The Airlines Do Whatever They Want to Charge You

Those of us that travel with bikes know it’s an arms race with the airlines – how much they charge came up earlier this year when Pam and I got popped $175.00 per-bike-one-way by Northwest Airlines. As Mark wrote in response to our trip

Ask about and everyone has a tale of how a friend of theirs flew a bike for $5 blah, blah, blah…. Let me tell you, there was a period of time where I logged 100,000 frequent flier miles over two years. I know about flying with a bike … nothing beats the S&S system for flying a 700C wheeled bike

Brompton Traveling: on the way home We know how to fly with bikes too and got charged on that trip because we flew with Scicon cases that say, “bicycle” and are in the shape of a bicycle. Normally we fly with S&S and also with Bromptons and Dahons. The advantage of all of those folders is that they either go into a case that squeaks under the airline surcharge for oversize baggage – pack it light to keep it under weight – or go right into the overhead.

Until recently that is.

The airlines collectively made 2 billion in fees this year and are going to do so however they can. I don’t know if the gate agents are commissioned to find bikes, but we’ve been hearing that travelers are being asked to open their cases and getting charged for Ritchey Breakaways. Today, Lloyd Alter posts on Treehugger that the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled in favor of their airlines that his Strida was a bike and not luggage. Last year, it was bike boxes getting popped.

The Agency is of the opinion that, generally, air carriers should have the flexibility to establish their terms and conditions of carriage and to price their services as they see fit, subject to legislative or regulatory constraints.

In other words, the airlines can do whatever they want and will do so to charge you.

The general assumption for those of us with S&S cases is that whatever is in that big silver case doesn’t matter. When I get asked, I respond with

  • It’s camera equipment
  • Mumble like, “mmph it’s a grrphing flavel hoo”
  • Drums
  • Makeup

I haven’t been asked to open a case yet, but the next line is “that’s not a bike, it’s bike parts,” which is technically true. Examples of the bikes we fly with are below.

Brompton fits overhead

Brompton Traveling: overhead size

Made to travel and not get charged.

Brompton on the Carousel

Brompton Traveling: on the carousel

Fold, pack into nylon bag, and send it into the belly of the plane.

S&S Case with Dahon Mu EX

Prepack Test for our Euro Urban Tour

Remove the wheels and Dahons fit very well inside of an S&S case.

Airporter case with Dahon

Crumpler packed with the Dahon

Prefer not to travel long trips with the Airporter because it’s oversized and difficult to drag across an airport.

Perfect pack with the Modal and S&S Case

Perfect Pack

Achieving this level of S&S packing took about 8 trips. The expertise is noted by the shoes and helmet in the case and keeping it under 50 pounds. 

More Travel

For more on travel, check our travel tag and we’ll have much more bike travel to blog about next week when the Mobile Social Worldwide starts.


A BMX pro friend got through decades of air travel by saying it was camping equipment every time he got asked.

When that stopped working and he got popped for bringing a bike, he stopped breaking it down altogether and took many, many flights with his bombproof BMX bike thrown onto carousels as-is.

S&S bikes are getting busted too because it bulges a little in the center and pops over the linear inches limit.  Ritchey got rid of their problematic cassette bulge from their early generation cases, but it still exceeds the linear limit by 2”. 

I’m going the rental route for any real riding, and seriously considering picking up a Dahon.

That’s certainly the case with Bromptons (haven’t traveled with Strida), but you just pass it on through. Now the issue is that “it’s a bike, regardless of what it weighs or how it’s packed.”

We’re taking the Dahons in S&S cases for this trip and we’ll report how they flow through the various gates . . .in regards to riding the bikes, I found that 20-inch wheeled travel bikes are good for business trips, rides of less than 2 hours, and urban. For the longer rides, races or tours, it’s the S&S or Ritchey. We haven’t traveled with one of those, but know people that have and they like them quite well.

my favorite answer to “what’s in the case?”

kinetic sculpture.

though often I don’t have the balls to face the raised eyebrows and further questions so I just say “trade samples”.

Good one! Make up just rolled off the tongue once and so did, “mmph it’s a grrphing flavel hoo.” The kids really liked that one and come up to the counter with me to see if I’ll do it again and then makes it hard to not crack up. Got to Poker Face that shit.

“grrphing flavel hoo” That looks like Vogon poetry and I can totally picture that with a thick Scottish brogue.

I travel with Dahon Speed P8 and it’s very convenient. Now I only fly with Qantas, Jetstar & Malaysia Airlines because they don’t charge anything extra as long as it’s within the baggage allowance. As super convenient, fly Malaysia because I can simply push the bike (sans pedal) when check-in. Plus, no one ask me to deflate my tires. Cool.

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