Flying with a Tandem Bike

Flying with a Tandem Bike

With spring in full bloom many tandem teams are packing or planning for a long distance trip. In many cases the decision on whether to bring the tandem hinges on the safe transport of the rig. Joe Pettersen of RAAM fame learned the hard way when his custom carbon tandem was destroyed by United Airlines (article here). This worst case scenario is the horror story all tandem teams fear.

How to fly with a tandem is a big question and usually focuses on planning and packing. Properly preparing the tandem bike for shipment will save a lot of time and frustration. While damage during transport can not be completely prevented flying with a tandem is reasonably straightforward. Following these steps for packaging and traveling with your tandem will ensure a successful trip with the bike:

  1. Purchase a quality tandem carrying case. Look for a hard sided case large enough to accept the tandem. Soft sided cases can work also as long as you are liberal with your use of foam and bubble wrap. The hard sided cases will provide adequate protection from situations as mentioned in the introduction.
  2. Practice packing before the day of travel to avoid unnecessary delays that may cause a rushed packing job.
  3. Keep the total weight below 70lbs max and preferably below 50 lbs. This might require separately packing the wheels and accessories but will also mitigate questions from airline employees.
  4. Only you know it is a tandem bike. It is always easier to ask for forgiveness than get permission. Avoid contacting the airlines with questions on flying with your tandem since their stock answers will be to dissuade you from doing so. Packing your equipment in non-descript cases and avoiding the urge of adding bumper stickers declaring, “I AM A TANDEM BIKE”, will go a long way to getting your gear safely handled by airline personnel.
  5. Give yourself extra time at check-in. Arrive to the airport early enough to allow for delays. Our editors have utilized the following system to great success to avoid extra baggage fees: check baggage with SkyCap first, they can check you into your flight and check the luggage in right there. If they question the contents or weight, brush aside the questions and excuse yourselves to be checked in at the ticketing counter. Be aware of the luggage that raised the red flag, it is usually the case carrying the wheels, and adjust your handling and, if you can, the shape of this case to mitigate future questions. On a recent flight our editors stuffed heavy jackets into the wheel case to make the shape larger; at the ticket counter they checked the bags with no further questions.
  6. Allow time again for re-packing and check-in on flights home and reverse your successful trip to the destination.
  7. Never lose your cool. If for some reason airline personnel charge you more or give you a hassle take it all in stride. Remember they are trying to minimize their inconvenience as much as possible too. Losing your cool will create an adversarial situation that you can not win. By staying calm and working through the objections, questions, or fees with a win win attitude chances are you will come out ahead.
  8. Plan on paying a little extra. If you can board with no extra fees that is great but go in expecting to pay something. Should the fees be ridiculous simply pay with a credit card and after the fact challenge the fees AND write a letter to the airline. Chances are you will be refunded a large portion of the amount.

After reviewing these tips for flying with a tandem bike it is apparent that the packing part is easy. The most trouble is simply with getting the tandem past the gate-keepers and on to the plane. By staying calm and playing dumb tandem owners have the upper hand in the game. Flying with a tandem bike can be accomplished in a safe manner with a bit of planning and patience. Enjoy the flight.

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