Ruckus Warehouse Sale

Would a ‘Bikes Fly Free’ policy fly at Portland Int’l Airport?

Posted by on June 10th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

“I know she wasn’t responsible [for the fee], but I was still tempted to ask her, ‘how much are you charging for golf clubs again?'”
— Slate Olson, upon being told his bike would cost $175 each way

On Wednesday, May 20th, Portlander Slate Olson was headed to Washington D.C. on a business trip when a woman working the United Airlines ticket counter at Portland International Airport (PDX) told him it would be $175 to take his bicycle along. Each way.

Olson wrote to me later that, “I know she wasn’t responsible, but I was still tempted to ask her, ‘how much are you charging for golf clubs again?” (Golf clubs fly free on United).

Olson’s experience has put him on a mini-campaign to rid PDX of baggage fees for bikes.

Olson is the general manager for Rapha, a U.K.-based bike clothing company with its North American headquarters in Portland. The way Olson sees it, if Portland wants to continue to be the spot for bicycling and bike tourism, this issue needs to be resolved.

Story continues below


NAHBS_Rapha Roleur Photo Exhibit -5.jpg

Olson in February 2007.
(Photo © J. Maus)

“I think any cyclist that flies in/out of Portland ought to fly their bike for free,” he wrote via email, “or at least highly, highly subsidized. Within Europe you don’t pay – and we’re arguably better than Europe most days.” (Note: Olson has nothing against Europe, that was meant as a joke.)

Olson admits that the box is awkward, but that many bike boxes come with wheels, making them easy to pull. The shape is also easy to stack and sort, he says. And, if the issue is weight (as some service reps at the airport told him), he says a bag of golf clubs is no lighter (and neither, he points out, is the typical golfer).

Olson’s experience reminded me of Carl Larson’s plight with JetBlue back in January. Larson was charged $50 for merely for having a folding bike stuffed into a box that also included clothes and other belongings. JetBlue said it fell under the category of “sporting equipment,” hence the fee.

“It would be hard to mandate something across the board for all airlines for one particular item.”
— Jason Gately, Port of Portland

Larson thought that was bogus — and pretty quickly, so did JetBlue’s upper management. They changed their policy a day later and now folding bikes can fly free.

But that’s folding bikes, and that’s JetBlue (an airline that once showed the Tour de France live in their seat-back TV’s and let all bikes fly free for the month of July in honor of the race). But what about United and the many other airlines that fly out of PDX?

Notice the bike-friendliness-as-marketing-tool displayed on front page of PDX airport’s website.

I asked Jason Gately, a planner and project manager with the Port of Portland (they own the airport) what he thought about a “Bikes Fly Free at PDX” policy.

Gately said he’s still looking into it, but shared his initial thoughts:

“My guess is that airlines charge for the transport of baggage, bikes, golf clubs, skis, dogs, and other item based on their own business model and that it would be hard to mandate something across the board for all airlines for one particular item… I would compare it to other things that an airline provides (or doesn’t) such as food and drinks on the plane, or if an airline allows you to switch flights for a fee or no fee, etc.”

I can see how airlines might balk at having the Port tell them how to set baggage fees, but I also understand the power of good PR and marketing. If the Port created a “Bikes Fly Free” program, don’t you think at least one airline would take the marketing bait? Then, once one airline stepped up, others would surely follow suit.

Travel Oregon has made a major commitment to attracting the bike-curious to our great biking cities, and tourists to our legendary event rides and country roads. But traveling with a bike is for much more than just recreation. Many Portland business travelers take their bikes with them so they can mimic their low-car lifestyles on the road.

PDX regularly touts its green credentials and bike-friendly infrastructure (note the graphic from their website above and their effort to create a dedicated space for travelers to box up and/or rebuild their bicycles once they land), and what better way to make a compelling green commitment than to get on board with a “Bikes Fly Free” initiative.

