Guide to taking your bike on an aeroplane

Loading bikes at Málaga Airport
Dan Joyce's picture

Guide to taking your bike on an aeroplane

There are extra costs and packing requirements when you take a bike on a plane but the process is straightforward. Here’s what you need to know.

First let’s deal with the elephant in the room: carbon emissions. Flying is the most polluting way to travel. While other lifestyle choices also matter, even one flight will significantly increase your carbon footprint. For some journeys, flying is the only practical option. Yet it would be remiss not to look at…

Alternatives to flying with a bike

Mainland Europe, in particular, is accessible without flying.

  • Eurostar has resumed a limited bike service but spaces must still be booked (see our updates). Walk-on luggage is restricted to an 85cm maximum dimension, which means bagged folding or separable bikes only. By contrast, you can take a 120x90cm bike bag without a reservation on TGV and Thalys services. has useful advice for taking your bike into and across Europe.
  • Eurotunnel takes assembled bikes between Folkestone and Calais. Tandems and trailers are permitted but cost extra.
  • Bike Express is a coach-and-trailer service that takes fully-assembled cycles of all kinds to destinations in France and Spain using the Dover-Calais ferry crossing.
  • Ferry. Unless you’re driving and the bikes are on the car, you’ll travel as a foot passenger, usually paying a supplement for the bike. Cycling UK's ferry guide gives a good outline of what services are available. 
  • Courier. You can send a boxed/bagged bike ahead of you using a courier service such as SendBike or First Luggage. Beware of hiring a van yourself to transport multiple bikes into Europe. This has caused some problems with import duty since Brexit.
  • Hire a bike at your destination.

Flying with a bike: rules and regulations

Book your bike – usually under ‘sporting equipment’ – when buying your ticket. All airlines require your bike to be partially disassembled and bagged or boxed. As well as the weight limit, which varies between airlines, there’s a size limit: the packed bike must fit through the oversized luggage x-ray machine when laid on its side. So it must be less than a metre across; 90cm is better still.

A folding or separable bike in a suitcase-sized bag or case can go as ordinary luggage, without incurring bike charges. Weight and size limits vary by carrier but most will accept an S&S Machine hard case or Brompton bike bag. Some airlines will even accept a disassembled conventional bike in a very small bike bag if you’re coy about the contents.

All airlines require that a bike’s tyres be deflated. This ought not to be necessary. While the lower air pressure at altitude will mean an increase in the pressure inside a bike’s tyres, the pressure can’t rise by more than one atmosphere (14.7psi) – even if the plane reached orbit! But it’s an argument you won’t win at check in. Make sure the tyres are deflated to at least 1bar below the maximum shown on the sidewall and say yes when asked if they’re deflated. Don’t over deflate tubeless tyres as a loose bead will leak sealant. (Sealant in tyres is fine; liquids are allowed in hold luggage.)

Most e-bike batteries are banned from aeroplanes, even in hand luggage. The standard limit is 100Wh (a big laptop battery), while batteries up to 160Wh may be carried with approval from the airline. Swytch sells a 90Wh ‘AIR’ battery and ARCC uses batteries as small as 144Wh, but most others are too high capacity. Note that you can take multiple smaller batteries.

Don’t pack CO2 canisters (for rapid tyre inflation) before checking your airline’s regulations. They may be confiscated from your bike bag. It’s simpler to buy them at your destination.

How to pack your bike

Here’s how to pack a bike into cardboard bike box. (Some of this advice will be useful when using a bike bag or case.) You’ll need toe straps or reusable cable ties to fasten disassembled bike parts in place. Foam pipe lagging and bubble wrap (from DIY stores) is useful to protect paintwork and components.

  • Remove the pedals.
  • Drop-bar bike: loosen the stem bolts, turn the handlebar 90 degrees, then rotate the bar to hook it under the top tube. Flat-bar bike: remove the bar from the stem and fasten it vertically to the stem and fork.
  • Unscrew the rear derailleur from its hanger and attach it to the chainstay.
  • Remove the front wheel. Fasten it to the frame at three points. Wheel on the left minimises packed width, wheel on the right gives better drivetrain protection.
  • If your bike has disc brakes, face the front wheel rotor inwards or remove it (easier with Shimano’s Center Lock system). Fit a plastic disc brake spacer or piece of folded cardboard in the calliper.
  • To prevent the fork legs being squashed together, fit a fork spacer – a plastic one from a bike shop or a section of 100mm tube held in place with the axle – or refit a screw-through axle.
  • Completely lower the saddle. If the bike is still too tall for the box, remove the seatpost (with saddle attached) and fasten it to the bike.
  • If your bike has mudguards, adjust or undo the fittings so the rear’s tip can be held snug against the rear tyre and so the front doesn’t prop up the bike. If need be, remove the front mudguard and fasten it over the front wheel.
  • Remove vulnerable lights, computers etc but leave bottles in place.

