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If you love to ride your bike or know someone who does, then you understand how attached cyclists are to their bikes. Chances are you also understand that taking a bike on a trip can be frustrating — and expensive — because some air carriers still charge outrageous fees for transporting bikes.
Last month, for example, United Airlines was charging cyclists an additional $200 — each way — to transport a bike, an article on CyclingTips.com reports.
But that was last month. Now, in a move that has U.S. cyclists rejoicing, United has changed its policy. Instead, United now treats properly packed bicycles as standard luggage that doesn’t incur oversized bag charges.
In other words, United now joins American Airlines and Delta in making it easier, and cheaper, for cyclists to take their bikes on trips.
Here’s how American, Delta, and United now deal with bikes.
American was the first airline to change its policy about bikes when it eliminated oversize bag fees for sports and music equipment in May 2019.
“As the busy summer travel period quickly approaches, American Airlines has announced changes to its policies regarding oversize sports and music equipment,” the company said in a statement at the time. It went on to note that the updated policy “will also ensure that customers can more easily pursue active and healthy lifestyles wherever their travels may take them, without having to pay additional oversize bag fees.”
American now explains that passengers can travel with a non-motorized touring, mountain, tandem, or racing bicycle if the bike meets certain conditions. The bike must be in a hard-sided case, bicycle bag, or box built for bicycle transport. Plus, the bike’s handlebars must be fixed sideways. Finally, the pedals must be removed or the pedals and handlebars must be wrapped “in plastic foam or a similar material.”
One important note, American does point out that “if your bicycle is not in a hard-sided case, it will be treated as a fragile item.”
OK, so what’s it cost for a bike on an American flight? The airline explains that standard checked bag fees apply for bikes up to 50 pounds if they are 126 inches in total (length + width + height). A $150 fee will apply to bikes that weigh 51 to 70 pounds.
Delta quickly followed American’s lead.
“Delta customers traveling with surfboards, bicycles, golf clubs, scuba gear, and other large-sized sporting equipment will now be allowed to check them as part of their standard baggage allowance,” the airline wrote in a July 18, 2019 statement. “The airline is eliminating the $150 specialty sports bag fee previously charged for these items, effective for travel worldwide on tickets purchased beginning July 17, 2019. Customers will instead pay a first, second or third checked bag fee according to the fare rules associated with their booking.”
Delta now explains that while bikes count as checked bags, overweight baggage fees apply to bags that weigh more than 50 pounds and bags cannot exceed 115 linear inches (length + width + height).
Delta further explains that “bicycles, non-motorized touring or single seat racing,” are allowed as long as they meet certain conditions. First of all, non-motorized touring or single-seat racing bicycles must be packed in a “durable protective container designed specifically for bicycles.” If the bike is packed that way, the passenger does not need to complete “a limited release form.”
On the other hand, if the bike is packed in a soft-sided travel bag or anything that’s not a hard-shell case, the passenger must sign a limited release form.
Now United has taken a similar approach, although it did so quietly, with no fanfare.
In a recent update to its Traveling with Sports Equipment webpage, United now explains “We’ll accept them [bikes] as checked bags as long as you pack them in suitable containers that are within the size and weight limits of your checked bag allowance.”
Of course, United also notes that “oversized and overweight items will be subject to standard fees for oversized and overweight bags.”
United does stipulate certain conditions for packaging bikes. To begin with, bikes must be packed in a sealed, hard-sided box using plastic foam or other protective material inside. However, United does allow that the box may also be made of “durable cardboard.”
As you would expect, the bike’s handlebars must be turned sideways and the pedals must be removed.
Finally, United cautions that it isn’t liable for damage to any checked bicycles that weren’t packed properly.
Now that it’s increasingly easy to travel with your bike, you can start planning cycling trips across the country. To help you think of some trips, be sure to read:
Jim Fulcher has been a writer and editor his entire career. In addition to writing, he also enjoys traveling–particularly in an RV. Over the course of numerous trips, Jim has driven an RV through West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. His favorite national park is Yellowstone, which he has visited three times.
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