As for Olson, he says, “There’s a lot of talk about cycling being the new “country club”, but until it’s as easy to travel with the bike as it is the clubs, traveling to ride great parts of the country will continue to be for those few “crazy cyclists”.

What do you think?

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Rixtir June 10, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    PDX doesn’t set baggage policy for the airlines. Each airline sets its own policy about what it charges for baggage. For example, bikes are $50 each way on Southwest.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) June 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    thanks Rixter,

    i realize that.

    my thought was that the airlines would opt into it through friendly coercion and potential marketing brownie points that would create new, loyal, bike-loving customers.

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  • peejay June 10, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Maybe Northwest will stop charging me $150 to transport my bike in a (non-oversized) bag. That would be nice, since I do have a choice, and fly a lot of expensive overseas trips for my work.

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  • Rixtir June 10, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    And incidentally, policy flying out may be different than policy flying in, even on the same airline. The last time I flew to Europe, I met the requirements for baggage (i.e., I had no excess baggage flying to Europe.). On the return flight, with the EXACT SAME NUMBER OF BAGS, I was told I would have to pay an excess baggage charge (thanks, a-holes at Delta). I refused to pay, and they eventually backed down.

    The point is, even if there was a “bikes fly free” policy at PDX– an extremely unlikely circumstance, given that each airline sets its own policy– good luck explaining that policy to the airline on your return flight to PDX.

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  • Jim Lee June 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Would I be charged a bike fee for my road bike with S&S couplers that fits into a standard-size baggage module?

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  • Rixtir June 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm


    Each airline has its own baggage policy. What you would need to do is go to the website of a particular airline and see what they allow as free baggage, and what they charge as excess and/or overweight and/or oversize baggage (full size bikes are oversize baggage).

    My guess is you’d be fine with that bike in a standard sized suitcase, but you should still check on the airline’s website to be sure.

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  • Rixtir June 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Jonathan, #2:

    Certainly an idea worth pursuing.

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  • velo June 10, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I like the concept of bikes fly free and maybe with the right carrots a couple airlines would get on board.

    I remember that bikes used to cost ~$50-80 one-way. Steep, but no where close to $175. That is just plain insane.

    I take the train when I can. Amtrak Cascades to Seattle – $5 one-way for the bike, and you don’t have to box it! Now if only all Amtrak trains were that cool.

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  • Scott E June 10, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    The Port of Portland also has the power to entice the airlines to change their policies at the airport. Discount on the airport fee? Marketing/promotional opportunities? I think this is well within their power to influence.

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  • Carl June 10, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    The only reason I got away with the Jet Blue thing was because their policy defied all reason. I had an undersize, underweight item that they wanted to charge me for because it contained something called a “bicycle.” That’s bogus. Full-sized bikes, on the other hand, are generally oversize and are, thus, legitimately subject to higher fees in my opinion (like skis and other items which fly free on many airlines).

    One thing’s for sure: it’s not up to PDX. It’s up to the airlines and they’re too busy cutting amenities and going out of business to bend over for bicyclists. Given my experience with Jet Blue I know I’m expected to be optimistic here, but I’m not. Best of luck, Slate. I hope you prove me wrong.

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  • todd June 10, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    for what it’s worth, i’ve never paid any fee for gate-checking my brompton without any bag or box, after riding it to the airport, as you would a stroller or wheelchair: . multiple airlines, multiple destinations, all post-9/11.

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  • Scott Mizée June 10, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    This sounds like an excellent idea to me–and could benefit all involved–including the airlines.

    Jason Gately: If there is anything that we as airport customers can do to help move this proposal along, please let us know. I would also like to see Bike SPA’s at PDX similar to what TriMet is proposing for some of their facilities.

