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Flying with Bicycles

Booking the ‘Ticket’ for your Bike

  • This first step to taking your bike on a plane sounds simple, but can be a real pain because every airline handles this differently

  • Usually, a bicycle either counts as ‘sporting equipment’ or just as an extra piece of luggage

  • You normally have to pack your bike in a designated bicycle box

  • The maximum allowed weight & dimensions of these you can usually find on the airlines' website

  • Sometimes our bike boxes exceeded these dimensions a bit, but we never had any problems which checking in

  • The airlines we have (so far) taken our bikes on:

    • Turkish Airlines

    • Avianca

    • Latam

    • Qantas

    • AirAsia

  • With all of them our bikes arrived safe & sound, but the booking process didn’t always go as smoothly

  • Istanbul, Turkey - Miami, USA, with Turkish Airlines (booked in October 2021)

    • We couldn’t add the bikes while booking the tickets online

    • We first had to purchase our tickets and then call the airline’s call center

    • We added the bikes during the call, but never got an official confirmation

    • In the end it all worked out and we paid for the bikes at the airport

  • San José, Costa Rica - Bogotá, Colombia, with Avianca (booked in March 2022)

    • We could add the bikes in the booking process on their website as sports equipment

  • Punta Arenas, Chile - Santiago, Chile, with Latam (booked in March 2023)

    • We could add the bikes in the booking process on their website as sports equipment

  • Santiago, Chile - Sydney, Australia, with Qantas (booked in March 2023)

    • Bicycles just count as an extra piece of luggage, as long as the box doesn’t exceed the dimensions defined by Qantas for bike boxes

    • So we each had two pieces of luggage booked

  • Perth, Australia - Bangkok, Thailand, (via Bali) with AirAsia (booked in March & August 2023)

    • The bicycles can just be added in the booking process as sporting equipment

Beware, when booking codeshare flights, or flights with multiple segments, that it is not necessarily possible to add the bikes for every flight segment in the booking. It may only be possible, and most likely easier, to just book the segments separately with the individual airlines.

The Logistics Before Packing

Louisa & Tobi organizing bike boxes for a flight in Ushuaia
Louisa & Tobi after unpacking the bikes at the airport in Sydney
  • Once you've successfully added your bike to the booking, you want to make sure it arrives undamaged by packing it correctly

  • We always try to have at least two or three days before a flight to organize and pack everything

  • Before we can pack the bikes, we have to find bike boxes, packing material and two extra boxes for our panniers

  • Bike boxes:

    • To get bike boxes, we always look for bicycle shops (e.g. on Google Maps) in the area before even arriving

    • Sometimes we contact the shop beforehand to make sure we can get boxes there (especially if there aren’t many options in the area)

    • Normally we get them either for free or for a small fee

  • To safely pack and properly protect your bike on the flight, you also need lots of packing material

    • We prefer tough plastic foil, cardboard, styrofoam & bubble wrap

    • We always try to ‘recycle’ packaging material from stores (preferably electronics stores, as they have the ideal kind of material and it’s always clean)

    • So we just ask at the stores if they have any packing material that they would otherwise throw away (we obviously get that for free then)

  • Same goes for the two extra boxes we need for our panniers, we usually manage to get them from some store for free (e.g. hardware store)

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Packing your Bicycle

  • Now that you have all the required boxes & packing material, it's best to find a quiet place to disassemble & pack your bike. When doing this for the first time, definitely allow for several hours per bike

  • What you need:

    • Bicycle box

    • Sufficient packing material

    • Packing Tape

    • Bike multitool

  • The steps:

    1. Properly clean the bike, it makes taking apart & reassembling your bike easier & less messy (for some countries, e.g. Australia, it is even mandatory to have everything spotless to comply with their biosecurity laws)

    2. Remove everything that contains lithium-ion batteries (like your bike computer, electric horn, etc.)

    3. If you don't have a bike stand available, flip you bike upside down, onto the saddle & handlebars, to make working on it easier (keep in mind though, it is generally not recommended to turn a bike with hydraulic brakes upside down, so skip this step in that case)

    4. If your bike has a chain & derailleur(s), proceed with these steps:

      1. Remove the chain (we usually try to time the wear of our chains so we can put on new ones upon arrival. Make sure to already have a new one at hand before discarding the old one)

      2. Detach the rear derailleur from the hanger without removing the shift cable, pack it in bubble wrap (or similar) and carefully fasten it to the frame or rack with a cable tie, next to the rear wheel (be careful not to bend or stress the shift cable too much)

      3. Remove and safely pack the rear derailleur hanger, if applicable/removable

      4. If your bike has a front derailleur, shift down to the smallest chain ring, thereby moving the derailleur further towards the frame and releasing the tension in the shift cable

    5. If your bike has an internal gear hub or gearbox, bear in mind the following:

      1. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for flying with your gear hub/gearbox​

      2. Generally, it is recommended to transport gear hubs/gearboxes in standing position, as to avoid oil leakage when the oil sits on the left or right seals, especially with the temperature & pressure fluctuations in aircrafts

      3. As a precaution, wrap your gear hub or gearbox in a cloth (or similar) to absorb any leakage, and take some extra oil to replenish any possible losses 

      4. By putting "this side up" labels on your bike box, you can encourage the correct handling of your bike

    6. Remove the front rack, bottle cages, or any other attachments from your bike that are not protected within the frame (wrap them separately)

    7. Remove the pedals and wrap them separately (left pedal - loosens clockwise, right pedal - loosens anti-clockwise)

    8. Deflate the tires a little

    9. Remove the front wheel, wrap it in a big plastic bag or similar (remove the axle and pack separately)

    10. If you have (hydraulic) disk brakes, keep in mind the following:

      1. Be careful not to actuate the brake handle without the rotor installed, as the calipers will close (insert a caliper spacer to prevent this. If they accidentally close, use a plastic tire lever, screwdriver or similar to carefully open them again)

