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Choose your airline carefully when you plan your trip abroad

If you’re taking your bike to an island in the sun during the next few months, or maybe heading off to ride one of Europe's big sportives, you need to choose your airline carefully. 

A few years back, keen cyclist and regular road.cc reader Dan Kenyon was checking the cost of flying himself and a bike to Majorca. Among the airlines, Monarch had some good deals. As with most, fares included 20kg of normal-sized hold luggage, with Monarch charging an extra £23.50 each way for an additional allowance to carry sporting equipment. But then Dan discovered that Monarch had lowered the weight limit for bikes to just 13kg, charging another £7.50 to £9 for every kilogram over this limit.

Thankfully, these days airlines are more accommodating of bikes, but there are still discrepancies in weight limit and cost.

Now though, Yellow Jersey, a company that specialises in bike insurance, has "teamed up with Ritch Mitch and created a handy infographic".  It outlines key airlines who fly to Europe to try to simplify the somewhat confusing process of finding out if you can fly with your bicycle, how much it will cost and how heavy it can be. 

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Yellow Jersey Airline Infograph

Baggage charges for a bike on major airlines — click for full-size version

Ryanair’s weight limit for most sporting equipment is 20kg, and a more generous 30kg for bikes (which must be boxed), for an additional £60 per flight if booked online. This goes up to £70 if you pay on the phone or at the airport, and the Ryanair website is at least refreshingly honest about why these charges are applied: “Sporting equipment including … golf clubs, bicycles … snowboards and skis … are inherently unsuitable for carriage by airlines operating fast turnarounds such as Ryanair.”

In contrast, EasyJet’s weight limit for bikes is the same as for all large sporting equipment: with no item being more than 32kg. This costs £40 per item per flight (if you book and pay online), rising to £50 if you pay at the airport. The EasyJet website, rather enigmatically, says: “Bicycles are subject to the sports equipment fee and exempt from any excess baggage charges relating to the weight of the bicycle.”

British Airways does not impose specific weight regulations for bikes. Passengers usually get a luggage allowance of one bag weighing up to 23kg, which you can increase to 32kg for an extra £30, although this varies according to destination. (If you go first or business class you get 32kg without paying extra.) If you take two bags, you have to pay extra for the second bag. Usually, luggage needs to be less than 90cm x 75cm x 43cm in size, but according to BA’s website: “You may take bags up to 190cm x 75cm x 65cm… this allows you to take items such as sporting equipment… at no additional cost”. Note, however, that if you’re using BA for only part of your journey, and switching to another airline to complete the trip, if the weight restrictions imposed by the second airline are lower than BA’s they will still apply.

Among the holiday airlines, Thomsonfly seem to have a very straightforward policy. Their website doesn’t specify charges for sports equipment carried in addition to the standard baggage allowance, but a phone call to their very friendly help-desk revealed that bikes can be carried, in a box, for £30 return – apparently with no upper weight limit as long as it’s just a bike inside. One thing they do say is that you need to call them "least 2 months before you travel on 0203 451 2695 to pre-book it onto your flight". Worth getting organised well in advance.

Happy landings

So which airline is the most reliable when it comes to carrying bikes? There’s some anecdotal evidence that the full-service carriers such as British Airways are more reliable than the low-cost airlines. Chris Cammish from Swindon has carried his bike on planes around the world for many years.

“In August this year I went with my wife to Lake Garda and took our bikes for 2½ weeks of cycling,” Chris says. “We flew from Gatwick to Verona with British Airways. We paid for an extra bag – the bike box counts as your main bag – but they didn’t weigh our bikes. At the other end, the bikes came out on the luggage belt after everything else but were not damaged at all. The two extra bags cost £28 each per flight, so the total for taking the bikes was essentially £112. Not an unreasonable price but just enough to make a big hit on the holiday budget.”

For more anecdotal evidence, it’s time to turn to someone in the tour business. Andy Cook is an experienced bike rider, recently passing the major lifetime milestone of 300,000 cycling miles. He is also an experienced tour-organiser, taking large groups of cyclists to training camps and European events such as the Etape for over a decade, initially for Sports Tours International (www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk) and latterly for his own company, Andy Cook Cycling (www.andycookcycling.com).