    If it can’t be mandated across the board, what about approaching some of the airlines that brand themselves as thinking out of the box and doing things differently. e.g. Horizon offers free NW “micro brews” on their flights, etc…

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  • Quentin June 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I worked as an airport baggage handler for about a year, and non-folding bikes in boxes are bulky, fragile items compared to everything else that goes into the cargo compartment. The odd, half-round shapes of most cargo compartments on the underside of airplanes don’t accommodate bikes very well, and they are designed to have just enough space for all the regular bags on a full flight, so even with just one or two full-size bike boxes there might not be enough room for all the other bags.

    From an airline’s perspective, bikes are a liability because they are fragile and take up a lot of valuable space, so it’s no wonder they charge extra fees for them.

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  • Scott Mizée June 10, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    Quentin: Thanks for sharing your personal experience. That makes sense.

    In my mind, there would need to be some sort of limit on the “free bike” policy. I know when I was taking my wakeboard on a flight one time, Southwest told me it was free because it was sporting equipment… just like snow skis are free because they are sporting equipment. However, when it was in an enclosed cardboard box that they couldn’t see what it was, I had to pay $75 extra. (This was pre 9/11, by the way.) When it was in the zip open wakeboard bag with wheels, it was no problem–same size package–no extra fee.

    The point is that airlines WANT the ski and golf business. If the bike business is large enough and it makes sense in their business model, they will be open to that as well.

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  • michael downes June 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    As someone who traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa & the Middle East before I came to America (and never got charged for checking in a bike even unboxed!) I have to say we are all victims of a scam designed to nickel & dime us out of any extra cash we might be carrying. I am just surprised that the scam has not yet been expanded to include our golfing and surfing travelers. I guess too many airline executives play golf for that to fly. While airlines continue to struggle economically I think it unlikely there will be any progress on this front.

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  • Slate June 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    If not Portland, then where? It seems to me that it has to happen- and what better place than Portland to be at the front?

    PS- Not all golfers are big, but the two I was just wedged between on my flight were. And, their 40lb bags were too.

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  • chelsea June 10, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I flew horizon to Canada and had to pay $50 to bring my bike, which I was told is standard for that airline, yet on the from Canada, I didn’t have to pay any extra for it. I am willing to pay some amount to bring my bike, but $175 is outrageous!

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  • Stephen Upchurch
    Stephen Upchurch June 10, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I would like to point out the Southwest Airlines bicycle policy.

    It states: Non-motorized Bicycles, including Bike Friday and Co-Pilot, will be accepted in substitution of a free piece of checked baggage at no additional charge provided the bicycle is properly packaged and the box containing the bicycle fits within the 62-inch sizing limit and weighs 50 lbs or less . (Maximum weight is 50 pounds and maximum size is 62 inches (length + width + height) per checked piece of luggage). The handlebars, kickstand, and pedals must be removed and placed inside the box. A $50.00 each-way charge applies to bicycles that don’t meet the above criteria. Bicycles packaged in a cardboard box or soft-sided case will be transported as a conditionally accepted item.

    They actually mention Bike Friday which we all know as the folding folks in Eugene as well as Co-Pilot which is a reference to Co-Motion models with S&S Couplers. I just think it’s notable that someone at Southwest did some research that gives us cyclists specific info and the knowledge that folding bikes and bikes with couplers can go as checked baggage for no additional fee. Yay!

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  • Pfeif June 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    you guys may want to check airline websites Golf clubs are charged as either a first bag or second bag depending on the airlines. Only on a few airlines are golf clubs free if they are traveling internationaly. most airlines charge $100.00 for bikes but they due give credit for a bike if it’s less than 62 linear inches if so, the airline will only charge the standard bag rate

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  • KTB June 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Michael, surfers have been dealing with massive baggage fees for years, for exactly the reason that Quentin mentioned–they are fragile and can take up lots of space. I know that Rusty Surfboards offered a promotion at one point where if you were going to San Diego, you could order a custom board from them and pick it up at the shop, thus saving yourself the baggage fee on the way there.

    Might be a fun promo for some of the locals shops/bike builders, and could be awesome if the “Bikes Fly Free” works out.

