Flying with a bicycle

You want to cycle in another country. To get there you need to travel by plane. Flying with a bicycle can bring on anxiety in the calmest of people. After all, this is the bike you know, the bike for which you have have every tool ever invented, the bike you built in a freezing shed, the bike you know how to fix and most of all the bike you have tweaked with your personal unique set up for trips away from home.

Taxi to Havana airport Cuba with bikes in CTC bagsAirlines have different rules and charges when it comes to flying with a bicycle, so make sure you check their policies below. Most state that the bike must be packed in a box or a bicycle bag. Some people use a cardboard box or the more expensive padded bag.

If you’re flying on a very small plane, there may not be any room for a bike even if the airline states that bikes are accepted.

Can you sleep at an airport or take a shower? If you arrive late or have an early flight. Check out the sleeping in airports website. For tips on where you can can find free accommodation click here or check out this wild camping guide.

I use a CTC Plastic Bike Bag which cost just over ten pounds. It’s a giant plastic bag. That’s it! The theory is that the carrier can see what’s inside and will treat the bike kindly. The bag folds up fairly small and can be carried with you, left in an airport locker or at a hotel/guesthouse.

Which airlines accept the CTC Bag?

British Airways accepted the CTC bike bag as suitable for flights to Morocco in December 2013, 2014 and as recently as January 2017.

Easyjet refused this packing method in Gatwick at first but gave in once I’d signed  a handwritten disclaimer. Interestingly, they didn’t bat an eyelid when I returned to check in at The Netherland’s Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in July 2014.

In December 2015, Virgin Atlantic insisted on deflating tyres for a flight to Cuba – and again on the return flight. The bag was perfectly acceptable.

Airline Bike Policies

The following airlines have their own policies about flying with a bicycle. Click to find the latest information before you book flights. Some charge, others don’t.

British Airways
Easyjet
Virgin Atlantic
Emirates
Aer Lingus
Air France
Norwegian Air
Flybe
Ryanair

Bike before going into the CTC bag
Bike before going into the CTC bag

Quick releases on the seat post and front wheels make packing easier. If your bike has an internal hub gear system such as Rohloff or Alfine, or is a single speed or a fixie, then your blood pressure will be fine. If, like me, you have a derailleur, then packing is a little bit more tricky and I’d recommend you bring a spare ‘hanger’. Unbuilding and packing and equally unpacking and rebuilding takes us 20 – 30 minutes per bike.

Things you’ll need before flying with a bicycle

Bubble wrap
Cardboard
Packing tape
Pipe lagging
String or cable ties
2 litre plastic milk carton
Tools

How to disassemble and pack your bicycle for flight

Remove the chain and put into ziplock bag. Dan and I have a connex link system which makes this a quick and easy job, though I usually decide to mow the lawn, or vacuum when it comes to getting oily. It’s my way of helping.

Cut the top third from the plastic milk carton. This is the protector for the rear mech which you will need to wiggle about to fit your bike best. It’s wiser to remove the mech completely and tape it to the frame.

Remove the pedals and wrap in bubble wrap or replace them pointing towards the frame. Resist the urge to pop the bubbles. Once you start…

Remove front wheel ensuring you do not squeeze the brake if you have hydraulic disk brakes. Remove the skewer.

Let some air out of the tyres, not too much, just enough so that you can answer honestly when the carrier asks, ‘Have you let air out of your tyres?’

Dummy Axle and brake spacer

Dummy Axle and brake spacer

Insert spacer as a dummy front axle, to stop the forks being squashed together. I got one from my local bike shop for free.

Insert a plastic spacer between your brake pads if you have hydraulic brakes. They can be obtained at your local bike shop and are shaped for the brakes.

Turn handlebars not and twist downwards to protect levers. Wrap bubble wrap around the levers for extra protection.

Remove all mounts such as GPS and lights.

Put bottles in their cages, to save space in luggage and tape or wrap in bubbly stuff. Pump may be attached likewise.

Drop the seat and wrap this too.

Turn the handlebars to the right so that they are on the same side as the mech. This is the delicate side of the bike and should be face out. Tie to the frame.

Place the front wheel as shown in the picture and tie to the frame with string or cable ties. Place a bit of cardboard around disc for protection.

If you feel your bike needs more protection, pipe lagging is ideal.

Now stick the bike into the plastic bag and wrap with tape.

Go off and see the world.

Packed for flying with a bicycle

Packed for flying with a bicycle in CTC bag

Bike at the airport

Bike at the airport

Handy Hint
We have bags marked with our initials to hold spares and all the bits that have been removed. This speeds up the rebuilding process. Dan hands me my bits and I’ll get a sudden urge to find us food and drink or check the map.

What do you do when flying with your bike? Share your tips in the comments below.

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.

2 Comments:

  1. SAS have the best bike policy of any airline. I’ve flown with them from Heathrow to Moscow and from Budapest to Manchester and both times I rode to the airport, walked up to the counter, gave them my bike (I had taken my panniers off and put them in a giant bag) and they wheeled it away. So simple. They also class a bicycle as a regular piece of luggage.

    • Meraid Griffin

      When did this happen, Dominic? This used to be the policies of many airlines back in the early years.

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