Flying with a bike can be a daunting idea. I’ll be honest: I was quite nervous the first time, convinced that the airline was going to deny my bike, even though I paid for it and called them to double-check it was okay.
I was also worried they wouldn’t be happy with the way I packed my bike, but everything went smoothly and my trusty steed arrived at London Stansted unscathed!
As I quickly learned, taking a bike on a plane is perfectly feasible and not as stressful or expensive as one might assume.
Most airlines will accept bicycles on their planes, and many are happy to include them in their checked baggage allowance. This means that you can check in your bicycle as luggage, instead of a suitcase or a backpack. However, the rules and regulations of flying with a bike do vary massively across carriers, so it’s crucial to follow their guidelines.
Generally speaking, though, most airlines will require you to bag or box your bike. This means you’ll need to dismantle your metal companion in some way, by deflating the tyres, removing the pedals, handlebars and front wheels, and lowering the seat post.
You’re probably now thinking: Which are the best airlines for cyclists? How do I pack my bike into a box? And how do I get this massive bike box to the airport?
In this article, I’ll answer these very questions and walk you through exactly how to fly with a bike, so you can focus on the fun part: cycling!
Airline bike policies
The very first thing you’ll want to do is check the airline’s website. All airlines have different rules, and they change the rules quite frequently, so it’s best to recheck each time you fly.
On their website, they should have a ‘sporting equipment’ or ‘special baggage’ page where you can find their policy on bicycles.
Some airlines will charge a fee, some will waive oversized baggage charges for sporting equipment, some won’t accept anything other than a “recognised bike bag” and some require it to be packed in a very specific way. You should double-check their requirements precisely.
If bicycles don’t appear to be mentioned in their policy, be prepared to pay overweight baggage fees.
I’d recommend printing out the airline’s policy and having it ready to politely show at check-in if necessary.
Some airlines will require that you contact them in advance to confirm/reserve your bicycle spot on the flight. If this is what their policy says, then make sure you do this and receive proof of their confirmation. I like to confirm that my bike is coming with me regardless, just for peace of mind.
How much does it cost to take your bike on a plane?
The cost of flying with a bike varies a lot.
Most budget airlines (I’m looking at you, Ryanair) will charge a fee for taking a bike on their flights. Others will allow you to check in your bike as part of your usual baggage allowance, so there is no additional cost (thank you British Airways)!
If the airline does charge a fee, this can range from £30 to over £200!
This means that a cheaper flight may actually work out to be less value once you’ve added your bike.
Be certain to check the airline’s size and weight restrictions. Many will have laid out restrictions specifically for sporting equipment and/or bicycles, which may differ from the usual checked baggage restrictions.
If your bike is oversized, you are likely to be hit with a fee. However, weight restrictions are usually 23kg or more, which is double the weight of the average touring bike, so you’re unlikely to have a bike that’s too heavy. You can also dismantle your bike to an appropriate size, which I’ll walk you through how to do later on in this article.
Best airlines for flying with a bike
I would argue that British Airways and American Airlines are two of the best airlines for cyclists. They don’t charge extra fees for taking bikes on their planes and their customer service is good. You must call British Airways to confirm your bike reservation in advance, so you’ll receive peace of mind that they’ll be accepting it on board.
Here’s a table showing some major airlines’ policies on bikes, to help you find the best option for your next trip.
The below table is accurate as of May 2023. Always check the airline’s website for up-to-date information.