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  • png June 10, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    They have a breakdown of the costs for each airline here:

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  • Grinch June 10, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    “I know he isn’t responsible, but I was still tempted to ask Olson, ‘how much are you charging for your cycling jerseys again?’”

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  • Slate June 10, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Now imagine that we charged you for the jersey and then charged you nearly as much to wear the jersey. Now that would be a bit much.

    The problem comes when a round trip ticket for your bike is more than your own ticket. $50- sure, but for $175 I hope that I’d at least earn miles for the bike too.

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  • Evan June 10, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    How much for a zoobomb bike?

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  • joel June 10, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    while $175 is at the high end of the charges imposed for checking your bike as baggage, and DEFINITELY excessive – im still surprised that people hit the counter without having checked the airlines policies, which are, typically, clearly outlined on their web pages. you know youre bringing an oversized item with you – im not exactly filled with compassion for people who havent done their research first in this scenario. i fly united from time to time, but theyre on my list of airlines i wont fly unless im not taking a bike, or can deal with it in some other fashion (them and delta…), simply for that $175 each way charge.

    however – an across-the-board “bikes fly free” policy at pdx will likely be near-impossible to achieve or implement, but its worth a shot if it can be arranged for flights out of *and* in to pdx.

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  • cyclist June 10, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    If you know anything about the airlines you know that this is completely unworkable. The airlines won’t be coerced into doing something that will cost them revenue, especially when the Port isn’t offering them any real incentive to do so. Furthermore, any airline that did enact this policy would basically create a marketing nightmare for themselves by giving special favors to people from one small city.

    Jonathan: I understand that you only meant this as a “Wouldn’t it be nice?” kind of question, but really, there is 0, ZERO chance of this ever happening. There’s nothing the Port can do short of paying the airlines for every bike that goes in or comes out of the Port, and even then the airlines would likely not be interested. This article is more or less equivalent to “Wouldn’t it be cool if they made the Morrison Bridge bike only,” or “Ikea should have bakfiets on hand so that shoppers can ride their furniture home without using a car,” or “We should make an elevated bike expressway above Powell.” Maybe it would be nice, but what’s the point in talking about it if it’s totally unrealistic?

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  • Bjorn June 10, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    United also at least used to have different rules for international than domestic. I was able to take my bike to Singapore for free in a hard shell bike box several times by using the magic words “international freight”. I have a feeling that I would have been out some money though if they had lost or broken it.

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  • Lynne June 10, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    When they look at that standard-sized, standard weight case for your folding or coupled bike, and ask what is in it… “parts”.

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  • Zaphod June 10, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Contact a bike shop at your destination, ship your bike via UPS or other carrier to them. Be sure to pay for the insurance option. Then, do something nice for the shop, like hand them a six of pdx beer or a bag of our finest coffee and call it good. It’s a drag to lug around a bike box anyway.

    I just returned from San Francisco from PDX. I biked to the airport, locked up, flew to SFO, took BART downtown, rented a (super crappy but functional) tourist bike and was set for my urban requirements. I missed having a real and fast bike.

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  • Lazy Spinner June 10, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    $350 round trip? Hello, UPS? I’d like to ship a bike to the Hilton at…

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  • Charlie June 10, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Along this line of reasoning I think, given that Oregon, with 59.7% overweight or obese — near the national rate of 60% and climbing — should cater to “customers of size” and offer the second seat (now mandatory by many airlines including Jet Blue and Southwest) for free! We wouldn’t want to keep our obese citizens grounded or have other people crushed underneath them in seat B, would we?

    Overall, I agree with Quentin. Everything comes at a cost.

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  • Burk June 10, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Wow, this is timely. I’m flying with my bike to Maui tomorrow (I know, I suck).

    I actually contacted the BTA before my trip just to see if they had any insider info for air travel. They were very responsive but alas, no bike love from the airlines. Here is my response:

    Thanks for the info, much appreciated!

