Packing your bike to take it on a plane
I have had a few people ask me how we go about packing our bikes in order to take them on a plane. We have done this four times now and so here is the best way that we have found to work for us. It might not be the best for you of course!
The first time we flew with our bikes we put them into cardboard bike boxes from Halfords. I hated the job of packing these – it was quite stressful and kept me up half the night before our trip. Both wheels had to come off and the derailleur and chain protected. Once packed they were two very large items that only just fit in the back of our car with the seats down. We had to get a friend to drive us to the airport as the idea of trying to take these enormous, heavy boxes on public transport was stressful and exhausting just to think about. Once at the airport the boxes would only fit sideways on the luggage trolley which meant that they had to be taken off and passed through by hand whenever we came to security bollards and other narrow obstacles. Once we arrived at our destination airport it took quite a while to reassemble the bikes – as a result of both wheels having been removed our V brakes had gone out of adjustment and needed quite a lot of fettling to get right again. Thankfully Faro airport has a fine designated bike assembly area with bike stands for this purpose (apologies for the blurry photo).
On the return journey things were a lot more challenging. We had to cycle to the airport, chain up our bikes and put our baggage into left luggage. We then took a taxi to Decathlon, picked up a couple of cardboard bike boxes and took the taxi back to the airport again. This cost us nearly 40€ in taxi fares and left luggage charges. We were able to find a quiet corner of the airport to pack our bikes into the boxes. One sweaty moment then came when we handed the packed boxes over to the security staff who said they were too large to fit in the scanner. They eventually found a way round this, but for a while it looked as if we might be made to unpack the boxes and pass everything through one piece at a time.
For our next trip I opted to forego the hated bike boxes and wrap our bikes in plastic bags instead. While this might sound like a cavalier approach to the safe transportation of our precious bikes I had heard that doing so would make them less likely to suffer damage from airport handling. We had seen for ourselves that when a bike is in a box it tends to be placed flat on a luggage trolley with other people’s heavy luggage piled on top. This runs the risk of damage to the frame, fork, derailleur, drop-out and more, whereas when bikes are in plastic bags they are an awkward shape for the baggage handlers to deal with and so are carried more carefully and placed on top of all the cases. It is also possible to leave both wheels attached to the bike in a plastic bag, hopefully reducing the chances of damage to the fork and derailleur.
Here you can see our bikes in cardboard boxes on the luggage trolley the first time we took our bikes on a plane – thankfully there are not too many suitcases on top in this instance.
…..and here you can see our bikes wrapped in plastic sitting on top of the cases.
Packing the bikes in plastic bags was very simple. All that it was necessary was turn the handlebars, remove the pedals, lower the saddle and let the tyres down a bit – it took just a few minutes. The sort of sharp items that wouldn’t be allowed in hand luggage for security reasons were put into a tool bottle which was left in the bottle cage on my bike.
Travelling to the airport with our bikes was also much easier as the bikes fitted more readily into the back of the car.
Our luggage was packed into one ‘bag for life’ each, then wrapped in clingfilm and duct tape. These qualified as hand baggage with Ryanair, meaning we had no additional luggage charges – we only had to pay for the bikes and our own tickets. For example to get ourselves and our bikes back from Santander in this way cost just 15€ per ticket, plus 60€ for each bike.
Ryanair at the time allowed one largish bag as hand luggage and one much smaller bag as a handbag (I believe Ryanair have moved the goalposts on hand luggage again so you will need to check this before you travel). For this we carry these 10l backpacks that we put our passports, money, phones and snacks/books for the journey in. At £1.99 and weighing only 46g they are one of the cheapest and most useful items we carry. You can find them at Decathlon.
We wear our cycling helmets onto the plane as these are bulky and difficult to pack. We have never been challenged about this – it’s just a hat after all. Obviously you have to remove it at the security check.
To get home again we simply cycled to the airport with our pre-purchased wrapping supplies of plastic sheeting, duct tape, cling film and two bags-for-life. These supplies cost around 9€ for enough to wrap two bikes – considerably cheaper than the 40€ we had spent on taxis and left luggage to get our bikes into cardboard boxes previously. Before you all have a go at me about the environmental impact of plastic vs cardboard – I know, and I don’t feel great about it, but maybe the taxi rides cancelled out the environmental benefit of the cardboard?
Here is the same bike packed for the return journey. If you are very observant you might have noticed that this time I have duct-taped the water bottle to the frame. This is because it came loose on the outward journey and was kicking around inside the plastic bag on our arrival.
Below is a handy chart I found online showing the rules and charges imposed by the various airlines. The budget airlines have the highest charges, while more expensive airlines such as British Airways carry bikes for free.
I hope that this guide has helped you to decide how to pack your bikes for travel. It is a daunting initial prospect but once you have done it a couple of times you will wonder what you were ever worried about. Learning how to pack your bikes for air travel means the world opens up into infinitely more cycling destinations.
Bon voyage and happy travels.