|Airline||Bike Fee||Max Weight||Max Dimensions||Notes|
|Air Canada||$50||32kg||292cm total dimensions||Bike should be registered at time of booking and must be packed in a hard-shell bike case. The case should contain no other items.|
|Air France||€55||23kg||300cm total dimensions||Requires approval at least 48 hours before flight.|
|American Airlines||No fee||23kg||320cm total dimensions||Bike must be in a hard-sided case, bag or box built for bicycle transport. If bike is overweight/oversized, there will be a fee of $150.|
|British Airways||No fee||23kg||190x75x65cm||Call at least 72 hours ahead of time to confirm your bike reservation.|
|Delta||No fee||23kg||292cm total dimensions||Bike must be in a hard-sided container built for bicycle transport. If bike is overweight/oversized, there will be a fee of $150.|
|EasyJet||£42||32kg||Unclear||Bike must be in a bicycle box or bicycle bag. No item other than your bike must be transported in the bike box.|
|Emirates||No fee||20-35kg depending on class||300cm total dimensions||Bike must be registered at least 24 hours before flight. Bike must be packed in a hard-shell bike case.|
|JetBlue||No fee||23kg||157cm total dimensions||If bike is overweight/oversized, there will be a fee of $50.|
|Jet2||£30||32kg||182x91cm||Register bike in advance.|
|Lufthansa||No fee||23kg||280cm total dimensions||Register bike as early as possible. Bike must be in a suitable bicycle case.|
|Qantas||No fee||32kg||140x30x80cm||Must be packed in a bike box.|
|Ryanair||£60||30kg||Unclear||Must be packed in a box or protective bike bag.|
|Virgin Atlantic||No fee||23kg||Unclear||If bike is overweight/oversized, there will be a fee of £65+. Must be transported in a protective bag or box.|
Flying with a bike: packing options
There are basically three options for transporting your bike on a plane: cardboard bike boxes, CTC plastic bags and dedicated bike bags.
Cardboard bike box
You can pick up cardboard bike boxes for free from many cycle shops (just ask for one). I’d recommend calling in advance to make sure they definitely do have one available, though. You don’t want to show up on rubbish collection day to find they’ve all been taken away!
Be sure that the cardboard box is long enough to fit your bike — touring bikes are longer than road bikes, for example.
Once you’ve got a box, you’ll need to remove the pedals, front wheel, seat post and handlebars to fit your bike inside. The front wheel can be placed beside the bike in the box, and the handlebars taped against the frame. I’d recommend taping the pedals and seat post to the frame, too, so they won’t fall out in case a hole rips into the box during transit.
A cardboard box is, in many ways, the most convenient way to fly your bike. As they can be acquired for free in destinations all over the world, you can simply recycle the box once you arrive at your destination and get a new one before you return home.
CTC bike bag
A CTC bike bag is a heavy-duty polyethene bag designed for bicycles.
These bags are good because you may not need to dismantle your bike very much. You’ll need to deflate the tyres, remove the pedals and turn the handlebars inwards, but you likely won’t need to remove the wheels etc.
Another advantage of this option is that the bag is see-through. Handlers should treat it with respect as they can clearly see that it’s a bike, as opposed to piling luggage on top of an anonymous cardboard box.
That being said, the CTC bag offers little to no protection against damage, so I would recommend pipe lagging the frame tubes and taping the rear derailleur to the inside of the chainstays to keep it protected.
Be aware that not all airlines will accept these bags, either because the bike is oversized or not protected well enough.
You can order the CTC bike bags for about £12 online from Chain Reaction Cycles.
Dedicated bike bag
There are two options here: a hard case or a soft bag. The former will provide more protection against damage, while the latter is generally cheaper, lighter and easier to store.
Dedicated bike bags are specifically designed to transport your bike and have padding in all the right places. Some airlines will only accept a bike if it is packed in a dedicated bike bag.
The main issue with dedicated bags is: what will you do with them if you’re going to be cycle touring once you arrive at your destination? It can’t be folded compactly and you can’t exactly strap a huge case onto the back of your bike.
If you’ll be staying at a hotel near the airport, ask them whether they can store your bicycle case for you. Many hotels will be happy to do this if you do business with them, although some will charge a fee for this extra service.
If a hotel isn’t an option, try contacting bike shops, storage companies and tourism bureaus in the area; they may be happy to hold onto your bike bag for a fee.
Obviously, this is only a viable option if you will be flying into and out of the same airport. If you’ll be flying out of a different airport, ship your bag to the end of your route. Many hotels will receive a package on your behalf, but you’ll have to book a room there and call in advance to make sure this is okay.
Chain Reaction Cycles offers a good soft bike bag, which has wheels so you can pull it easily through the airport, whereas ProBikeKit offers a sturdy hard case to provide full protection to your bike while in transit.
Each of the options has its pros and cons, which I’ve detailed in a table below for your convenience:
|Type of bag||Pros||Cons|
|Cardboard Bike Box|| – These can be picked up for free from cycle shops.|
– Many airlines will accept these.
|– Cardboard boxes are likely to be stacked; heavy objects could be piled onto your bike and cause damage.|
– A serious pain in the ass to lug about (trust me).
|CTC Bike Bag|| – Least effort required: you do not have to dismantle your bike much.|
– Handlers can clearly see that it’s a bike and will hopefully be careful with it.
