Airline travel with a mountain bike can be one of the biggest schleps. Admittedly a very First-World schlep, but a schlep nonetheless. We ran some questions by the local airlines to determine what might make this less of a schlep – for us and them. – By Sean Badenhorst
No matter which way you look at it, paying extra for your bicycle to travel by air with you just never feels good. I call it a ‘fitness penalty’. After years and years of flying with a bicycle around South Africa, I’m still frustrated that airlines don’t combine passenger and baggage weight. They’re happy to let a 130kg human with 20kg bag onto a plane, but just let a fit, lean 65kg human with a 20kg bag and a 20kg bike bag arrive at the check in counter and out comes the penalty sheet…
I doubt it will change any time soon though. We mountain bikers/cyclists are still a minority when it comes to air travel.
We ran some questions by Jackie van Pletzen, Customer Care Officer at Airports Company South Africa and she got them to the following airlines: Comair (British Airways and kulula); South African Airways; Mango; Fly Safair; SA Airlink. Only Kulula, SAA and Fly Safair sent replies. Only Fly Safair’s Kirby Gordon went to the effort of answering each question. Kulula sent a summary of its flying-with-sports-equipment/bike policy via its marketing company and SAA answered the first question and then added a summary of its policy. We’ve therefore published Kirby’s replies to each question, because they’re very comprehensive, and included the others where relevant or where their policy differs from that of Fly Safair.
What is the best way to package a mountain bike when flying around South Africa? (bearing in mind the following):
- We use tubeless tyres that we run at low pressure (on average 2 bars). These contain a liquid sealant. By deflating a mountain bike tyre, there is a risk the tyre will unseat from the rim and the liquid sealant will leak out. Rectifying this normally requires a visit to a bike shop at a cost of around R300.
- We pay between R700-R2000 for a professional bike set-up so that we have optimal comfort and pedalling efficiency. Should we have to move or remove the saddle or handlebars this can be compromised.
- Our gears are set to shift one at a time with one click of a lever. Should any part of our gearing system be damaged this becomes compromised and visit to a bike shop at a cost of around R300 is required to re-set the gearing.
Firstly, you need to have good packaging around your bike. There are really three options to go with here: Cardboard boxes, padded bike bags or the hard shell cases. All can be purchased from cycle shops or online. Cardboard is obviously the cheapest option, but it’s usually only good for one return trip. The disadvantage is that cardboard can get wet and soggy during the loading of the bike into the hold, which can influence the integrity of the cardboard.
Padded bags are a popular option. They offer good protection and some durability. They’re also light, which is good. Hardshell cases are very protective, but they can be heavy which means that you might exceed our 32kg sport equipment allowance. The hardshell case materials are often quite slick and ramp staff have indicated that sometimes these can slip down the luggage conveyers, so there is a small chance of the bike experiencing a bit of a drop. Not a big drop and usually not a big deal, because the shells are pretty sturdy – but certainly an unexpected thud.
Deflating tyres is a good idea, but no need to go totally overboard. It’s
just to compensate for air pressure changes. So it’s about the sweet spot between being soft and keeping the tyre on the rim. Remember that tyres will get softer at lower altitudes and harder at higher altitudes.
Pressurised gas canisters or “CO2 Bombs” are unfortunately not allowed in the cabin or in the hold. The nature of those items unfortunately sees them classified as a “dangerous good” in terms of the Civil Aviation Regulations, so they are a no-go.
Generally, removal of the saddle and handlebars should not be necessary to fit within the required size dimensions for a bike, you will have to take the front wheel off though. We do recommend using some bubble wrap or piping insulation foam (which can be purchased at your local hardware store) to just protect the frame and secure the moving parts (gears, cassettes, chain, etc).
The same applies to the gears. Obviously we handle all luggage with the utmost of care, but we do use tools like conveyer belts etc, so it is important to consider things like hooking and snagging when packing your bike. Better safe than sorry. – Kirby Gordon, Vice President Marketing, Fly Safair.
Bicycles must be securely packed. Special boxes and bags are obtainable from bicycle outlets and associations. Please make use of this type of packaging as it prevents your bicycle from possible damage. South African Airways will not take liability for damage of bicycles if they are not securely packed in the special boxes or bags.
Kindly ensure that the box or bag is clearly marked with your contact details.
Handlebars should be turned parallel with the frame, pedals removed or turned inward, tyres deflated and the saddle must be put down. All electronic equipment must be removed and transported separately.
The opening of bicycle boxes/bags will be conducted as a security measure.
If the tyres are not deflated (they don’t have to be 100% deflated), they can puncture. We will not be liable if that happens. It is not a MUST to move or remove the saddle, handlebars and pedals, but if they do get damaged, we won’t be held liable. The reason why we ask for the moving or removal of these is for optimal space optimisation as well as to prevent the bike from being damaged.
A properly packed bike is the best way to prevent any kind of damage.
As per IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations we may allow a maximum of four small compressed gas cylinders (‘ CO 2 bombs’), containing carbon dioxide or other suitable gas in Division 2.2, per person. The water capacity may not exceed 50ml per cylinder. Due to the number of bicycles we are accepting, we limit these to two cylinders per bicycle. – Izanne Kotze, Manager, Airport Operations Procedures and Support Services, SAA
When travelling with bicycles, customers should check-in at least 90 minutes prior to departure, and the following guidelines apply:
* Remove the front wheel
* Shift to the highest gear and remove back wheel if necessary
* Remove pedals
* Lower saddle or remove seat post
* Turn handlebars sideways and tape to the frame, ensuring the front forks are secured
* Remove any accessories
* Deflate the tyres
With regards to the actual packaging, the bicycle must be placed in and sealed in a box or a specially manufactured bike case, with all bicycle accessories placed within the box/bag, which must not be protruding out of the box/bag. – Kulula
Have the airlines realised that mountain bikes are as common, if not more so, than golf clubs these days – are they treated the same in terms of additional/sports luggage?
