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BTA staffer wants to change JetBlue’s bike baggage policy

Posted by on January 7th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Folding bikes, like this Bike Friday Tikit,
fit easily into standard-sized luggage.
(Photo © J. Maus)

A staffer at Oregon’s largest bicycle advocacy organization wants budget airline JetBlue to change their baggage policy.

In a story published on the BTA blog yesterday, Carl Larson described what happened when he tried to check a box for his flight from JFK to Portland:

“What’s in the box?” asks the lady at the counter.

“A folding bike, some clothes, and some cheese.” I say.

“That’s $50.” she says, blankly.

Obviously, the conversation didn’t end there but eventually, despite threats of unchecking it and rechecking it again as a “metal sculpture,” “velocipede,” or “personal mobility device”, I pulled out my credit card, paid the fee, and started making some phone calls…”

Larson said so far, his calls (and now emails) haven’t gone anywhere. He’s also doing some research. He has found that both Delta and American Airlines allow small bicycles to fly for free in lieu of one piece of baggage.

In a comment to his story on the BTA blog, Larson wrote that he has contacted the League of American Bicyclists (“for what it’s worth”) and he also shared an email exchange he had with JetBlue. Larson asked them what his $50 was paying for “considering it (his box) was lighter and smaller than their limit and wasn’t dangerous, oddly shaped, or in need of any special handling.”

Here was their response:

“…your bicycle fell under the guidelines for sporting equipment…We can understand it was small and lighter than many carry-on baggage but nevertheless, it was a bicycle. We are sure you would want it protected and in a padded box as we are not liability for damage to items such as this per the contract of carriage.”

Larson says he wasn’t concerned, nor did he inquire about, damages and packaging. He just wanted to bring his bike home. We’ll let you know how this ends up.

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Comments
  • tvhwy January 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    When my bike is in my Ground Effect bag, it’s within spec for standard checked baggage. I say it’s “mechanical equipment” when I have to fly on JetBlue. Alaska Airlines has earned my loyalty; they are usually nice enough to waive the fee when I tell them the truth. But I haven’t flown with my bike since the recent advent of aggressive baggage fees.

    By the way,

    We are sure you would want it protected and in a padded box as we are not liability for damage to items such as this per the contract of carriage.

    I’m confused. $50 did not buy Carl a padded box and never buys any deferential handling*, so how is that portion of the customer service agent’s relevant to Carl’s complaint?

    -tvhwy

    *Believe you me!

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  • peejay January 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I got dinged to the tune of $130 on a Northwest flight from Japan. Mine was a full-sized bike, but broken down into a protective bag and not oversized, and I did not ask for any special handling. I can see that the NW/Delta merger is not going to help this policy!

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  • Bjorn January 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    If they break/lose the bike do they cover the full value? I could see it if the fee were basically insurance, although at that point it seems like you should be able to opt to not buy said insurance. I think normal luggage is covered for 500 dollars for damage or loss.

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  • Zaphod January 7, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    This kind of stuff makes me livid. I’ve been tempted to get a breakaway frame so that I could have my bike fit as “normal luggage” and now airlines are trying to charge for normal sized luggage? As long as there’s nothing dangerous in the box, there’s absolutely NO justification for charging extra money…it’s made up fees, it’s a scam.

    If they’re claiming that they somehow treat the bike luggage more carefully or gently, tell that to the guys who dropped my full sized bike box about 8′ from the plane. They do nothing of the sort. The line about liability is just an attempt to muddle the issue.

    Good luck in your battle.

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  • Todd Boulanger January 7, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Or the $240 one has to pay to ship a bike as 1 piece of allowed luggage from Amsterdam now…vs. $30 before.

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  • Scott Mizee January 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    peejay… can you elaborate why you think the NW/Delta merger is not going to help this policy?

    I flew multiple times on NW this past year with a Bike Friday Tikit in a standard size Samsonite case and had no problems and never paid an extra fee. I also flew with a Brompton that was just in a nylon bag with no extra fees paid.