“I’ve had first-hand experience of thousands of bikes on hundreds of planes, and in my view Monarch is one of the most reliable airlines in Europe," Andy says. "As long as bikes are well packaged, and clearly labelled, they usually arrive when and where they should. Problems seem to arise when a very large number of cyclists and their bikes all get on one plane at the same time.

"Taking groups to the La Santa training camps in Lanzarote we usually use Monarch, or charter carriers like Thomas Cook Airlines or Thomson Airways. Because they fly from many different regional airports around the UK, it seems to spread the load and we don’t have many problems.”

Know the ropes

Whichever airport you fly from, it’s important to understand the airlines’ responsibilities.

“Even if you book long in advance, no airline will guarantee to get your bike (or, in fact, any luggage) to your destination airport on the same plane as you,” advises Tom Hall, spokesman for Lonely Planet guidebooks and author of the weekly Ask Tom travel advice column in The Guardian.

“While the airline is responsible for getting your bike from A to B, an international agreement called the Montreal Convention allows airlines not to carry any item of luggage for reasons of space or safety.”

Tom also knows his bikes, with recent exploits including various sportives and audaxes, and a two-week stage of the Tour d’Afrique.

“I took my bike on BA and their subsidiary Comair when I flew to Victoria Falls before cycling through Botswana and Namibia. I was concerned it wouldn’t arrive, but I had no problems. The bike box was so big and eye-catching that I reckon it was first on and off the plane, although unfortunately my other luggage went missing on the way home as I transferred through Johannesburg.”

It’s undoubtedly easier taking bikes on long-haul flights on big planes with plenty of room in the hold. Hardy mountain biker Paul McCormack recently took a bike to Nepal.

“I flew on Gulf Air with a change in Bahrain; smooth as silk at the airport and the bike arrived unscathed.”

At the other extreme, a short flight, a small plane and a large number of bikes is the perfect storm. Paul continues: “This summer I went to the Etape on EasyJet from Bristol. The plane was full of cyclists, and there was almost a riot as we taxied to take-off, leaving a trolley loaded with bikes standing on the tarmac.”

Andy Cook’s experience is similar.

“Of all the airlines I’ve experienced, we seem to get the most problems with EasyJet. Having said that, when bikes are delayed, EasyJet is very good at making good the error. They don’t just put your bike on the next plane. Once at the destination airport, they’ll put it in a van and deliver it to your hotel. I’ve had clients biting their fingernails the night before the Etape, waiting for the EasyJet van to arrive – and it usually does.”

The moral of the tale so far: Do some careful research before booking your flight, check the various airlines, read the small-print, and be aware that every airline has different regulations. Sometimes the same airline has different rules for different locations, or for charter flights and scheduled flights, or even on outbound and inbound flights between the same two points – and the rules change frequently.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the airline you used last year will charge the same for your bike this year. And just to keep you on your toes even more, many airports seem to impose their own rules, or at least have different interpretations of the airline regulations. So, once you’ve picked your airline (and your airport), it goes without saying that good insurance is essential: something that covers the full-value of your bike if it’s lost.

Companies like Yellow Jersey are ideal, as they constantly deal with cyclists, they're great for advice.

No fly zone

But if you don’t want to chance your beloved machine to the vagaries of the airline industry, what are your other options?

First, you can hire a bike at your destination. In many popular cycling spots, the quality of rental bikes has improved massively over the years. For example, at Pro Cycling in Majorca (www.procyclehire.com) you can hire a top-notch steed for €110-180 per week. In the same way, many of the Bike Hotels in Italy (www.italybikehotels.it/en) have good rental options.

If you’re just taking your bike on holiday, rather than heading for a specific event, another possibility is European Bike Express – luxury coach transport for cyclists and their bikes to various destinations in France and Spain. (www.bike-express.co.uk/) And then there are folding bikes – Bromptons, Mezzos, Airnimals and the like – that you can pack down and get on the plane as standard-sized luggage.

Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent, takes his Brompton on assignment all over the world.

“The feeling of breezing away from an airport on two wheels rather than crammed into a bus or train is exhilarating indeed," he says. “I can particularly recommend the Amsterdam and Jersey airports, and even Paris Charles de Gaulle.

