? How much will this adventure cost? How do I keep my bike safe on the airplane? These are all some basic considerations to keep in mind when you’re planning your trip. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other things to know… before you go.
But there’s good news ahead! Through our own experience and research, we’ve compiled a complete guide of how to take your bike on an airplane. Up next, we’ll share all the details, so you can avoid any surprises along the way while successfully getting your bike from point A to point B.
Which Airlines are Bike Friendly?
First and foremost, what airlines even allow bikes? While many airlines claim bikes fly free, or that they’re a “bike friendly airline,” there’s often some hidden messages to decode.
For example, there are airlines that say you can check your bike as long as it fits within their size restrictions, but unless your bike is child-sized, or you’re fine taking it completely apart to get it to fit into a suitcase, then checking your bike isn’t an option.
Instead of doing a deep dive into each airline to:
- Determine whether or not bike travel is even an option,
- Figure out how you’re going to get your bike on the plane, and,
- Plan for how much this is going to set you back…
… we’ve put in the legwork to make a list for you. And, what you need to know with bike travel in each airline.
Southwest is a solid option for air travel with your bike, simply for the fact that they make it easy. Southwest will allow you to bring your bag, as long as it’s packed in a hard sided case. However, the bike bag is in place of one of your two luggage items. So you’ll have to pay for any additional checked bags. And, if you’re using a soft-sided case, you’re accepting Southwest’s limited release terms.
As long as your bike doesn’t weigh more than 50 lbs, it’s treated like a checked bag. And, even better, there are no extra fees. You’re simply paying the traditional baggage fees, which is just $30-$40.
Once upon a time, Delta charged upwards of $150 for cyclists to bring their bikes on their aircrafts. Thankfully, Delta recently revamped their bike policies, so air travel is much easier. Similar to AA’s bike policies, Delta charges a $30-$40 fee for bikes, as long as they’re packed in a hard-sided case.
For bikes in soft-sided cases, a limited release form is assessed, so they’re not responsible for any damages.
If your bike is packed properly and fits the standard weight limit (50 lbs. or less), it’s considered just regular baggage. You’ll still have to pay $25-$35 for the checked bag fee, but that’s not too bad. However, if your bike goes over the weight limit, or it’s bigger than 62 linear inches, you’ll be charged a pretty hefty oversized baggage fee. If it’s overweight, then you can expect to pay $100, but if it’s oversized, you’ll have to shell out $200! Insert scared face emoji here.
These are our top three choices for bike-friendly airlines. Each of these airlines is easy to access, as they fly into most airports. These three airlines also make it easy to bring your bike, as long as you follow the rules.
In addition to the airline specific regulations listed above, these are a few other things to keep in mind that apply to all three airlines:
- Bikes weighing over the specific weight limits will be charged a fee for overweight baggage.
- All bike carrying bags must still fit within the specified range of length and width restrictions. Be sure to measure before you bring your bike to make sure it fits.
- Read the fine print. As of now, the above information is accurate, but airlines are notorious for sneaking additional fees into airfare, so it’s always wise to double check.
- Each airline has a specific way to pack your bike, but all require pedals to be removed. Some require handlebars facing a certain way, while others just ask that they’re taken off. Check the specific airline you’re flying to make sure you’re following their rules.
For a quick overview of what you can expect when traveling with your bike on each of these airlines, check out this table:
Other Helpful Hints
The bottom line here is that no matter what airline you’re flying, you’re at their mercy to safely get your bike to your destination. And let’s be honest, what’s more disappointing than booking a trip to explore Moab, or finally realizing your dream of competing in the Malibu Triathlon… only to have your bike get left behind? So once you land on an airline choice, pay close attention to their details.
How to Pack Your Bike for Air Travel
Your ultimate end game here is to get your bike to your final destination, all in one piece. Well, not all in one piece per se, since you’ll be breaking it down into a few pieces before you go. But you get the drift here. You don’t want to leave too much up to the airline, and if you’ve ever seen luggage being tossed into the cargo hold, then you know exactly why it’s important to pack your bag carefully.
