Bikes on a Plane

In a recent conversation with a friend, I learned that she was considering taking a 9-hour-or-more bus ride from Boston to Washington, DC, to bring her bike down. The alternative, she thought, was limited to having it sent through Fedex or UPS.

Little did she know that most airlines actually allow you to check-in a bike when you fly. Though taking the bus may still be the cheapest way to travel between DC and Boston, if you decide to face that trip with a bike, it should at least be an informed decision, with the knowledge that your bike could make it on a plane and of how much that would cost too. Moreover, airlines do not charge extra when flying bikes cross-country instead, while Fedex and UPS prices will be higher and the bus may be a much less realistic option.

Below is a table with some of the main US-based airlines and their rules for checking-in bikes. Make sure to look at it before moving, or if you find a great bike deal when visiting friends or family in another town, or when, like my friend, you want to rescue the bike that has been sitting in your relatives’ basement for all of those years in which you were living a transient life for school and work.

Airline Cost Packaging Requirements/ Restrictions
AirTran $79 Must be packed in a box
Alaska Airlines Bikes are treated as regular or oversize luggage. There is a $20 charge for the first 3 checked luggage items. Oversize items measuring 63-80 inches incur an additional $50; items smaller than 62 inches do not have an extra fee and those between 81 and 115 inches incur a $75 fee. Can be packed on any soft or hard case designed for transporting bikes
American Airlines $150 for any bike larger than 62 inches or over 50 lbs. Smaller bikes are treated as regular checked luggage, at $25 for the first item. Can be packed on either a hard-sided case or a bike bag, but bikes not in a hard-sided case are considered “fragile,” meaning that the airline does not accept liability for damages.
Continental $100 for domestic flights and $200 for international flights for any bike larger than 62 inches or 50 lbs. Smaller bikes are treated as regular checked luggage, with the fee for the first item at $25 in domestic flights and free internationally. There are strict rules for packaging, including fixing the handlebars sideways and removing pedals, and the airline is not liable to damage if these are not followed. Interestingly, Continental also sells bicycle boxes for $25 at all of its airport desks except for the one at Reagan National in DC.
Delta Airlines $150 flying out of a US airport or other airports around the world (excluding Canada and the EU); 150 Canadian dollars when flying from Canada; and 150 Euros when flying from the EU. The only exception is for travel to/from Brazil, for which the fee is $75. Excess fees apply to bikes weighting more than 70 lbs. Can be packed in a cardboard or canvas container.
Frontier Airlines A bicycle may be treated as overweight, though not oversize checked-in items. As such, it incurs the base $20 fee for being a checked-in item, and, if it weighs more than 50 lbs, another $75 as well. The airline is not liable for damage to bikes not packaged in a hard-sided case.
Hawaiian Airlines $35 for flights within the state of Hawaii, and $100 for flights between Hawaii and the Continental US, Japan, and Hawaiian’s other Pacific destinations. If you are flying more than one of these segments, such as from the Continental US to Japan via Hawaii, you will be charged the fee for each segment. Bikes weighing more than 50 lbs incur an extra charge: $25 when flying within Hawaii and $50 when flying to/from or within the Continental US. Bikes must be packed in a box or hard case. They are also transported on a space-available basis, meaning that the bike might not make it on the same flight as you, and, if not, Hawaiian is not responsible for the ground transportation to get it delivered from the airport to you as it is for suitcases.
JetBlue $50 for domestic flights and $80 for international flights. Bikes are not accepted on flights to/from the Dominican Republic. Bikes under 62 inches and 50 lbs count as a checked bag, to which JetBlue’s “first checked bag free” policy applies. Bikes can be packed in hard-sided cases, plastic foam, or a cardboard box. The airline is not liable for any bike lost or damaged.
Southwest $50 for bikes larger than 62 inches or 50 lbs. Smaller bikes count as regular luggage and can be checked-in for free. Bikes can be packed in a hard-sided case, a cardboard box, or a soft-sided case, but the airline has limited liability for bikes packaged in the latter two.
Spirit Airlines $100 plus a checked luggage fee starting at $28 (actual price depends on whether it is paid online or at the counter) Must be packed in a cardboard or hard-cased container
United $100 for travel within the US, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands; $200 when traveling from the US to other continents. The maximum allowed weight for bikes is 50 lbs, and they must be packed in a “durable, protective case, bag or box.”
US Airways $200 for bikes over 62 inches. Bikes smaller than 62 inches count as a regular checked bag, with fees starting at $25. Bikes can be packed in a cardboard, hard-case bike container, or wrapped in plastic or foam. If it is only wrapped, the passenger must sign a form releasing the airline from any liability.
Virgin America $50 if it weighs up to 50 lbs. If it weighs more than 50 lbs, the additional overweight fees assessed range from $50 to $100 and depend on the weight as well as the total number of suitcases you are checking in. Bikes should be packed in a hard case or a padded bike case. The airline also accepts but is not liable for those packed in cardboard boxes or foam.
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