Author Topic: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage  (Read 16330 times)

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Offline BikingBrian

Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« on: June 15, 2014, 12:58:15 am »
Surprisingly, with all the touring I've done, I've never had to take a full-sized bike with me on my flights. For past tours I've shipped the bike to a bike shop or hotel, shipped via Amtrak to a train station close to my starting point, etc. But my tour next month is starting in Vancouver, BC. So UPS/FedEx across the border doesn't seem practical, and Amtrak won't ship across borders at all. So taking the bike with me on the flight as checked baggage seems to be the most attractive option by far, especially since the fee is only $50 on WestJet.

Now I need to find a cardboard box which I will dispose of at my destination. Once I'm in the oversize category, WestJet doesn't seem to care how big the box is. The LBS has bike boxes which will work, but I'd rather not remove the front wheel if I don't have to and play games trying to get the front wheel, racks, seatpost, etc. to fit in the box with the rest of my 60cm bike. Or maybe I could use one of those huge Amtrak boxes where you pretty much only have to remove the pedals and turn the bars (well, in my case, I have to lower the seat too). Do the airlines still sell boxes these days, and if so, does anyone know the typical dimensions?


Offline John Nelson

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2014, 01:32:31 am »
On the outbound leg, I construct a bike box to exactly fit my bike, reinforced with 1x2s. I don't mind taking off the front wheel, but I like to leave the handlebars on, which means I need a wider than normal box.

On the return leg, I prefer to let a bike shop do a pack-and-ship, which most bike shops do.

Better check with WestJet on their oversize rules. It's not entirely clear, but my reading of the WestJet oversize rules are that they do care. Regular size is up to 62 inches, which is pretty standard. Oversize is shown to be 62 inches to 80 inches, although in another place, they say that sporting equipment cannot be over 9.8 feet in length (pole vaulting pole?). Frontier, which I usually fly, won't carry anything over 110 inches so I construct my box to be just barely under that.

Amtrak bike boxes are pretty thin cardboard. I'm guessing that the abuse of air travel would be very hard on them. Some airlines do sell boxes at some airports, but I'd be sure to call ahead and check supply (and size).

I'd definitely do this:

For additional packing instructions, more detail on restrictions or other information related to sporting equipment, please contact WestJet at: 1-888-937-8538 (1-888-WESTJET).

Offline BikingBrian

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2014, 01:54:11 am »
Yeah, I saw the 9.8 feet and figured too big wouldn't be an issue. I didn't see the 80", where did you see it? If that's true, then it's a game changer. The Amtrak bike box I had previously used measured 70" x 41" x 8.5". Although I haven't used them, bike boxes provided by airlines seem to also be about that size. The box shipped from the bike shop for a prior return leg was 54" X 28" X 8", that was a tight fit for the bike with one wheel removed, but even that would be over the 80". So I'm guessing that the 80" limit doesn't apply to bicycle and is superseded by the 9.8 foot limit, but I will have to call WestJet on Monday to be sure.

Offline BobG

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2014, 07:13:57 am »
I believe that airlines supplied boxes are identical to the Amtrak boxes. United says their bike boxes are 69"x8.5"x33.5"= 111 linear inches......

http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/baggage/courtesy_bags.aspx

Westjet says to just remove pedals and turn bars to pack a bike which would require this big of a box. That does conflict with their 80" restriction for oversize. I suspect a phone call to them would clarify the question and availability of the box.

I boarded Alaska Air at Eugene OR in 2009 and they had the big boxes on hand then at the ticket counter. Conveniently their $50 bike fee carried over to Delta which I transferred to at Portland for a flight on to VA.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2014, 07:53:18 am »
It probably depends on the airline, but for some of the airlines I have seen language that says they don't carry anything over 80" and somewhere else on the same site say that bikes were excluded from that 80" restriction.

I have never had a problem or had them measure the box, but I do try to keep the box as small as I reasonably can.  I figure "why ask for trouble" by using a really big box like the Amtrak box.  I typically use a box like the bike came in.  The exception would be an airline supplied box; they can hardly complain about a box they supplied.

An extra 15-20 minutes at the airport putting the wheels and racks back on really isn't a big hardship and it is nice to not have to deal with getting a huge box to the airport.

Also I wonder if a larger harder to handle box might get rougher treatment.

One other thing to think about would be shipping to and flying to Bellingham or Seattle.  It is not all that far from Vancouver.  Bellingham to Vancouver would be a fairly easy one day ride.  Seattle would probably be two longer days.

Offline BobG

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2014, 08:26:07 am »
it is nice to not have to deal with getting a huge box to the airport

But if the airline box is indeed available at check in* (maybe, maybe not), you never have to lug it around. Your loaded bike serves as a luggage cart all the way to baggage check at which point the airline takes it off your hands. The only time I prefer to prepackage a bike for flight is if I'm arriving at the airport by bus or train where it is already required.

I've always felt more comfortable with the BIG box as the assembled parts are in place to protect the frame. Wheels are installed to prevent dropouts from crushing, and will absorb impact from below just as they do on the road. Racks can usually be left on which protects the frame from the sides. I can never fit the front wheel into the smaller shop size box like the guy in the factory does with such robot like precision! I'm always afraid it will get crushed from the side into the frame.