Choose Your Bag
While it would be really nice to just roll your bike right down the jet ramp and onto the airplane, clearly that’s just not the case. What you need is a storage bag that protects your bike while en route to your destination. And, a bag that’s already anticipated any potential disasters and prevents them before they even happen.
Here are a few things to consider in choosing the best bag for travel with your bike:
- How easy is it to navigate a busy airport with your bag in tow?
- Does the bag meet guidelines for the airlines you use frequently, or plan to use frequently?
- Is there a separate compartment for the bike chain, to prevent a potentially messy situation when you unpack your bike?
- What kind of bike can you fit in the bike travel bag?
- How sturdy is the material used to make the bag? Again… careful isn’t the main priority for baggage handlers when they’re responsible for getting thousands of pounds of luggage on the plane within a short amount of time.
- Is the bag easy to store when it’s not in use?
Our FREEDOM Bike Travel Bag considers all of the above, and more. Here are a few key features that make this bike travel bag one to the top choices, and best options for your travels:
- When your bike is securely packed in this bag, the dimensions read 53" x 31" x 15,” so it fits right in with most airline restrictions.
- The FREEDOM bag is fabricated with incredibly durable ripstop nylon. And, there’s a zipper closure to keep everything safely tucked away inside the bag during travel.
- This bag is made for mountain bikes and triathlon bikes.
- Everything has a home in this case. There are compartments galore! When you pack your bike, you’ll know exactly where you put everything, making unpacking and assembling a much easier task.
Prep Your Bike
Again, it’s really important that you pay attention to the specs required for the airline your traveling. But, for each of the airlines we’ve mentioned here, you’ll at least need to follow these steps:
- Remove the handlebars, wheels, saddle and pedals.
- Let just a little bit of air out of the tires. There’s a significant change in pressure with air travel, so this is a necessary precaution to help avoid tire damage.
- Carefully wrap parts with bubble wrap. Use tape to secure the ends.
- Label each piece. You’ll know what they are, but this will just help streamline your assembly process later.
- Make sure to keep all necessary tools and screws/bolts with your bike when you’re breaking it down.
Pack It Up
If you’re using our FREEDOM bag, this part is easy peasy! Just put each of the parts in it’s designated home. Include tools and screws/bolts. Again, keeping the chain separate is essential, so you don’t unpack your bike to find everything covered in grease. Yuck!
Label the Bag
Make sure you have an identification tag that’s easily visible on your bike bag. While we all like to think it’s impossible to lose a piece of luggage like a bike, this is one of those better to be safe than sorry situations.
Also, many bags, like our FREEDOM bag, make it known that there’s a bike inside. Other bags do not, so it’s important to label the outside of the bag, to make it easier on those that check the bags, and load them onto the aircraft.
Tips and Tricks for Air Travel with Your Bike
We’ve done this song and dance a time or two, and learned lots of things along the way. So, instead of learning from your own mistakes, we’ll do you a favor and share all the mistakes we’ve made, so you don’t have to learn the hard way!
Here are just a few things that will make your life a little easier when traveling with your bike, from packing to unpacking, and everything in between:
- Before you remove the seat, use a piece of tape to mark the height.
- Remember how they remind you a million times that objects may shift during flight? Take that to heart while packing your bike, and leave as little room for movement as humanly possible. The less wiggle and jiggle inside the bag, the better.
- Keep the tools with the bike, just safely wrapped. Do not, again, do not, put the tools in your carry-on bag. They’ll get taken away at security. Just don’t do it.
- Measure and weigh several times just to make sure your bike really fits the airlines restrictions, no questions asked.
- Even though your bag might have wheels, there are going to be some points along your journey that you have to hoist your bag into place. Be mindful while packing, so you don’t make your bag too heavy.
And there you have it! The ins and outs of air travel with a bike. Not just any bike, your bike. So therefore, it’s important that you get it to your final destination without issue. Luckily, if you follow our guide above, that shouldn’t be a problem.
If you’re planning an upcoming trip and hoping to take your bike on the airplane with you, then a bike bag is a must. Consider our FREEDOM bag to keep your bike safe and secure during travel. Safe travels!