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  • Pfeif January 7, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    As an airline line employee I have been lucky to get a break on the fee by showing my airline id. However the charging of fees is getting worse and its starting to impact employees such as myself. I keep debating between getting a Ritchey take away cross bike or have a custom Landshark done with S and S couplers A friend of mine has gone with the S and S couplersand has traveled to to Austrialia every year. The bike is never charged extra. Most of the international carriers don’t charge extra for a bike. It’s the domestic carriers that are. The good news is that golfers are finally having to pay the extra fees. For years, golf clubs were exempt.

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  • michael January 7, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I have travelled widely in Europe and the Middle East with my bicycle (both boxed & un-boxed) but it was not until I arrived in the USA about ten years ago that I was charged for checking in a bicycle. One airline employee even had the nerve to tell me that the charge was ‘for the extra fuel’ that would be needed! It’s a scam, plain and simple. Just another way for airlines to chisel a few extra dollars out of you.

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  • Paul Adkins January 7, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Never tell them it is a bike. I would just say “Personal Items” then you are good.

    I’ve traveled with bikes (even full-sized bikes)for many years and as long as you can convincingly claim it is something other than a bike you will be fine. The Bike Friday case is a standard case and thus never (or very rarely) gets enough attention for the ticket agent to even ask.

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  • Bjorn January 7, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I looked at the jet blue website and answered my own question. They say they are not liable for loss or damage to a bike even when you pay the fee. I assume that even though it is a bike they probably have to compensate you according to normal federal guidelines for other luggage but Carl is right the fee gets you absolutely nothing.

    Interesting according to jet blue the following items can be taken without charge and simply count as one piece of baggage:

    Antlers, Horns, bowling equipment, fishing equipment, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks, ice skates, scooters both manual and electric (this includes a @#$%ing segway!) scuba equipment, firearms domestic flights only, skis, snowboards, tennis rackets, and waterskiing equipment…

    It does seem ridiculous that the rules aren’t just based on size and weight.

    in a bizarre side note parachutes can be carried on the aircraft, go DB Cooper.

    Bjorn

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  • West Cougar January 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    This would be a good question to put to Randy Cohen, the NY Times ethicist. Would it be ethical to lie so as to subvert an obviously discriminatory and unjustified fee?

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  • Caroline January 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    My mother taught me a lady never tells anyone what’s really inside the box.

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  • jeff January 7, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I’ve traveled a few times with my Ritchey Breakaway and it’s always been just another checked bag. I guess the trick is not letting on to what’s inside :)

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  • bahueh January 7, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Carl..sorry. but don’t waste your time.
    the microeconomics of such fees will not be overturned by a single pissed off customer…

    you have the option of not flying with them again..that’s about it.

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  • Dave January 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Easy solution: don’t tell them you have a bike. Those fees were originally designed to save you a little money vs. checking a similar piece of generic oversized luggage. Unless you’re carrying something outside the dimensions normally allowed for checked bags, or that DHS won’t allow on a plane, it’s none of their business what’s in your luggage.

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  • Carl January 7, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Wow. When a Bike Friday employee’s solution to this problem is to just lie (a federal offense, in this case), it’s pretty clear that the odds are stacked against me.

    It’s obvious that I can avoid Jet Blue, lie, or just suck it up but frankly I don’t like those options.

    bahueh, do you really think that the airlines with exemptions for folding bikes put them in place because they just thought it was nice or because someone called ‘em on it. I’d put my money on the latter.

    I’m not going to invest a ton of time on this. I don’t fly much and care far more about other more important issues, but I figure this is a point worth raising.

    I would think, however, that companies like Bike Friday would be particularly interested in advocating on their customers behalf on this issue. It certainly threatens the utility of their product. Paul, do you know if any folding bike manufacturers have put pressure on airlines about this stuff?

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  • beth h January 7, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    The airlines have never been the same since 9/11, and IMHO they never WILL be the same again. They are hurting, struggling, trying to keep afloat. And to top it all off, they are trying to stay RELEVANT, which I think they are failing at miserably. This is just another case in point, and yet another reason I stopped flying with anything of value in my bags. If I have to take it along I ship it ahead, heavily insured. In most cases it’s cheaper than flying with it.