"Also, I tend to cycle to Heathrow from my home in London because it's far more reliable than the Piccadilly Line. But the airlines, ever keen to cut costs, are cracking down and making it trickier. My Brompton weighs 13kg, and BA are always helpful, but EasyJet and American Airlines have been beastly in the past, even when it's in a box and unidentifiable as a bike.”

While folding bikes are fine for touring or pottering around, they’re perhaps not ideal for a sportive or training camp – although Airnimal riders are occasionally spotted in the Etape. Packable bikes with conventional frames and full-sized 700c wheels that might do the trick include the Ritchey Break-Away (www.ritcheylogic.com) and the Dahon Tornado (www.dahon.com).

The Road Won sportive bike from titanium bike specialist Qoroz is available as a standard bike, or as a packable bike with the optional addition of two neat couplings on the frame, meaning you can put the whole bike in a suitcase measuring 650x650x250mm. If you opt for 650cc wheels the case is even smaller, and Qoroz (www.qoroz.co.uk) can supply that too.

One final option is offered by some UK tour companies: a van to carry bikes to your final destination while you take the plane stress-free. This service might cost £70 to £100 for the return trip, but that’s comparable with airline charges, and there’s much less chance of your bike arriving late.

The last word goes to Andy Cook: “We use a van to take client bikes to the Etape and other Continental events, and it works well. Our van driver is a cyclist too (he’s done the Etape three times) so he treats the bikes with a lot more care than they’d ever get on airport trolleys and conveyor belts.” 

21 comments

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maviczap [45 posts] 4 months ago
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Don't forget that steel frames can be built with S&S couplers or retrofited by many frame builders. I had a Reynolds 931 converted and its a joy to ride, not as light as a carbon frame, but more baggage handler proof!

You also ommitted Buxum bike cases who make great boxes, which will last a lifetime & now made in the UK. They do a version for S&S frames too. Chris Froome has one, so a good recommendation.

http://www.buxumbox.com/

An S&S frame will fit into the Buxum Galibier & Quroz boxes are classed within normal suitcase dimensons, by most airlines, so you don't pay the extra sporting items surcharge for the normal sized bike box, so long as its under the weight limit. Although each time I've had to put the my Galibier box through the oversized luggage check in, just because it'll clog up the conveyor. But I didn't pay extra because of this, with BA it was no problem.

 

 

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philly [47 posts] 4 months ago
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The diagram omits Alitalia who are brilliant.

23kg limit which can be your bike. We managed 22.8kg on the way out with clothes/helmet etc stuffed in the bag too. Return flight, as long as we were under 35kg, they let us get away with it. Great airline, gotta love Italy! heart

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WolfieSmith [1380 posts] 4 months ago
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I had the strange experience of booking my bike on a flight to Lourdes 8 months before I flew (2010 Etape) and then being told days beforehand that paying to reserve  a bike space doesn't actually mean it is reserved! If a certain number of wheelchair users are booked on a flight bikes will be bumped. Fair enough but not mentioned at the time. 

UK airlines seem to have improved their game in the past few years as they realised that bikes are good business. I can recall getting charged for extra kilos on a bike box that was underweight when I left the house... and all sorts of shenanigans with Ryanair.  All the Spanish and French airports I have flown back from have never bothered to even weigh the bike bag let alone screw extra cash out of me. 

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alec [5 posts] 4 months ago
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Im going on holiday to Canada over the summer, and I need to ship my bike back to the UK. Unfortunately I cant take it on the return flight as Im continuing my travelling in Canada. Does anyone have any suggestions on how best to do this? Thank you! 

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MandaiMetric [115 posts] 4 months ago
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I've taken my bike on both Singapore Airlines (SQ) and Thai Int'l Airways (TG), including domestic flight on TG to semi-rural Thailand (UTH). The Customs lady at BKK asked where I was going cycling and wished me "have good time ka", with ubiquitous smile.

I took the bike to local bike shop, asked them to put in an old cardboard box.

