I remember it fondly, a non-stop, international flight from America to Tokyo. The beer was only malt, the vegetarian meal was some kind of octopus stroganoff, the inflight movie was in Thai, and my seat was strategically located eight inches behind a big screen — somewhere in between the third and fourth circle of Dante’s hell, aka the food prep quarters, lavatory, and baby cradle wall. It was arguably one of, if not the, worst flight(s) of my life. In retrospect, however, these moments don’t occupy my memory — they really aren’t that memorable. No, when I look back on that trip, I instead reminisce about the very last time that I was able to fly with my bike for free.
Today, the airlines are hell-bent on extracting every last nickel from your pocket. First, there’s the over-sized baggage fee, then there’s the blanket fee for just having a bike, and most likely, you’ll also get stuck with a weight fee. Depending on who’s behind the counter when you’re checking in, and what kind of morning they’ve had, you stand to be paying a few hundred dollars each way just for flying with your bike. Well, that is if you’re unwilling to bend the rules. Perhaps this is unethical, but I’m going to provide you with a step-by-step guide to sidestepping the cost inducing humdrum that is flying with your bike. Prepare for battle.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
For the sake of clarity, if your frame is larger than 55cm, there isn’t much that you can do to escape the oversized fee — focus on the weight instead. Most airlines consider oversized as A) having a linear dimension exceeding 115 inches and B) a total length + width + height equaling 62 inches or more. The key to avoiding the fee is to use this knowledge in order to exploit your opponent. Make sure to check the exact dimensions on your airline carrier’s website.
“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
To stay within these parameters, you’re going to have to completely disassemble your bike. I’m talking fork, brakes, cranks, wheels, tires, saddle, seatpost — the whole lot. Next, you need to find a receptacle, or construct one, that fits this jumbled mess that you’ve created. In the past, I’ve had success with deconstructing a standard bike box, and then reconstructing it to the aforementioned dimensions with a staple gun and tape. However, the cramped space and, well, cardboard, don’t provide either protection or security in rich supply.
With this method, you’re also going to be forced to boldly lie. After all, the chances of you checking in a rag-tag, taped together cardboard box without getting asked what’s in it are slim to none. If your preference is to avoid having to vocalize your lie, your other option is to find a large suitcase within the proper dimensions. This way, when you’re checking your bag, you’ve nearly eliminated the possibility of being asked the question. However, whether you opt say it aloud or not, you’re still skirting the rules, and not owning this, after all, is lying.
“All warfare is based on deception.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
You have your “custom case,” everything is under 50lbs, and now it’s time to answer a few questions — home stretch. You see, there are a host of large items, like art supplies, media equipment, musical instruments, and even Christmas trees, that qualify for no-fee travel if they meet the size and weight requirements. Your job is to find your favorite allowed item, and stick to your story.
If you opted for the box contraption, you will be asked what’s in it. The airline will hand-measure it, and they will treat you with a heightened sense of skepticism. For these reasons, it’s important that your response is based around something that could actually be in your box, not a damn Christmas tree or a cello. I tend to gravitate towards art supplies, given that it has a vague definition. Musical instruments are also a good pick, because they’re typically allowed to be twice the official oversize without fee. Why? I do not know.
Be aware, though, that your janky box-looking thing is probably going to go into that oversized x-ray machine with it’s own line. This is where things get real. You won’t be allowed near your box, and whatever bold-faced lie you just spouted off is about to be completely blown apart. This guy can literally see through your story. Critical moment — you can back track or stick to your guns. The last time that I found myself in this situation, I stuck to the art supplies stories, to which I was told, “play on playa” and was let go without charge. It really is a craps shoot.
“Great results, can be achieved with small forces.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Now it’s time to hold your breath and wish for the best. Regardless of whether you’re using a box or suitcase, your bike isn’t very well protected. It’s large, heavy, and clumsy, and because you’ve skirted the rules, you don’t have any insurance options. You’ll inevitably start regretting your decision before you can even pass a Chili’s To Go. Yes, you’ve taken a rather huge gamble, but a gamble nonetheless. Hopefully, everything worked out, but if not, you’ve learned two lessons: 1) You should buy a proper bike case and 2) Some airline policies just don’t make very much sense.
Selected Text: Sun Tzu, The Art of War