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  • Dave January 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    After reading their contract of carriage, JetBlue is obviously making an extra effort to charge for bicycles. My advice: take Alaska. Their COC treats bikes like any other piece of baggage: if it’s not oversize/overweight, you’re fine. If it is, you pay the standard oversize/overweight fees. I still wouldn’t bring it up at the ticket window, though, as the staff checking bags may or may not understand that particular part of the fine print. That said, I’ve flown them a lot in the past, and never even been asked.

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  • Lynne January 7, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I’ve got an S&S coupled bicycle.

    “What’s in that suitcase?”

    “parts”

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  • Andy B from Jersey January 7, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    If the bag the bike was in didn’t exceed the maximum 62 linear inches (sum of height, depth, width) and 50 lbs then they had no reason to charge you. I’ve taken my Brompton in a standard piece of Samsonite luggage which didn’t exceed these limits (came close on weight) and never had a problem.

    When you write JetBlue make sure you point this out. Also tell them that you will never fly with them again if they do not refund your money and that you spread the word of this injustice to thousands of cyclists from all around the country.

    I already know that I’m going to avoid flying JetBlue.

    PS – I don’t remember if someone already pointed this out but JetBlue doesn’t charge an extra fee for a bag of golf clubs! I hate golf!

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  • tonyt January 7, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    My nonsensical story involves flying to Canada. I checked the airline website and it stated that bikes were shipped free on international flights. Canada is another country, so I’m good right?

    Nope. I get to the check in and the attendant there says that Canada is not international, it is intracontinental. I told her that airlines are not entitled to rewrite the English language and that I had done my due diligence and their website says it’s free. But I also detected an impending stonewall, so I changed gears into my best “strapped for cash, working for a non-profit (at the time) and this hurts” deal. It worked. I repeated the performance on the way back and got it flown free both ways.

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  • JerryH January 7, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    We all need to take a couple minutes and write a complaint. Use their web site.

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  • ted January 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I fly with my bike in what appears to be a regulation golf bag. I have never had a problem and no one ever asks whats in the bag.

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  • Ron January 7, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Unlike most comments here, I think it was fair for Jet Blue to charge the person 50 dollars for taking along a sports equipment in a ‘box’. Lets face it. I think they’re easily one of the best domestic aircrafts at this point in time. They’re cheap, and their management is awesome. They have really upped the ante on what we experience as flying. Now if this person really bought the ticket a month before he flew, he could have got it pretty cheap. Then add the 50 dollars paid at the airport on the day of checking in and the total cost isn’t a lot different than any of the other more expensive flights.

    Cozy Beehive

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  • Donna January 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Sporting equipment – bah!

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  • zuckerdog January 7, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    what’s in the bag…

    …Religious Artifact

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  • Drewid January 7, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I flew with my folder about 8 times with various airlines, but not Jet Blue yet. Half the time I was asked what was in the bag. I said clothing and bike parts. They probably would open it up to check anyways in my absence; I wanted to be honest.

    No problems yet but now I am concerned about flying with Jet Blue. Would rather pay more for another airlines than get gouged because I like to ride a bike.

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  • Coyote January 7, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Jet Blue = The Walmart of airlines.

    Carl, next time tell them it is a sex toy. If they don’t believe you, offer to demonstrate if they provide a volunteer to assist.

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  • George Anonymuncule Seldes January 7, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    Of course, I hope you get them straightened out. But, on reflection, I realize that I forgot the most important thing when I referred you to consumerist.com: The need to stop flying. Jet travel is especially destructive of the climate — contributing about 2-3% of the global carbon emissions, but about 6-8% of the emissions’ impact because all the water vapor sprayed into the atmosphere at high altitude is especially good at trapping heat (and much longer lasting than vapor emitted at sea level). Basically, by the time you fly from Portland to about Vegas once you’ve undone all the good you might have done by not having a car.

    In other words, the solution to airline idiocy is doing away with the airlines, starting with non-essential flying (which is the vast majority of flights).

    Stay home and ride your bike.

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  • girl-shawn January 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Go Carl! Fight the power! I’ll write my letter in the next couple days.

    On a related note, my brother flew Continental across the country for the holidays, and was told he must pay $15 to check a bag. Not an extra or oversized checked bag – the first, regular-sized one. He got out of the fee that time, but, well, it’s just another way that airlines are nickel and diming customers.