    I have studied the Hawaiian air baggage policy – and probably more importantly printed it out so I can have it with me at the airport 🙂

    Looks like $100 clams each way. Still cheaper to fly with it than ship it and I do have a hard case for the bike. It has been my experience, and I’m sure many people have shared it, that airline charges for bikes can be rather capricious. I guess all I can do is have everything packed to their specs and get ready to shell out another $200 bucks. Still cheaper than renting a bike. It just seems that PDX of all places should show a little bike love. I know the airlines call the shots for this stuff but their nickel and dime attitude is incredibly frustrating. The irony is I’m paying an extra $200 bucks for 165 pound me, 50 pounds of luggage and 30 pounds of bike. This is $200 more than the 350 pound person with, say 1 – 50 pound bag, that I will most likely be sitting next to…

    Thanks again,

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  • Matthew Denton June 10, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    You can always take Amtrak instead. They charge $5 for a bicycle.

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  • eileen June 10, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    They say one flight is worse than a year of driving. Don’t kid yourselves that this would somehow be a green policy. It would just encourage people to fly more.

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  • Lurker B June 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Why would we want to encourage loading bikes up in planes and flying them all over the place, burning more jet fuel, when we could provide bikes at the destination? Perhaps a better idea would be to provide full service bicycle rentals at our airport?

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  • Pete June 10, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Amtrak, UPS, destination rentals – other options exist, but it would be great to see some logic come into play with baggage rules. For example, a kiteboard or skimboard is charged as a surfboard on every airline I know of, yet the size, weight, and fragility are radically different. A “speed board” – whatever the heck that is – flies for free on Continental, so when I’m asked about my snowboard bag (containing kiteboards) I answer that there is a “speed board” in it. My friends use ‘deceiver bags’ for their kiteboards, which are shaped and labeled like golf bags, though airlines are catching on.

    One person I know never flies his bikes, he only flies boxed-up “bike parts”…

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  • GW June 10, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    It’s all hit and miss with checking a bike. But I agree, the fees are getting outrageous, but for those travelling to race, we have no choice. Just put the fees back to “normal.” All the new fees airlines imposed for baggage last year netted them over $1B, so that’s likely not to happen.

    I can’t wait to find out how much it will cost me to get to France (on Air France) in two weeks with a Sci-Con double-bike case. Somewhere between 60 and 150 euros. I flew to Dubai with it on NWA/KLM and was charged nothing, and I wasn’t charged for overweight regular baggage.

    Similiarly, I flew to South Africa on Emirates this year, no charge for the Thule hard case, yet South African began charging me flying in country, albiet only for ~$2/lb, so it wasn’t bad.

    All hit and miss…

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  • elise June 10, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    I travel long trips for business, and often commute by bike in my destination city. Continental charged $170 one way to check my bike to Houston (after quoting me $70 on the phone), UPS charged $60 to ship it back to portland. Much better deal. But I’ve also tried the “contribute to the local bike-onomy” method of renting/investing money in someone else’s bike I’m borrowing. Although I miss my bike when I’m away from home, it’s always fun to get to know new bike shops, and is often cheaper than bringing a bike along. I would certainly chose to use an airline that brings bikes for cheap or free if they would do so.

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  • Trevor June 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

    im pretty sure (could be wrong, non-revs dont have to deal with this issue thankfully) that alaska/horizon on charge depending on weight, and unless it’s a downhill bike or stuffed with extras, it usually falls below 50lbs; the overweight cutoff

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  • DeWayne June 11, 2009 at 7:32 am

    When I first bought my bike…I thought I’d take it to Spain and ride it there. I knew I’d have to pay a bit here and there to get it over. Northwest charged me nothing from NY to Amsterdam, stating that it was considered a second checked bag…Vuele charged 30Euros each way (45min flight). HOWEVER…on the way back – Northwest/KLM decided I needed to pay a WHOPPING 175Euros ($244) to get my bike back to the States, and no matter how much I argued the point that I wasn’t charged to bring it to Europe they wouldn’t give in. Bottom line is…one will charge you, the other may not. It’s entirely up to the person at the front desk.