*Brian, sometimes it's hard to get a phone call through to a local airline desk. If you live near your departing airport you may want to stop by and check availability and rules before the day of your flight.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2014, 08:56:53 am by BobG »

Offline staehpj1

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2014, 12:27:53 pm »
it is nice to not have to deal with getting a huge box to the airport

But if the airline box is indeed available at check in* (maybe, maybe not), you never have to lug it around. Your loaded bike serves as a luggage cart all the way to baggage check at which point the airline takes it off your hands.

Have you had good luck with that in recent years?  I pretty much gave up on airline supplied boxes after the last time I used one in 2007.   I guess it depends on the airline and the airport but I have not had an airline I was flying with have one available any of the times I checked until I gave up and quit asking.

I usually fly Southwest and I don't think they offer boxes anymore if they ever did.

I generally prefer to have time to carefully pack a bike at home before a tour.  For the trip home I am happy to just have a bike shop box it and ship it for me.  Shipping and packing are usually about $100 combined and I am generally happy to be shed of the bike at the end of the tour and not have to deal with it again until a few days later at home.

I guess there are quite a few different reasonable approaches.

Offline BobG

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2014, 02:28:25 pm »
The last time I did so was at Eugene 5 years ago with Alaska Air. The current United website says the following-

"The following items are available for sale at most United Airlines airport ticket counters:"
"Bicycle box   69 in.   8.5 in.   33.5 in.   $25.00"

Not sure if they'd sell to a customer of a different airline, but at $25 it must be a money maker and worth a try if your airline doesn't have a box.

In the past I've always found boxes or bags at Boston's Logan, Montreal's Mirabelle and Dorval, Calgary, Geneva, Paris' DeGaulle, Washington's Dulles, Bozeman MT, Missoula MT, Helena MT, Portland OR, Portland ME, Denver, LAX and Christchurch NZ. Not sure if the availability is still as widespread as some of those flights were 25 years ago on various airlines. None ever on WestJet so it would be wise for the OP to check in advance.

I've also used UPS for returns trips recently but after paying $170 last year from VA to NH because my box was 2" longer than a previous shipment + $50 to a bike shop for prep..... I may go back looking for $50 airline deals! The only time I flew SW was from St. Louis-Manchester NH without the bike.

PS Enjoy your Idaho trip! I'll be following your Crazy Guy journal.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2014, 02:41:19 pm by BobG »

Offline BikingBrian

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2014, 06:19:14 pm »
I've been corresponding with WestJet on Facebook and found out the following: the 80" limit for oversize baggage doesn't apply to bicycle boxes, and they do not have bike boxes available at any of their airports. But I am welcome to use whatever other cardboard box I can find.

Upon further reflection, I suspect the Amtrak boxes (where you remove the pedals, turn the handlebars, and roll the bike in) have worked well on the train because those boxes spend most of their time standing up. That may not be the case for a similar sized box on an airplane, which would probably spend more of its time sideways and therefore have luggage stacked on top of it.

Another thing which I hadn't considered is that a smaller box would be easier to fit in a hotel shuttle, while a bigger box would might be too big and force me into riding to the hotel straight from the airport. I'm a former bike commuter and so traffic doesn't bother me, but I'd rather assemble the bike and make sure it's ready in the comfort of my hotel room.

Since I have some lead time, I'll ask the LBS to hang on to the biggest box they can find, and I'll have them pack the bike in advance. One less thing to worry about before going to the airport. Thanks for all the thoughts and words of wisdom.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2014, 06:36:06 pm »
Another thing which I hadn't considered is that a smaller box would be easier to fit in a hotel shuttle, while a bigger box would might be too big and force me into riding to the hotel straight from the airport.
Sounds like you got it covered.  I will say that I get a kick out of riding out of the airport and kind of consider it a plus.  Just me though.

Offline BikingBrian

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2014, 06:52:21 pm »
Sounds like you got it covered.  I will say that I get a kick out of riding out of the airport and kind of consider it a plus.  Just me though.
I will admit that I am attracted by the novelty, but knowing myself, I know I'd feel rushed and leave something at the airport!  ;D

Offline John Nelson

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2014, 07:39:32 pm »
Sounds like you got it covered.  I will say that I get a kick out of riding out of the airport and kind of consider it a plus.  Just me though.
Not just you. I get a big kick out of it too. When I did the Northern Tier, I flew into Bellingham with my bike. After my flight arrived, the airport was completely dead for the next two hours, allowing me to assemble my bike right in front of baggage claim. Every once in a while, an airport employee would walk by which made for interesting conversation. A group of journalist taking an airport tour even came by, and for a time, they found me more interesting to cover than the airport improvements they came to see. I think it annoyed the tour guide.

After I assembled my bike, I deposited my bike box in the dumpster outside and rode out the door. It's fun to rely on as few modes of motorized transport as possible.

Offline BikingBrian

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2014, 07:43:52 pm »
My boss has a small jet, I would love it if he flew me to a small town airport with my bike. In that case, I would gladly assemble my bike at the airport and ride from there!  ;D

Offline latifb

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2014, 12:40:10 am »
Portland Int. airport even has bike assembly stands and tools that can be checked out.

Offline ZiZohn

Re: Cardboard Box for Bike as Checked Baggage
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2014, 12:36:57 am »
Just curious! How much did your bike and box weigh. My surly is pushing 50# and will be getting ready to head to San Diego to start Southern Tier in September. Looking for options to get it and my gear to there from Iowa.