– The bag is light and can be folded, making it easy to carry while touring.
– Cheap to buy.
|– The bag offers little to no protection against damage while in transit.|
– Won’t be accepted by all airlines.
|Soft Bike Bag||– Bike is protected from rubbing against other luggage while in transit.|
– Most, if not all, airlines will accept these.
|– May need to find somewhere to store your bike case while touring. |
– Offers some protection, but handlers cannot see that it’s a bike and may not be so careful with it.
|Hard Bike Case||– A hard bike bag will keep your bike very well protected from damage while in transit.|
– All airlines will accept these.
|– Expensive initial cost|
– May need to find somewhere to store your bike case while touring.
Dismantling and packing your bike
Once you’ve decided what you’ll be using to transport your bike, you’ll need to dismantle it accordingly.
I usually choose to fly my bike in a cardboard box. I lower the saddle (you may need to remove the seat post entirely depending on the height of your bike), remove the pedals, deflate the tyres, turn the handlebars in and remove the front wheel. I then place the pedals and front wheel in the box next to my bike.
You might not need to dismantle your bike that much if using a cardboard bike box or CTC bag, but you’ll likely need to dismantle it quite a bit in order to pack it into a dedicated bike bag.
If it’s your first time, dismantling your bike can be a long process. Give yourself plenty of time — it’s not as hard as it seems, I promise!
- Prepare for packing: You’ll need Allen keys, a pedal spanner, foam tubing and packing tape.
- Remove the pedals: Use a pedal spanner to unwind your pedals. The right pedal is loosened by rotating counter-clockwise, while the left pedal is loosened by rotating clockwise.
- Remove the wheels: You may only need to remove one wheel.
- Deflate the tyres: Airlines will require that you have deflated your tyres (I assume due to the pressure).
- Lower the saddle/remove the seat post: Mark the position of your saddle so you can find the right height easily when reassembling your bike. You may need to entirely remove the seat post, or you may get away with simply lowering the saddle as far as it will go.
- Remove the handlebars: You may need to remove the handlebars entirely, or you may get away with just turning them inwards.
- Remove the derailleur: I recommend removing the derailleur and securing it somewhere safer than against the side of the bag/box, such as taping it to the chainstays. It can easily become damaged in transit.
- Protect with foam tubing: Wrap your frame, fork and handlebars with foam tubing to protect them from damage. (Not really necessary if using a hard bike case).
Here’s a useful video that walks you through dismantling your bike and packing it into a dedicated bike bag:
Getting your packed bike to the airport
Getting your packed-up bike to the airport can be difficult. Public transport and regular taxis are usually not an option with such a large box/bag! Here are a few ideas on what to do:
- UberXL: If Uber is available in your area, an UberXL is a good shout. They can usually fold down the seats and make room for large items.
- Minivan: Arrange transport in a minivan or SUV taxi, where they can fold the seats down.
- Airport shuttle: Some airport shuttles may be able to fit bike boxes, but make sure you ask in advance. You don’t want to be picked up only to discover that they don’t have room for your bike!
- Cycle: Bike to the airport with your packing supplies! My dad has done this many times when he flies to go touring. He dismantles it at the airport, checks it in and then reassembles it on the other side.
Can you take an electric bike on a plane?
The short answer is no, you cannot fly with an electric bike. The reason for this is the battery. Any rechargeable lithium battery with a capacity exceeding 100Wh cannot be transported on passenger aircraft. Electric bike batteries tend to be a minimum of 300Wh.
You could remove the battery and fly what is now essentially just a regular bike. However, you would need to source a battery on arrival at your destination, so be sure you can find a lender who has batteries that are compatible with your electric bike. This probably won’t be an easy task.
I know this might be a lot of information to take in, but I promise that flying with a bike really isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Just be sure to have the airline’s bike policy printed out and precisely followed, and leave yourself extra time at the airport. Navigating tough situations is all part of the fun of bicycle travel 😉
Thank you for reading! If you found this post useful, I’d be grateful if you would consider using the affiliate links below when planning your travels. I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This will help me to keep this blog running. Thanks for your support – Lauren.
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