Taking my bike on vacation is not a luxury my wife lets me enjoy very often. For those rare vacations I get to bring my bike, I constantly have the debate between flying with my bike, or shipping my bike in advance. Both options have benefits depending on where you are traveling. For example, someone traveling to Hawaii needs to know how to fly with a bike, because the cost of shipping a bike there is not practical.
First, this guide will cover the different types of bikes for flying, and the travel bags required to fly safely. After that, it dives into the fees, size and weight restrictions of the airlines.
How To Fly With A Bike: Mountain vs Road vs Touring
Different styles of bike means one size does not fit all when flying. The easiest way to guarantee success is to use a travel bag, or bike suitcase, made for your bike type. For example, EVOC is a popular manufacturer of bike travel bags. The Evoc Travel Bag XL is perfect for flying with your mountain bike, commuter bike or touring and bikepacking bikes.
The geometry of road bikes with their narrow drop bars requires a different bike suitcase. That’s why EVOC makes the 300L Road Bike Bag Pro. It comes with padded protection for your wheels and rotors. The bike bag pro has a polycarbonate shell that provides both impact and pressure resistance. To make transportation easy the bag comes with clip on wheels, and it folds when not in use.
You can also fly with a bike box, like something carried by BikeFlights. Keep in mind, a bike suitcase is a once in a lifetime purchase in most cases. A bike box is a cost per use purchase. A good rule to follow, if you know you will fly more than 6 times with your bike, get a travel bag. Everyone else can use a bike box.
Each airline has its own set of rules and restrictions on bag size, so its best to double check before booking your trip. There are airlines with bike-friendly reputations. Below you will find the bike flying guidelines from the big three airlines as of May, 2022.
Flying With A Bike on American Airlines
Bikes are under the sports equipment section of airline baggage policies. Their rules restrict weight and size. On American Airlines the maximum linear size (length+width+height) is 126 in / 320 cm, and the maximum weight is 70 lbs / 32 kgs, subject to the airplane size and available cargo space.
You can travel with 1 non-motorized touring, mountain, tandem, or racing bicycle if the:
Bicycle is in a hard-sided case, bicycle bag or box built for bicycle transport.
Handlebars are sideways.
Pedals and handlebars wrapped in plastic foam or a similar material.American Airlines Checked Bag Guidelines: Sports Equipment: Bicycles
The cost to fly your bike with American Airlines will depend on weight. The standard checked bag fee applies, and bike/bag/box weights in excess of 51 lbs also pay an overweight fee. ($100 for 51-70 lbs and $200 for 71-100 lbs).
Flying With A Bike Delta
There are similar, but different, guidelines when flying with a bike on Delta. Their size restrictions are lower at 115 linear inches. That’s the same restriction for any sports equipment on Delta flights.
Bicycles, non-motorized touring or single seat racing, are allowed as checked baggage on most flights, with the exception of certain Delta Connection® carriers. It continues on to include:
Non-motorized touring, or single seat racing, bicycles must be packed in a protective container designed for bicycles.
A limited liability release form must be signed by the passenger in the case that the bike is not properly packed
If the bicycle is packaged in a hard shell case specifically designed for transporting bicycles, then a limited release form is not required
Bicycles packaged in soft-sided travel bags require a limited release form.Delta Airlines Checked Bag Guidelines: Sports Equipment: Bicycles
With Delta the better your ticket, the easier it will be to fly with your bike. Weight restrictions at no extra charge vary by cabin. Basic Economy, Main Cabin, and Delta Premium Select passengers should follow the standard 50 lb limit per piece. Delta One, First, and Business passengers should follow the 70 lb limit per piece.
The fee for that overweight baggage is the same with Delta as it is with American Airlines. They charge $100 for 51-70 lbs and $200 for 71-100 lbs.
Flying With A Bike Southwest
Finally, the most bike customer friendly airline in the bunch is Southwest.
Bicycles (defined as nonmotorized and having a single seat), including Bike Friday and Co-Pilot, properly packed in a hard bicycle box that fall within the dimensions and weight limits established for normal checked baggage, (i.e., 62 inches or less in overall dimensions and less than 50 pounds in weight). Pedals and handlebars must be removed and packaged in protective materials so as not to be damaged by or cause damage to other baggage. Bicycles packaged in cardboard or soft-sided cases will be transported only with a limited release of liability.Southwest Airlines Checked Bag Guidelines: Sports Equipment: Bicycles
The guidelines to fly with a bicycle on Southwest are in line with other airlines, but at a much lower cost. By having a hard case for your bike you can avoid signing a liability waiver. Above all, you know your bike is safe. The best bike hard case travel bag is the Thule Round Trip.
The fee for a checked bag on Southwest offers your first two checked bags for free. They also do not charge an overweight bag fee until 71 lbs, and that fee is only $75 versus $200 from the other airlines.
In conclusion, flying with a bike is easy if you plan ahead and know the guidelines. After that, it’s as easy as showing up to drop your bike off. If flying with your bike is not an option, consider shipping it to your destination. The process has never been easier, and I give you my step-by-step guide in How To Ship Your Bike.