If you plan to travel internationally with a bicycle, at some point you will be required to put your bike on a plane.
Taking a bike on an airplane as luggage can be a gut-wrenching proposition. In addition to the fee imposed by the different airlines, there is the matter of packing and unpacking your bike for air travel, sourcing packaging materials and protecting your bike during transit.
The first time we combined bike touring and air travel I bubble wrapped every single piece of both bikes, right down to water bottle cage and packed them in reinforced cardboard bike boxes, marked FRAGILE on every possible surface, crossed my fingers and was generally tense throughout the entire experience. The process took about 1.5 hours per bike, on each end of the journey.
Other than the time and labor and stress involved, all went well. The process is expensive, time-consuming and stressful.
A better way to fly with a bike
Pack your bike in a clear plastic bag.
This is our preferred method for flying with our bikes on an airplane. We were afraid to use the method till we were forced, that’s when we realized that in a clear plastic bag it will be carefully handled.
4 reasons why this is a great method of flying a bike
- Simple – The CTC Plastic Bike Bags is specifically designed for this purpose. Its reusable and a homemade version can be used by doubling over clear plastic sheeting and duct taping the edges. Slide the bike into the bag, fold down the top and tape it.
- Quick– Total time needed is about 15 minutes on either end of the trip since almost the whole bike remains intact, unlike the time required while using a cardboard box.
- Cheap – At present, it retails for $13.50. If you need to make your own, then the price is a little more variable, since you have to find all the requirements. Our homemade bags cost us around $35 for two bags.
- Your bike is handled more carefully when packed in a plastic bag– If baggage handlers can see that there is a bike in the bag they are more likely to handle it with care.
How do you pack your bike in a plastic bag?
Surprisingly using a clear plastic bag to transport your bike on an airplane requires only basic disassembly. First, check with your airline as carriers have differing regulations. Most carriers will accept a bike packed in a plastic bag and require only the handlebar be turned parallel, pedals removed and tires partially deflated.
- Remove your pedals and turn the handlebar parallel to the frame.
NOTE- lower the saddle
- Secure the front wheel from flopping around. You can use just about anything as long as the front wheel is secured before placing your bike in the plastic bag.
- The rear derailleur is an Achilles heel of the bike. Carefully remove it from the frame to prevent any damage to the frame or derailleur. You can use duct tape and a ‘disposable’ water bottle to secure and protect the rear derailleur in transit.
Remove the rear derailleur from the frame and protect it.
- Once you place your bike in the plastic bag simply fold over the top and secure it with heavy tape.
Will my bike survive?
Sure. Your bicycle will survive. You do not have to worry about any leakages as you may with a motorbike or any major mishaps since bicycles are made to be quite practical. The baggage handlers are actually human beings after all. If they see a bicycle in the bag they will treat it with respect. Plastic bags are handled with some amount of care. There is the knock-on effect of not being able to stack it squarely and no easy hand holds from which to toss it onto a luggage cart. The bike needs to be lifted and placed.
While nothing is foolproof, our experience and the experience of others indicates that flying with your bike packed in a plastic bag is at least as safe as using a box. When you factor in the time and effort put into the box method the plastic bag reigns supreme. Again, always check with your airline as there are different regulations depending carrier.