How Does One Bring a Folding Bike onto an Airplane?

Now that I’ve got a Brompton folding bike, I have to ask, “How does one bring a folding bicycle onto an airplane?” You can bring it on as a carry-on or put it into folding bike luggage and check the bag, or check it as a bike with minimal wrapping. It all depends on the size and weight of the bike and the size and type of airplane. Let’s take a look at the solutions to the problem below.

Carry-on Folding Bikes

I have seen a blog post that showed a Southwest Airlines passenger carry-on a Brompton folding bike. He removed the seat and replaced it with a tennis ball to protect the seat post. He placed it in a tray for X-ray as he did his other items that he was carrying on the plane. Just in case, he also had a canvas bag with him if the flight crew made him check-in the bike at the plane.

Not all overhead storage areas are created equal, the have different dimension depending on the plane you are flying. It is good advice to either have premium seating or be able to board the plane early so you can get your bike in an overhead bin that fits.

Folding Bike Luggage

Brompton offers a Brompton Travel Suitcase for their Brompton folding bike at over $300.00. The pros for the case is that it is designed specifically for the bike and fits well. The cons are the high price tag and more importantly it is difficult to close the case. Many people have complained that when the TSA inspects the contents of the case they do not know how to close it. The people then pick up the case at the terminal either taped shut or worse case broken because the case is not easy to close without a lot of effort.

I have also seen a B&W Foldon Box S (Folding Case For Brompton) that is lockable with a TSA padlock at over $350. I have not seen any reviews on it, yet but perhaps this is a better solution than the Brompton Travel Suitcase.

Dahon, another prominent folding bike maker also offers a luggage accessory, the New Dahon Airporter Suitcase. There are also a lot of options found on Amazon for various type of bike carry-on luggage. Find what suits your bike size and be sure to read the reviews of the product before you decide to purchase it.

Another alternative is to put it in one of your check-in suitcases. A hard case would be preferred over a soft case. You will need to protect the folded bike by filling in the air gaps. You should also put in some for of support to prevent crushing if multiple suitcases are placed on top of your luggage.

Below is a list of several airlines’ policies regarding bike transportation. The bikes that are described are all standard non-folding bikes. Airline bike policies are as varied as the bikes you can buy and I highly recommend checking the airline’s policy prior to purchasing your tickets if there is any concern about packing your folding bike for travel. Just knowing their specific policy on bikes will allow you to talk intelligently to whomever has a concern about your luggage contents.

United Airlines

Bikes fall under United’s Sports equipment policy and basically states that if the bike falls within normal luggage weight and size there is no extra charge. If the bike falls outside the normal luggage weight and size the is a $150 service charge. United as has the following bicycle restrictions:

  • Handlebars must be fixed sideways and pedals removed, or
  • All loose items must be enclosed in plastic foam or similar protective material, or
  • Bicycle should be transported in a sealed box.

If your itinerary includes a United Express flight, please contact United for information regarding aircraft cargo hold limits. United is not liable for damage to bicycles that do not have the handlebars fixed sideways and pedals removed, handlebars and pedals encased in plastic foam or similar material, or bicycles not contained in a cardboard containers or hard-sided cases.

America Airlines

Bikes fall under American Airlines Sports equipment policy and also allow a bike as normal check-in baggage as long as it is less 62 inches and under 50 pounds. If the bike exceeds either of those two measurements there is a $150 charge.

American Airlines has restrictions similar to United airlines:

  • Bike is in a hard-sided case, bike bag or box built for bike transport
  • Handlebars are fixed sideways
  • Pedals are removed; or
  • Pedals and handlebars are wrapped in plastic foam or a similar material

Delta Airlines

Bikes fall under Delta Airlines Sports equipment policy. As long as the bike does not exceed 62 inches or 70 pounds guidelines for normal checked baggage will apply. In addition, if the bike is not in a hard case then a limited release form is required. Like the other airlines if the bike exceeds the standards, the over size/weight charge of $150 will be applied.

Ryan Air

Ryan Air checked baggage policy states that bicycles must be contained in a protective box or protective bike bag in order to be accepted for travel. Electric bicycles cannot be transported by plane. The fee for a checked bike is 60 euro online and 75 euro post-booking or at the airport. The fee for 20 kg checked bag is 25 euro online and 40 euro post-booking. For those that do not know it Ryan Air tickets only cover your seat and one small bag and everything else is paid for individually.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic allows the bicycle to be part of your baggage allowance as long as it does not exceed 50 pounds. The bike should be transported in a protective box or bag and recommend you insure your bicycle.

Virgin Atlantic recommends you take the following measures:

  • Partially deflate the tires to reduce the risk of damage.
  • Turn the handlebars so they’re in line with the frame.
  • Remove any attachments, including pedals.
  • Ensure the gearing is especially well protected.
  • Protect the frame with bubble wrap.

Ship It

Another possible option is to ship the bike to your destination, depending on where you are going and staying and how long you are going to be there. This would probably come into play for short distance flights on small planes or for travel that would cause to use your luggage allowance on clothing and have to pay for extra luggage. Compare the prices and determine which is the better option.

Summary

Unless you have a Brompton folding bike, the only answer is to put it in check-in luggage. Next, read through the current airline policy on bikes as checked-in luggage so you know the best answer when checking in your luggage should they ask what is in the bag. The more valuable your bike is the better case you should use to protect it and you should look at having it insured for air travel, as well. Stay safe and may the winds be at your back!

I wrote more on purchasing specific folding bike travel cases here.

Related Questions

What is the lightest folding bike?

The Hummingbird folding bike is the lightest at this time coming in at 16 pounds (7.24kg). It is built with a carbon fiber frame and comes with a hefty price. This is the website for the company that makes the bike: Hummingbird Bike

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