The shop

  • removed the handlebars and wrapped them by the forks (leaving all cables still attached)
  • removed the saddle and pedals
  • removed the front wheel
  • deflated the tyres
  • wrapped the frame in corrugated cardboard

It was easy for me, since I had friends in Thailand to meet me in Udon (everyone in Thailand owns, or has a friend with, a pickup truck) and store the box at their place while I was there. 

The most expensive part was the 5km minivan taxi ride to Changi (S$50/25 quid fixed fare). The airport/airline staff didn't bat an eyelid to me taking a bike, and there was never even a hint of a problem or additional baggage charge.

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FatTed [13 posts] 4 months ago
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alec wrote:

Im going on holiday to Canada over the summer, and I need to ship my bike back to the UK. Unfortunately I cant take it on the return flight as Im continuing my travelling in Canada. Does anyone have any suggestions on how best to do this? Thank you! 

https://www.bikeflights.com/

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CyclePsycho [6 posts] 4 months ago
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My partner took her bike with her using Virgin Atlantic on a trip to the USA, they take bikes for free.

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luuk [10 posts] 4 months ago
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With KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) it's also okay to bring your bike

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ajft [27 posts] 4 months ago
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I've found that you can do all the research in the world, then carefully pack your bike in a box, but when you turn up at the airport on the day, the attitude and personal opinions of the person on the desk at the time can overrule any and all rules and regulations that you found on websites, brochures or were told over the phone!  Perhaps you were told that you could box the bike at the airport and that boxes are available -- Surprise, no box today, but without a box your bike doesn't fly! (frantically tape together scrap cardboard from dumpsters and make "a box").  Bikes that are beautifully packed in a box may have to be completely unpacked "for security" then you're left struggling to get it all back together (always take extra tape and allow extra time), sometimes the box is allowed to contain your bike panniers, other times it is forbidden for the box to have anything except the bike.

Another nasty gotcha that caught me out ten years ago was when flying Heathrow to Singapore, but  having to change planes at the airline's European hub airport.  Surprise!  The *airport* levied a 150euro "handling fee" on bicycles as luggage!  Somehow I managed to talk my way out of it because I'd not been informed when booking my tickets, and I'd expressly enquired about bicycle carriage and charges.

 

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CXR94Di2 [1577 posts] 4 months ago
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I will be using easyjet soon,  I have prebooked my bike box, hoping everything goes ok.

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janusz0 [3 posts] 4 months ago
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I have never packed a bike in a box. I've been flying touring bikes to Europe, Asia and North America for over 30 years. When you could just put a naked bicycle, with pedals off and bars turned, on a plane, bagage handlers used to treat bicycles with respect.  Unfortunately, once you put it in a box, it is just treated as a box with no thought for the contents. For around the past 15 years, I've put my bike in a transparent plastic bag. Some airlines (Thai, for example) used to supply them. Nowadays I use the CTC heavy duty polythene bag available through Evans. A transparent bag has advantages: the baggage handlers can see what it is, if parts get dislodged on the flight they stay in the bag and you can spot them, should the bike be damaged you can demonstrate this before you take the bag off. A bag is light and packs up small so that you can ride with it.  Ideally pack an unused spare bag and throw the used one away at your destination.  You should put padding on the bike to prevent damage and to stop bike parts breaking the bag.

While on the subject it's worth mentionin that you can buy light but strong 70 - 80 litre holdalls (e.g. Lifeventure) which allow you to consolidate your panniers, bar and saddle bags into a single bag. Such a bag won't survive many trips, but it's a step up from strapping panniers together to make a single item.

As always, airlines differ, so talk to them early.  Also talk to other travellers.  I've just discovered that Aeroflot will happily transport fully assembled tandems.

 

 

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CXR94Di2 [1577 posts] 4 months ago
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SP59, that's a long excursion.  I can see the benefit if you're going to do some riding on the way down.  Realistically its a 2 day journey, unless you're willing for 10 hour plus drive in one go.   Add fuel and possible stop over, might be cheaper than flights, hassle factor though?

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Danger Dicko [281 posts] 4 months ago
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Thanks for the article.

I'm taking my bike out to France for the last week of Le Tour (I'm not doing Etape).

I'll choose my flights carefully.

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FatBoyW [211 posts] 4 months ago
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Info graphic not entirely accurate Monarch is £30 each way birmingham - arricefe - dont want to tempt fate going next week.  But they have always been brilliant thus far. Even when overweight, no extra cost.