    I applaud a bikes fly free policy – and think it would be fantastic if it was implemented here at RDU. (there is a huge multisport community here as well)

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  • Justin Eichenlaub June 11, 2009 at 9:15 am

    Whenever you can, take Amtrak. Folder bikes free, full-size bikes relatively cheap and easy compared to flying. Obviously we still need to work on national amtrak to institute a system like the Cascades train’s.

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  • Dan June 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

    A bike with S&S couplers can sometimes fly for free, sometimes not. I’ve flown all over the country with one, and some airline folks never bat an eye at it, others are a bit more curious about it. I flew from Milwaukee to Seattle last summer and it flew free one way, and cost me $50 coming back, just depends on who I deal with. Bikes flying for free would be great, but as someone mentioned earlier, airlines aren’t going to do much that will cost them revenue.

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  • Max Taint June 11, 2009 at 9:37 am

    “Ass, Gas or Grass, nobody rides for free”

    I fly with unicycles a couple of times per year, with a wheel size up to 36″ diameter.

    I’ve avoided the hefty bike fee by stating that its not a bike and showing the ticket agent how its different than a bike. I also fly with it in a custom made plywood box that looks like something Thing 1 and Thing 2 would travel in.

    Unfortunately, I still have to pay an oversize bag charge between $10 and $80 because it is larger than an average suitcase.

    I’m game for paying my fair share for my weight, carry-ons, use of the seat, the onboard toilet and tiny bag of salty nuts and my luggage, but I’m liking the idea of flying and ticketing based on your total load of ass and gear you bring on the plane: 2$/pound.

    AAAhm yes, just fantasy at this point I guess, but I like the concept better than bikes fly free just out of Portland.

    Max Taint (The most taint possible on one wheel)

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  • James June 11, 2009 at 9:47 am

    On a related note: Where is the best place to lock up a bike at PDX? Do there exist bike lockers for long-term parking? I had a three-day trip to Texas a couple of weeks ago and had to take Trimet to the airport and back 🙁

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  • beth h June 11, 2009 at 10:23 am

    Some devils’ advocate type thoughts here:

    1. Flying remains in large part a travel option for the relatively privileged in our society. When people complain about not being able to take along bikes for free and compare it to, well, golf clubs (equipment for another expensive activity mostly enjoyed by the wealthier among us), I find it challenging to take this concern seriously.

    2. Flying is the most unsustainable, polluting form of travel there is; and yet it continues to be propped up by some of the most blatant subsidies around. Would that our government were willing to devote that level of support to Amtrak again and promote more sensible, more sustainable rail travel OVER air travel.

    I’m sorry, but I just can’t get that worked up over this issue. If you need to fly, rent a bike in your destination city and support local economies with your dollars instead of giving them to the bloated dinosaur that is the airline industry.

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  • duncansadat June 11, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    This is an issue that should be taken up with individual airlines. PDX just can’t stand up to the major airlines on policy. Furthermore, this issue has got to start small. Just like the Domestic airline baggage fees that were introduced last year, the market changes thusly: a domestic airline survives by charging more, gets a bad rap, but eeks through. The major airlines follow suit, thereby standardizing the new fees.

    None of this has anything to do with the Airport. All of these policies issues are directly with the airlines themselves.

    I have this opinion because I talk to the airlines everyday. In fact, I’m currently on hold with Delta. You see, I’m a travel agent. Take it from me: look for the chink in the armour, then use it to exploit the inconsistencies across the industry, forcing the airlines to standardize.

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  • tbird June 11, 2009 at 3:37 pm


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  • middle of the road guy June 11, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Re: S&S Couplers

    I have a coupled Seven that have taken on a number of trips. Although the case is of legal dimensions, as soon as someone hears the word “bicycle”, they slap on an extra charge.