We’ve certainly carried a good number of bikes since our inception. Obviously we see a lot of bikes around the times of the big races like the Cape Epic and the ‘Argus’ or Cape Cycle Tour. Unfortunately I cannot offer specific stats as we charge all sports equipment as a standard package, so I don’t have numbers at hand around how much of the sports equipment we transport is cycling related versus golf related.
Anecdotally I can tell you that the numbers are probably pretty close to even. The big difference being that the bikes tend to come in waves around popular races, while the golf clubs are more of a slow, constant flow. On average just less than 1% of our passengers bring some form of sports equipment, so if you consider that we’ve flown over 400 000 people that’s about 4000 sets of sports equipment that we’ve transported since inception in October 2014. They are essentially treated the same way by Fly Safair. We sell the option to take sporting equipment aboard our flights. The equipment, whatever it is, needs to comply with our dangerous goods policy, and must weigh 32kg or less and should fit within the following dimensions 190 x 75 x 65cm.
Ultimately those limitations are really informed by the baggage handling facilities at the airport as well as the design of our aircraft. We try to be as accommodating as we can in these policies, but there are obviously some practical considerations too. – Kirby Gordon, Vice President Marketing, Fly Safair.
Are mountain bikes insured when being transported as passenger luggage i.e., would an airline pay for repairs should a mountain bike be damaged by the airline during transit?
No, not as standard practice. And passengers are required to sign a limited liability release at the check-in counters to confirm this, so that they are completely aware. We do offer travel insurance as an additional option when booking our flights. Presently this will cover you for lost and stolen baggage up to R10 000(details are on our website). We realise of course that this limit doesn’t really accommodate cyclists who often spend well in excess of that on their gear. To that end, we have been engaging with our insurance partners to help develop and price a product better suited to sports equipment to cover this exact need. The trick is to fill the gap not covered by the general insurance that many people purchase for their equipment. – Kirby Gordon, Vice President Marketing, Fly Safair.
Customers are advised to take out insurance on their bicycle. – kulula
There are usually special arrangements made by airlines for the transport of road bikes for the Cape Town Cycle Tour (Argus). Is there something similar in pace for the big mountain bike events such as Sani2c (KZN in May), Wines2Whales (Western Cape in November) and Berg & Bush (KZN in October)?
Yes, in as much as we are ready and willing at any point to take bikes at anytime. The facility is always available on our website to purchase extra sports equipment and we do watch all major sporting events closely to try and determine demand spikes for flights and special extensions such as the transportation of sports equipment, so that we can be ready. We do advise that cyclists plan to get to the airport a little earlier than usual to facilitate the check-in of their gear and to allow us the opportunity to get it loaded up front so that we operate in comfortable time frames – rather than having a bike be the last thing loaded onto a plane. So the best advise here is just to try to get to the airport as early as possible if you do have your bike with you. – Kirby Gordon, Vice President Marketing, Fly Safair.
We experience the greatest demand from cyclists wanting to travel during The Cape Town Cycle Tour, and thus have implemented special arrangements to accommodate the high demand. Should we experience a similar demand for other cycling events, we most certainly will look into it and how we can accommodate the volumes. – kulula
What is the biggest mistake most mountain bikers make when flying with their bike and how can we minimise airport stress allround to rectify this?
It’s really around the packaging. Some people don’t realise that they need to pack their bikes, or seem to anticipate that we will package them, which is obviously not the case. So, that’s usually a pretty big issue. Also, the packing of those pressurised gas canisters or ‘bomb’s – people sometimes forget that they are on the bike or in the kit, and then they need to be left behind, which can be frustrating. And lastly it’s really about just making sure that the bike is well protected. If you’re using a cardboard box and you worry that your pedal may poke through the side, rather stick a bit of bubble wrap around it to protect it. – Kirby Gordon, Vice President Marketing, Fly Safair.
The biggest mistake that customers make when transporting sporting equipment, is to not familiarise themselves with the various airlines baggage policies and thus we suggest that prior to travelling they visit the airline’s website or contact the airline’s call centre. – kulula
Limits and costs:
A summary of how each local airline handles your bike as either extra luggage or sports equipment, with pricing. This assumes you have already one piece of luggage to check in:
South African Airways
Weight limit: Business Class: 32kg; Economy Class: 23kg
Dimension limit: 200cm x 100cm x 75cm
Additional fee: None
Weight limit: None given
Dimension limit: 200cm x 100cm x 75cm
Additional fee: Guest Service R350 (at airport); Call centre or website R300
Weight limit: 20kg
Dimension limit: 195cm x 75cm x 65cm
Additional fee: Guest Service R350 (at airport); Website R245
Weight limit: 32kg
Dimension limit: None given
Additional fee: None
Weight limit: None given
Dimension limit: None given
Additional fee: R35 per kg over normal checked in baggage weight limited of 20kg.
Weight limit: 32kg
Dimension limit: 190cm x 75cm x 65cm
Additional fee: R280
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 36, 2015 – All rights reserved