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A Few Thoughts on Air Travel with Your Bike

Posted Jul 26 2011 11:15pm
The Dahon and I at Golden Gate Park.
My husband Bob and I enjoy traveling to cities with interesting urban cores, alive with people, an eclectic mix of historic and contemporary architecture, innovative dining, a thriving cultural scene, and that certain something that urban planning wonks refer to as “a sense of place”. As regular bike commuters at home, we know that there is no better way to get to know a new city than by staying close to the street. Rather than wasting time looking for an open meter or a parking garage, we rent bikes and walk, making spontaneous stops for espresso, sushi, or a sidewalk art fair a piece of cake. I’ve really grown to prefer being able to travel this way but I realized last year that I wanted to travel with own bike so that I wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of availability, inconvenient locations, unfamiliar bike geometry, and late return fees. After reading about folding bikes on a number of bike blogs, I investigated Dahon and was impressed with its sophisticated urban look and the good reviews. It was during an unexpected stop at TTR Bikes in Greenville, South Carolina last September that I finally got to test ride the Eco 3, which had just arrived on the floor. Sold! My Eco 3 arrived on my doorstep in Flagstaff a week later.

Taking a folding bike out of town in a car is a cinch. We packed the Eco 3 and my husband’s Breezer in our Honda for a post-Marathon ride through Tempe in January. No struggle to get it in and out of the car, with plenty of room left over for a couple of dogs. However, I actually purchased the Eco 3 for air travel. In anticipation for a March trip to San Francisco, Bob gave me Dahon’s Airporter suitcase last Christmas. Always the attentive husband, he knew exactly what I wanted without even asking.  Our March trip to San Francisco and the Airporter travel test couldn’t get here fast enough!

The Dahon, folded and ready for their Airporter.
The first thing about packing the Airporter is that it forces people like me, who are reluctant to read directions, to learn how to correctly fold their bicycles. Viewing the tutorial video on the Dahon website was very instructive. I learned that I hadn’t been correctly folding down the handlebar for over 6 months!

Correctly folded, I had enough additional room for my Nutcase helmet and some bike tools for just-in-case. The Eco 3 and the other items fit securely between two removable protective pads and beneath straps that lock cross-wise over everything. The Airporter also came with two pads to wrap around the tube protecting the finish from nicks and scuffs. Very thoughtful, Dahon!

Bob and I departed for San Francisco from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, huge facility with an equally mammoth parking lot. Like most of luggage the Airporter is equipped with roller wheels for easy transport, a good thing since we parked in the East Economy lot some distance from the shuttle bus stop.

The only design feature I would have liked would have been the addition of a retractable handle.

When reading up on air travel with a bicycle, I came across a frequent question:  Will I be charged an additional baggage fee for bringing a bike on the plane?  Most airlines limit checked baggage to one bag per person without a fee, with a maximum weight of 50 lbs per bag. Many airlines also charge a fee if the bag is outside prescribed dimensions. The Airporter and its contents weighted 48.5 lbs on our home scale. Its measurements were about 8 inches outside the acceptable range to check without a fee. However, we read that baggage fees are hit or miss at check-in. We flew Southwest and, sure enough, were charged $50 due weight (52 lbs by the Southwest scale) and bag measurements. The counter agent actually asked, with a slight expression of concern, if the Airport contained a bike, and she measured the bag. Oddly enough though, on our return trip out of San Francisco, the airline, still Southwest, did not have any questions about the bag or charge an additional fee when we checked it. So fees are basically a crap shoot. A smart traveler will budget $100 and hope for the best.

After an uneventful flight, we arrived in San Francisco and collected our baggage, except the Airporter. Disappointing since we took a 7 a.m. flight so we could get an early start on a bike adventure from Fisherman’s Wharf to SOMA. Southwest assured me that my bag would arrive on a later flight, most likely that day, although they could not tell me why it was delayed. I suspect that the Airporter was placed on a subsequent flight due to a TSA inspection of the bag contents. When the Airporter arrived at the hotel later that day, I found a notice from TSA inside the bag, indicating that it had been opened. I have no idea whether or not the Eco 3 was removed but it remained perfectly folded and in the same good condition. We didn’t encounter any baggage delays upon our return to Sky Harbor and my guess is that we checked in with Southwest earlier on our way back to Arizona, possibly giving the Airporter more time to get through security, as again the bag had been opened by TSA.

Our March trip to San Francisco was a good test run for using the Airporter to transport my Eco 3. I learned that it might help in the future to reduce the weight by packing only the Dahon in the suitcase and packing a multi-use bike tool in my other baggage. Definitely, I’ll research the baggage guidelines for the airline we are flying and be prepared to pay a fee both way but really grateful if I don’t.
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