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  • Lindsay January 7, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Bahueh says nothing will be changed by a single pissed off customer. True. But if everyone spent as much time sending a quick e-mail to Jet Blue as they did posting to this story, then perhaps…a Revolution! Of course, it would help if their customer complaint contact info was listed in the story….
    With most news bits I read (usually from non-bike portland sources)I wonder: and who do I call to complain to about this? What organization is working for/against this? Yes, I could research it, but it astounds me how often such info is left out….

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  • Brad January 7, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Better yet, detail your complaints to Rep. Oberstar as he chairs the House Transportation committee. As a bike guy, he may wish to use this appalling lack of respect for traveling cyclists when the airlines come to Congress begging for bailout dollars.

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  • SkidMark January 7, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    This is why S and M Bikes makes a “camping gear” bag and Odyssey BMX makes a “Golf” bag, so you can travel with your bike and not pay extra. Airlines have always charged you just because it’s a bike. I don’t think it’s fair that a folder would be free but a BMX which is not much bigger would be the same as a road bike. I think it’s BS that bikes are single out and charged extra in the first place, but the airlines have been introducing all kinds of extra baggage charged lately, so it probably isn’t going to go away.

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  • red hippie January 7, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Yet another bike friday traveller. I have flow twice with the bike in its samsonite hard case. No problem. Only issue was weight, where I had to do some last minute weight shuffling.

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  • jgadamski January 7, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    how about not shipping a bike by them at all, taking the $50 and buying a cheapass bike on Craigslist. When done with it’ lock it to the door of your nearest offending airline and leave. let them deal with the problem they created.

    creative fantasy here. I know that spending a day hunting down a CL bike isn’t part of anyones plan. After reading the article, I am tempted though..

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  • a.O January 7, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    You should listen to bahueh. Don’t try to do stuff. That’s hard.

    But seriously, the best way to get the airline’s attention is to send an executive this url with a note to check the reaction of the Portland bicycling public in the comments below — you know, all those folks who have a choice of which airline to fly out of PDX.

    Instead of JetBlue, we should start calling them GougeYou.

    By the way, I’ve decided to make my new handle “velocipede.”

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) January 7, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I just noticed this update on the JetBlue Twitter feed… at least someone has officially taken notice of this story. I’ve sent them a msg. and I’m looking forward to what they can tell me.

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  • This happened today too January 7, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Well they are no strangers to settlements…

    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/01/07/jet.blue.settlement/

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  • kww January 8, 2009 at 2:15 am

    $50 for sporting equipment? I can’t wait to check in my polo horse…

    when dealing with bureaucracy, always play stupid, because the system is.

    it’s not lying until they ask if there is a bike in there.

    Also it seems as if the airline personnel seem to think that there jobs are on the line with these charges. If you sense that they have any latitude, try to flesh out where that comes in. If they put up a brick wall, ask them for the rules in writing or their supervisor. If gets to that point, take down their name and write a written complaint.

    Best yet, post an email addy for jetblue so all the bikeportland readers can write them to let them know we are hoping that they are reasonable.

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  • canuck January 8, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Get a stencil set and put this on the carrying case

    “Portland Symphony Orchestra”

    Or

    “XXX Corporation Trade Show Kit #1″

    A little misdirection never hurts.

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  • JH January 8, 2009 at 7:32 am

    I brought 2 bikes back from Japan and didn’t have to pay any thing extra. I’v heard that other countries are also not as uptight about traveling with bikes, as I recently talked with a couple of guys from Germany who also didn’t have to pay to bring their bikes on the plane. I should mention that in all of these cases the bikes were inside of full sized bike boxes.

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  • Jessica Roberts January 8, 2009 at 8:05 am

    I like the ethicist suggestion…I’d be interested to hear what he says.

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  • jrep January 8, 2009 at 8:24 am

    When I’ve travelled with our S & S coupled tandem bike in two airline legal suitcases, I’ve been asked “what’s in the suitcase?” a couple of times. My response has been “tools, camping gear, clothes and sports equipment.” All true. No problems.

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  • jrep January 8, 2009 at 8:24 am

    When I’ve travelled with our S & S coupled tandem bike in two airline legal suitcases, I’ve been asked “what’s in the suitcase?” a couple of times. My response has been “tools, camping gear, clothes and sports equipment.” All true. No problems.