    I now describe it as a competition wheelchair.

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  • Patrick Mc June 12, 2009 at 5:13 am

    I’m going to be flying in next week to be in Portland for 2 weeks of PedalPalooza and I would love to be able to bring my own bike and trailer for the visit rather than have to borrow or rent one for that time.

    It’s also a great idea for the bike shops and builders who could use it as a selling point for people interested in buying Portland-made bikes and flying them to their homes around the country.

    I haven’t gotten to the point of justifying buying myself a $2,000 bike but the additional cost of having it shipped across the country is an additional discouragement.

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  • joel June 12, 2009 at 6:53 am

    i used to travel extensively with an s&s coupled bike, as well – in 10 years of flying with it, in both the hard case and soft case, i was never once charged a bike fee, or questioned about what it was (including flying post-911) if you want to bring a full-size bike along with you, the s&s coupling (or similar take-apart designs) is your best option. that being said, you should be prepared for the tsa helper monkeys to open your carefully-packed bike and be unable to put it back, resulting in your box arriving at your destination with all the parts crammed back in, the lid cracked open, the whole thing wrapped in a cocoon of tsa tape to hold it all together, and several parts damaged or broken… which is why i try to fly with my bike unpacked whenever i can these days. baggage handlers are fine. the tsa is full of incompetent nincumpoops.

    the biggest issue, for me, as concerns the price of flying with a bike, is the inconsistency, both in the pricing structure from airline to airline, and in the airlines employees knowledge of their own policies. so go online, research their policies on bike BEFORE buying your ticket, print out their policy, write down the url, and be prepared to explain reality to the airline employees you deal with. having a reference to their own policy makes it awfully difficult for them to counter – and explaining that you chose their airline based on this policy (the implication being that you wont be choosing it again if they fail you) can definitely help them see things your way. ive flown dozens and dozens of times over the last 15 years, with the aforementioned s&s bike as well as uncoupled bikes, and have never been let down by this level of preparedness.

    at the same time, i have to admit im right there with beth – if youre lucky enough to afford to be able to fly, suck it up. its the price of privilege.

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  • Neil June 12, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    When I flew from UK to pdx (via Seattle) with KLM (Dutch Airline) there was no charge for by bike bag. Although I did have to ring in advance to make sure they had space to take it.

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  • Jill June 15, 2009 at 11:58 am

    This is what bothers me about the policies: if I bring in a bag and say that it contains sporting goods, I am only charged for an oversize bag fee (if at all. However, if I bring in the exact same bag (same dimensions and weight) and I say that it is a bicycle, I get stuck with a huge fee. This makes no sense and is totally unfair.
    My husband flew recently and told the person at check in that the bag contained sporting goods. They asked,”is it a bicycle?” he said, “no. bike parts and tools”. He removed the pedals, so technically his answer was correct, it was not a functional bike. No extra charge.

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  • Corey the Courier June 16, 2009 at 6:18 am

    I dislike the bicycle fee. Immensely.

    I took a weekend flight for a race with a small carry-on and a lightweight bike in a box without any luggage. I was charged a fee both ways. Meanwhile the family ahead of me in line brought several heavy suitcases which they could barely lift and paid nothing.

    The fees have been rising steadily over the years with no apparent limit.

    While I will take Amtrak EVERY time I need to travel across the US because of the fees. I do understand that from a business perspective, the airlines are liable for damage done to bicycles. Bike boxes are crammed into tiny holds where wheels, frames and forks are destroyed regularly. Insurance companies take this into consideration and charge the airlines accordingly.

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  • Andy B from Jersey June 16, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I just checked UPS and it would cost $500 one-way (!!!) for me to ship my bike to Germany like I have done several times before.

    Lufthansa would charge $200 each way (it was always free before). Continental would charge $100, possibly nothing if its less than 50lbs and under 62 total linear inches.

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