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What should you do if an airline loses your bike?

The global baggage crisis means some cyclists flying abroad are finding their bike missing on arrival – here are some tips to avoid your bike being lost in transit forever

What should you do if your bike goes missing when you’re flying with it? It’s become a hot topic with the return of mass air travel following two years of coronavirus restrictions that led people to postpone their planned trips,  placing unprecedented stress on the world’s airlines. That’s led to a global baggage crisis as mountains of luggage pile up – and bicycles are no exception.


Listen to our podcast episode on the subject above with Laka's Nick Sutton, or read on if you prefer good old words... 

As the scale of the problem became fully apparent in mid-2022, we began to hear story after story of people – ranging from keen amateurs setting off for bucket list events abroad to a pro cyclist flying to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France – whose bikes, sometimes costing well into five figures, had gone missing in transit.

Delayed luggage is nothing new, of course, but it used to be the case that you’d wait a day or two for it to be put on the next available flight then couriered to your destination.

> The stuff they never tell you about flying with your bike

Now, however, baggage including bike boxes is going missing for weeks on end, and perhaps forever – which in the case of the aviation industry effectively means 21 days, at which point missing luggage is officially deemed ‘lost’ under the Montreal Convention, which governs airlines’ responsibilities to travellers on international flights and, importantly, their liability.

The latter is capped at approximately £1,400 (although it’s worth noting that some airlines may at their discretion provide higher levels of compensation, while others will try and get away with offering less, in which case point out the Montreal Convention to them.

Don't rely on an airline to fully compensate you

But if you’re relying on compensation from the airline after your £5,000 bike is deemed lost, you’ll be left well out of pocket – unless of course you’ve made sure that you’ve taken out your own insurance, whether specialist cycling or travel cover, or under your household policy.

In all cases, you’ll want to double-check that your bike is adequately covered, including for foreign travel – so getting confirmation of that from your insurers, in writing, together with acknowledgement of its value (and that of any other kit such as clothing you may stow in your bike box). It’s better to have all that sorted in advance than being wise after the event.

> How to fly with your bike 

Nick Sutton, the customer experience lead at the specialist cycling insurer Laka, says that until recent months bikes going missing for weeks on end just would not have happened and that the traveller would be able to fairly easily sort out delayed baggage with the airline.

“This is a new situation we’ve had to become adept at dealing with,” he explained.

“In terms of how the cover works, this would be quite a particular scenario which is ‘loss by a third party’ which as you might expect means your bike’s lost because it was someone else’s fault.”

Don't leave the airport without written acknowledgement

Sutton's top recommendation?

“Don’t leave the airport until you have some kind of acknowledgement from somebody of what’s happened, ie not necessarily the bike’s lost, but for now they can’t find it.”

Sutton says that recent stories of bikes going missing in transit highlighted that “trying to get any kind of answer or traction after you've left the airport is far more difficult – so don't leave until you've got someone to put something in writing in an email or on a letter  saying, ‘Sorry, we've lost your gear, lost your bike.”

Should you use a tracker?

2021 Apple AirTag under bottle cage.jpeg

Some travellers have resorted to using trackers such as Apple’s Airtag to try and keep tabs on their possessions while flying – as an insurer, Laka is clearly familiar with such devices when it comes to theft claims, and they do often help in getting stolen bikes returned to their owners.

From a baggage point of view, Sutton says it “definitely can’t hurt you” but points out that there is a problem in terms of “how far can the airline go in terms of their resources to actually look for it” – especially pertinent right now, given that many other passengers will be in a similar situation with suitcases or other luggage also going missing.

In all likelihood, and leaving aside that 21-day definition in the Montreal Convention, your bike is unlikely to actually be ‘lost’ – it won’t have vanished into the ether, and will be sitting in an airport somewhere, though possibly under a stack of other luggage.

That gives rise to another couple of issues – the first being where weeks or even months have gone by and you’ve successfully claimed for your missing bike on your insurance – and then it turns up out of the blue. What happens then?

Sutton likens it to a situation that he says Laka sometimes encounters in theft claims, where the owner of a stolen bike puts in a claim, the company pays out – and then at some future point, a police raid unearths a stash of bikes, including the one that was the subject of the claim.

