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Flying with your bicycle


Many cyclists will on occasion take a flight. What do you have to do to take your bicycle on the plane? Here is a typical set of instructions:

Check with your air company

The first thing you need to figure out what the company's regulations are for bringing your bike. Most air companies allow you to bring your bike under certain conditions. These conditions are typically:

  • The bicycle needs to be packed in either a box or a special bicycle bag.
  • Deflate the tires
  • Additional pricing for "sports" equipment.
  • Check in time, international flights always 2 hours, so be there with your bike 3 hours in advance, just be sure.

Fly with your bike
At the Phnom Penh International Airport

Preparations

At KLIA Airport, Kuala Lumpur MalaysiaIf you fly from home packing your bike is usually not a problem. Your bicycle shop can provide you with a bicycle box, they will even be able to pack it for you. This is not always a good thing, as I will show you further on this page.

Several companies nowadays require you to pay an additional fee for bringing your bike. Typically this is a "sports equipment" fee. If you fly in Asia, as I regularly do, you might fly AirAsia. They have special price classes for different weights of your bike. The price is around US $25.

You can buy a bicycle box at some airports, Amsterdam is one of them. However, do not count on it. Selling bike boxes at airports is rare.

While many companies charge you for your bike, you might be lucky to find a companies that might not charge you at all. I flew KLM who didn't charge me, but Malaysia Airlines wanted me to pay US $300 for overweight.

Pros and cons of professionally packing your bike

There are pros and cons on letting your bike be packed in a bike shop. It usually costs a couple of dollars to pack including the box.

However, you may consider packing yourself. In Hong Kong I asked the excellent Flying Ball shop to pack my bike. They did an excellent job. Unfortunately the shop was quite far from a railway station so I had to take a taxi which cost me extra money.

At the airport, I flew Malaysia Airlines, I was charged US $300 for "overweight", despite I was told there would be no charge for the bicycle as additional luggage.

I had to strip down the box to make it as light as possible, bring extra cabin luggage with me in the plane to avoid these extra costs.

Bicycle on the plane
Ready to fly at the airport in Guilin, China

On the other hand, recently (2013) in Phnom Penh, I did the same, asked a bicycle shop to pack my bike. As a I had already paid my sports equipment fee through the internet, I had no troubles to check my bike in.

Another reason can be you do not want to use a taxi. You can't cycle to all airports, Hong Kong for example is not allowed to cycle to. However, Hong Kong has a very good and reasonable priced train into Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (tip, if you arrive in Hong Kong with your bike, leave it in the box, so you can bring it without problems in the train).

The airports of for example Chiang Mai, Kunming, Bali and Phnom Penh can be reached by bicycle without a problem. You still have to bring the box.

Other options including bicycle bags

Bicycle case bagA very good and safe option is to use a bicycle bag or bicycle case. It will require you to take your bike in pieces and bring a tool set.

The good thing is that the case can be re-used and weights little.

In 25 years I never had any troubles at airports. I've had bikes in boxes and without boxes at all. Some cyclists however pick up their bike at the airport with all kinds of problems so packing solid is the best way to prevent eventual damage.

The myth of deflating tires

Airlines require you to deflate your tires. This is because they will put your bike in a decompressed cargo area. That is at least the argument. In reality, your bike will be placed in the same cargo area as for example pets!

Therefore there is absolutely no need to deflate your tires. I have countless times flown without deflating the tires and had never problems.

That said, if you fly a small local company, say Mandalay Airlines or a local Indonesian or Chinese company for a short flight, you will want to deflate as you don't know how high the plane will go.

Another argument to deflate your tires: weight! It saves you still a bit and that can be just enough to get the bike in the plane without extra payments.

At KLIA LCC terminalWhat to do on arrival?

On arrival, what are you going to do with your box? Typically I leave it because there's always someone interested to take of it. And in case no one shows up, I place it near a garbage bin.

What if you come back at the same airport?

If you have a return flight from the same airport as where you have arrived in the first place, you may be able to save your box/bag in a questhouses for the time being. Many guesthouses in Asia provide this kind of service.

On arrival always check if you can cycle of the airport (if that is what you want). If so, you can set up your bike. If not, check how you can transport your bike.

As said in Hong Kong you have no choice. In Kuala Lumpur, the airport is connected with the city center and you are allowed to cycle away. However, you will cycle highways, not the best option so you may consider a bus. For some buses only a bike in the box is possible, on other buses you have no choice and take the bike out.

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