 

Training Camp here we come!!

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Jonathan Knight [23 posts] 4 months ago
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I'm not sure I'd ever put my carbon road bike in a cardboard box or plastic bag and trust it to be in one piece at the other end. My aluminum mountain bike I might do but not my road bike hence I have a Bike-Box-Alan.

I flew on Easy Jet last summer, Turkey to the UK was no problem, paid the extra on booking and just checked in and took it to the oversize bags desk. Manchester back to Turkey was a pain as they guy at the oversize bags desk needed me to open the box to check what was in it, specifically flammable stuff like chain oil etc. Then he had to get the guy from the Easy Jet counter to come over to confirm how many CO2 pump cylinders I was allowed in the box - which was confusing as their web site isn't too clear on this but he said it was two but we could have four as there were two of us flying; of course we didn't mention the cyclinders in the other luggage that had already been checked in crying We effectively had extra luggage allowance too as the bike and box were well under Easy Jet's 32kg limit, which pleased my wife no end as she isn't one for travelling light.

 

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maviczap [45 posts] 4 months ago
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Jonathan Knight wrote:

I'm not sure I'd ever put my carbon road bike in a cardboard box or plastic bag and trust it to be in one piece at the other end. My aluminum mountain bike I might do but not my road bike hence I have a Bike-Box-Alan.

First time I flew out, I saw a carbon bike in the baggage wagon waiting to be loaded onto the plane we'd flown in on. It was in a clear plastic bike bag, and was loaded nicely in the wagon, but I share your fears.

I read a story of a bloke watching from the plane as his carbon bike being destroyed after the handlers threw heavy bike boxes onto his thinly padded soft bike bag. 

My own Buxum Box took a serious hit on the aluminium wheel protector, so much so it bent it into the wheel. That was its first trip too.

 

 

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muppetkeeper [21 posts] 4 months ago
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I've used Jet2.com about a dozen times, also use a bikeboxalan box as I don't want carbon frame bouncing all over the place.  Jet2 have been great, and using a solid box means I get about 8 kilos of spare allowance after the bike is packed, which is  handy.

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AWP [113 posts] 3 months ago
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CXR94Di2 wrote:

I will be using easyjet soon,  I have prebooked my bike box, hoping everything goes ok.

I've used EasyJet a number of time from Both Gatwick and Luton to Geneva and not had any issues. It's a regular process for the airport - check-in, take box to over-sized luggage shoot and waive goodbye. 

Never considered anything other than a hard case box.

 

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CXR94Di2 [1577 posts] 3 months ago
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Just arrived back from Tenerife using easyjet and monarch. My case was hired from bikeboxonline, a velobox hard case. I fitted my bike, wheels, helmet, shoes, tools, pump in the box, It all weighed 28kg. I would recommend you remove derailleur and chain to reduce chance of damage. I also braced the fork ends with a block of wood.

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sammyx99 [2 posts] 2 weeks ago
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alec wrote:

Im going on holiday to Canada over the summer, and I need to ship my bike back to the UK. Unfortunately I cant take it on the return flight as Im continuing my travelling in Canada. Does anyone have any suggestions on how best to do this? Thank you! 

Alec, where in Canada are you going? I can recommend some bike shops who will be able to rent you a bike. I used to live there and travelled a lot to the USA and Europe with my bike. On recent trips we have rented at the locations we have travelled to because it is 1) cheap, 2) shops now renting top of the line bikes, 3) avoids damage to your bike on air transport, 4) avoids excessive airline costs and 5) reduces the stress of taking your beloved bike on a plane. Let me know if you want any contacts in Canada, happy to help.

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sammyx99 [2 posts] 2 weeks ago
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I have been on many trips to and from Europe and to North America, used to take the beast with me but nowadays it is so cheap to rent a top of the line bike, reduces stress and eliminates damage to your bike. 

Having said that short haul flights on Ryanair, Easyjet, British Airways, Vueling, Alitalia and others proved to be uneventful. Long haul flights are usually an issue especially if you have connections. Pack your bike well, use lots of bubble wrap around the derailiuers and chain stays and hope for the best.