      2. Consider removing the brake rotors and wrapping them separately as to avoid any bending/damage to them during transport

      3. Also consider extra protection for the brake calipers if they are very exposed on the fork/frame, by wrapping or even removing them from their bolts (not from their hydraulic hose) and fastening them inside the fork or next to the frame (without putting stress on the hoses)

    11. If you have (mechanical) V-brakes, consider "locking" the rear brake with a bungee chord (or similar) to stop the rear wheel from turning while in the box

    12. Wrap the fork & frame for protection

    13. Generally wrap everything that might get damaged or scratched during the flight

    14. The rear wheel, rear rack, crankset, fork, mud guards, lights, brake calipers and frame mounted bottle cages or bags can very often be kept as they are for the flight, however, this depends on the exact configuration of your bike

    15. Flip your bike right side up again, if applicable

    16. Remove the seatpost & saddle and wrap separately (the saddle can usually stay mounted on the seatpost)

    17. Detach the handlebars (with or without the stem), wrap them, and attach them sideways along the frame with cable ties without stressing the attached brake/shift cables and/or hoses (you may need to remove handlebar accessories to make them fit well)

    18. Carefully lift the bicycle into the bike box (consider putting a piece of sturdy styrofoam under the exposed fork dropouts)

    19. Carefully place the wrapped front wheel next to the bike frame in the bike box (consider putting extra protection on both sides of the wheel hub)

    20. Put all the detached and wrapped parts of your bike in the box, around the frame & front wheel (make sure they can't move around or get crushed)

    21. Fill all the empty space in the bike box with packing material and/or other gear

    22. Close the box with packing tape

    23. Put "this side up" and "fragile" labels on your bike box to encourage the correct handling & transport of your bike (also consider crossing out any labels or barcodes on the bike box to avoid confusion)

    24. When reassembling your bike after the flight, essentially follow these steps in reverse, check for any bent or scratched parts, and consider greasing certain components before reinstalling them

    25. If applicable, when reinstalling your rear derailleur, you shouldn't need to reindex your gears, but a slight readjustment may be necessary

    26. Do a final check of your bike before setting off

  • What to do with your other gear?

    • As mentioned, we always organize two cardboard (moving) boxes for the rest of our gear

    • We put our fully packed panniers in the boxes, so our stuff will be protected in case the boxes get wet or damaged somehow

    • We each carry one rear pannier as hand luggage, our handlebar bags are our personal items

    • Remember, any gear containing lithium-ion batteries needs to be hand luggage

    • Other, sturdy gear can also be added to your bike boxes if there's still space and no risk of it getting damaged, i.e. tarps, empty panniers, etc.

    • Fuel bottles & camping stoves should be emptied of fuel, dried and placed in the checked luggage

    • You may need to dispose of lighters, matches, etc.

The Logistics Before & After the Flight

Louisa & Tobi with the Packed Bikes at the airport in Istanbul
Louisa & Tobi Unpacking the Bikes at the Airport in Bogotá
  • Your bike and all the other gear is safely packed? Great, then you are ready to go!

  • How to get to the airport:

    • We usually try to organize our transport to the airport beforehand as it’s not always easy to find a vehicle that can fit all of our stuff (two bike boxes, two moving boxes, two panniers & two handlebar bags)

    • If we are staying in a hotel before our flight, the first option is to ask for an airport transfer (these are often big vans, made for lots of luggage)

    • Another option is to book an XL Transport online

      • We prefer apps like Uber, Grab, Didi, etc. as they are often the cheapest option

      • If the arriving car can fit only one bike box, we book two cars and go one after another

    • If we are staying with a host, at an Airbnb (or similar), we ask our hosts if they have a tip/contact for us or even a vehicle to drive us to the airport themselves

  • Alternatively, you can also pack your bike right at the airport

    • Advantage: You can cycle to the airport and don’t have to arrange accommodation & transport beforehand

    • Disadvantage: You still have to get the (bike) boxes and the packing material to the airport and you might have some more time pressure for packing your bike

    • We have never done this as we prefer having everything packed & organized already before the day of our flight

  • Once you arrive at the airport:

    • Depending on the airport, there might already be security controls at the entrance gate

    • You might be asked to open your boxes to show the contents

    • We always bring extra tape to the airport, so we can close our boxes again, if necessary

    • Usually, you have to check-in your bike (and sometimes also the other luggage) at the ‘Oversized Luggage’ counter, but the staff will tell you this at the check-in counter

  • Upon arrival at your destination:

    • Here comes the most nerve-wracking moment of a flight: Did the bike arrive in one piece? Is the box undamaged?

    • In our experience, cardboard bicycles boxes never arrive in spotless condition

      • Usually there are some rips and/or holes in the material (which is the best reason to properly pack & protect your bike in the first place!)

      • If you are just having a stopover, but your bike doesn’t get checked through, you have the chance to check the box for any damage and repair it a bit with tape

      • If the box is seriously damaged, make sure to take photos of the damage before unpacking the box and report it to the airline immediately

    • Once you’ve picked up your bike & all the other luggage, you have to clear customs (your boxes might be opened again)

    • The last step is now to set up your bike again

      • We prefer doing this at the airport to avoid having to find a transport (again)

      • Upon arrival, there is no (or at least much less) time pressure for setting up the bike(s)

      • Also, you will immediately see if the bike has suffered any kind of damage 

      • Serious damage you should report to the airline immediately (check the terms & conditions)

      • Usually, you can get rid of the boxes and the other packing material at the airport (just ask the staff)

      • Of course, you can also first get some kind of accommodation and then reassemble your bike there (we’ve also done that)

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