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  • Steven J January 8, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Uhh Huhh..and ATM machines were originally supposed to save banks money, time and fees for the patrons.

    Much like TriMet, Airlines love to tout rising fuel costs to justify the rate increases, yet when the price of Crude drops do they lower rates?

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  • peejay January 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Scott:

    I, too, had no problems on the first three flights I had with my bike on NWA. Which is what made it so infuriating. In fact, on the flight out from PDX, the ticket agent asked me if that was a bike in my bag, and when I said yes, she said: “have fun with it!”

    As for the merger, I was under the possiblymistaken belief that JetBlue was owned by Delta, but maybe not. Anyway, whenever there’s a merger, don’t they combine the worst of the rules from each company for the new one?

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  • Rick Fair January 9, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I read with interest on Jet Blues revision of their charges.
    “It seems the original reason for bike charges has been evidently lost. With
    airlines in and out of bankruptcy and going after their employees
    wages in the form of tax cuts or layoffs, the moral has been very low.
    Obviously some brain-dead manager is making sound like they are giving something up. Jeez Louise!
    The result is a high turn over rate with little training of the replacements. While they are most likely trained on the everyday items, it’s the more obscure stuff, like bike charges that has fallen to the wayside. They know enough to to realize there is an extra
    charge for a bicycle. Where the dots are failing to get connected is the difference between a folding bicycle and a full sized bicycle. The
    ticket agent just does not realize there is a difference. Try to
    realize this and be polite when arguing with them.

    The original reason for charging extra for a regular sized bicycle was the large box had to have special handling. It could not be moved on
    the conveyor system and to be hand carried. If you see them place your
    suitcase on the conveyor behind them, then you should not be charged
    … Period.”

    A disgruntled consumer sent this and consequently seems pertinent.

    Best regards, 

    Rick Fair 
    ………………………………………………..
    Rick Fair
    Technical Support l Dahon
    E-mail: rickfair@dahon.com
    http://www.dahon.com

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  • Bloggers are changing the travel industry. March 23, 2009 at 5:20 am

    [...] So Larson blogged about the experience on the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s site, calling the airline’s policy “ridiculous.” The story was picked up by another blog, bikeportland.org. [...]

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  • [...] their policy and refund his money after his blog post was picked up by another cycling blog – bikeportland. His post then made its way to a site called The Consumerist, which incidentally I was on earlier [...]

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  • Shawn March 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I read this a few days ago and it prompted me to put together a list of airlines and the fees they charge with direct links to the corresponding erroneous charges pages.

    I’d like to bring my bike with me more often but the fees getting out of hand. What if all I brought was a carry on bag and a bike box? Is that so much more than a person with two big heavy suitcases, a carry on bag and a laptop?

    Anyway, Fees for bikes link. (scroll way down low for the United States)

    I’ll be adding more countries this week.

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  • RideTHISbike.com April 19, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Shawn, your fees for bikes link doesn’t work so…

    which airlines will currently accept a folding bike in luggage without imposing a fee?

    The ones I know of are…
    Alaska
    Delta
    Jet Blue
    Southwest

    Anyone know of others???

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  • Shawn April 20, 2009 at 8:38 am

    I’m in the process of moving the site to a new server. The information is in a giant zip file right now and I can’t really get at it. I’ll have it back up in about two days. Sorry about the temp dead link.

    Shawn

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  • Curtis May 11, 2009 at 8:52 am

    I just thought I’d throw in another experience. I have flown with an S&S machine bike (under 62, 46 lbs.) for a few years now and have never had a problem ever until last night. An NWA bag checker noted the odd size of the bag and I unwittingly mentione it contained a bike. She said, “Oh, then I think I have to charge you extra.” She proceeded to get a supervisor who said that while he agreed that it was within the size and weight constraints, “a bike is a bike,” and he had to charge me $100 in addition to the $40 charge they had already exacted for checking two bags. I pointed out that he was charging me more than the guy next to me based on my unconfirmed statement about what my bag contained. He agreed. I pointed out that I could say my briefcase had a bike in it. Would he charge me for that? The lack of a logical policy on this issue is maddening.

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