In this case, he says, “usually the customer would just then have a choice to make whether they stick with the settlement or reclaim what was lost in the first place.”

Do check for damage if you get your bike back

The second issue is the possibility that even if it’s in a purpose-made hard case, your bike will have been damaged while stuck at an airport waiting for the backlog to be cleared. Sutton’s advice here is to open the case as soon as you are reunited with it and check everything is in order – and if it isn’t, again get written acknowledgment of what is wrong.

> The best 10 bike bags and boxes — keep your bike safe when travelling

Take photos and obtain receipts for any repairs – and bear in mind that the airline’s liability is once more capped at around £1,400 under the Montreal Convention, so again, double-check that your insurance will cover you adequately for possible damage in transit.

Have you experienced this issue, have any tips or advice to add to the above? Let us know in the comments. 

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Pilot Pete | 1 year ago

I'm an airline pilot so have seen first hand how SOME baggage handlers deal with sports equipment, including bikes. I ALWAYS advocate a hard shell box and indeed NEVER travel with my bike unless it is in a hard shell case. Sure, there are plenty of anecdotal stories about how someone toured the world and only ever put their bike in a plastic bag and it was fine, blah, blah, blah, BUT, and this is the crux, treat travelling with your bike like airport security - you need to make sure it is safe EVERY flight and not just trust to luck.

What if it does go amiss? Or get damaged? As the article says, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A SUITABLE INSURANCE POLICY that covers your bike and related ancillaries like clothing, shoes, helmet, etc etc WHILST IN TRANSIT. That is the important bit - to make sure that travel between your home location and your resort/ holiday accommodation is covered such as in a car, on a plane or ferry etc.

If you have an expensive bike and then add up the cost of the box, and all your associated equipment it can come to an awful lot of money. Are you sure everything is covered against loss, theft, damage etc in transit? What limitations are there on the policy? What about whilst you are abroad? Does it cover all the countries you are visiting? Does it cover accident/ crash damage? What about medical cover? Have you got a separate travel insurance policy to cover hospital bills? What about repatriation? Does it cover cycling? And so on. It can be a minefield and we have all travelled in a group before where someone decides to just risk it with no insurance...

This has hit home twice with me over the last decade of travelling abroad on cycling trips. The first was in a small group of mates, one of whom brought his uni student brother along. Lovely lad. His brother brought his brand new Giant Defy out in the original packing from the shop (where he worked). The uni lad had never even seen it before, and as we all built our bikes back up, he had a big smile on his face.

Went for an afternoon shakedown ride and ended up in the local village at a cafe bar for a beer or two as the sun went down. Then the heavens opened. We all crowded inside and had another beer. An hour later we emerged and one bike was can guess which one. Day one of the trio, brand new bike, less than 30 miles ridden on it and it had disappeared. Unsurprisingly the student wasn't insured.

The second time was about 5 years ago on the same annual trip when another mate lost it on some gravel on a sweeping downhill bend. He ended up in the verge and lost control, getting launched onto, and sliding along the top of the Armco crash barrier. The join between two bits of Armco had a slightly raised edge. This opened up the top of his thigh/ groin REALLY DEEPLY. Incredibly lucky for him was the next guy down the hill following him was one of two doctors in the group!

We turned around and came back up the hill after hearing nothing and waiting for ten minutes to find him sat up against the barrier with his leg pulled up to his chest. Virtually no phone signal, but they had managed to get the emergency services. 40 minutes later the ambulance arrived. After it had carted him off 30 miles to the hospital we continued on - the doc said "1/2" deeper and it would have severed his femoral artery and he would have bled out waiting for the ambulance". Talk about lucky.

He was stapled back together and was picked up by another mate many hours later. Luckily he hadn't needed repatriation and was treated under the old EHIC scheme. We had hidden his bike off the road and went back in the van later to find it. 

It does highlight how your fantastic cycling trip can turn sour very quickly, be it loss or damage to your bike, or to yourself.

Get yourself proper insurance. You will resent paying for it every year and not claiming, but you will resent it more if things go wrong and you don't have cover and rely on family and friends starting a Just Giving page pleading for donations to get you home in your coma.....

RTB replied to Pilot Pete | 1 year ago

Superb, thanks for taking the time to write this. 

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