It’s likely that your boxed bike will be below the airline’s weight limit, so you can pack other items like tools and clothes around the bike. 

Bags and boxes

A man pushes a cardboard box labelled bike on an airport trolley
You don't necessairly need an expensive bag or box to travel with your bike. Photo Dan Joyce

Most bags and cases are not bike portable. If your trip isn’t fixed base, check with your airline to see what left luggage facilities are available, if any, at the destination airport. Alternatively, arrange to store the bag at your first night’s accommodation – and make this your last night’s, too.

There are basically four options for packing your bike. Price, portability, and protection vary hugely.

  • Heavy-duty plastic bag or unpadded fabric bag (e.g. Scott).
    Pros: inexpensive; lightweight; easy to carry by bike.
    Cons: minimal protection.
  • Cardboard bike box.
    Pros: free from a bike shop if you ask nicely; disposable – get a second box for your return; spacious.
    Cons: bulky and awkward – airport luggage trolley essential. Unlikely to be covered by cycle insurance policy - if in doubt, check.
  • Padded fabric bag with solid base and/or crush inserts (e.g. Evoc, Scicon).
    Pros: decent protection; luggage wheels; easier to store than a hard case; internal space relatively unconstrained.
    Cons: expensive; less protection than a hard case.
  • Hard case (e.g. Bike Box Alan, Thule).
    Pros: best bike protection; luggage wheels.
    Cons: expensive; heavy; awkward to store.

Damaged or lost in transit?

If your bike is delayed, lost or damaged in transit, you can claim compensation from the airline. Fill in a ‘property irregularity report’ (PIR form) at the airport if the problem is evident then or contact the airline within seven days if not. Citizens Advice has a good summary.

It’s likely that any airline compensation will be less than the value of your bike. You’ll need insurance as well. Travel insurance will only cover your bike up to the maximum single item value on the schedule. Travel insurance from a cycle specialist such as Yellow Jersey (Cycling UK members enjoy a 15% discount) will be more comprehensive – for example, providing a payout so that you can hire a bike if yours is damaged or lost, covering you while riding off-road, etc. But it’s also worth having annual cycle insurance, either as a separate policy or through your home and contents cover. That way you can ensure your bike is insured for its full value for loss or damage. Note that you can claim against the airline and your own insurance policy.

Bike luggage charges

See below for luggage charges from a select number of airlines operating out of the UK - but do check before planning your flight as these can be subject to change. 

A graphic showing different charges for flying with your bike

Top tips for taking your bike on a plane

  • Read and print out a copy of your chosen airline’s policy on the carriage of cycles (this is normally under ‘sporting equipment’ on the airline’s website).
  • Note their packaging requirements – all airlines now insist on bicycles being packaged for transit. Bags specifically for bikes are available from various retailers. They vary in design, from fabric zip-ups to hard-case plastic boxes, and also heavy-duty polythene bags (many people prefer these because baggage handlers are more likely to respect a bike if they can see what it is).
  • All airlines will require you to detach the pedals and to turn the handlebars inwards so that they are in line with the frame. Some airlines will also advise you to deflate the tyres either fully or partially.
  • Whichever bag you choose, we recommend that you protect all of the bike’s tubing with sponge padding – the type used to insulate pipes, available in most DIY stores. We also advise you to detach the rear gear mechanism where applicable and tape this to the frame of the cycle, or as a minimum put the bike into its lowest gear, so that it is flush against the wheel and therefore less vulnerable.
  • Packaging your cycle takes time, so allow an extra hour on top of your airline’s check-in time to package your cycle.
  • Once you have collected your bicycle, be sure to re-assemble it before heading through customs control. If the cycle is damaged in any way, report this to airport staff immediately and complete a claim/incident form before heading for customs.

RIP CTC bike bag

Due to single-use plastic policies – and even though it could be used more than once – the CTC bike bag is no more. That doesn’t mean you can’t continue to use an older bag, or even wrap your disassembled bike in an alternative such as tarpaulin. But if you’re taking your bike packed in anything other than a box or dedicated bike bag, get written confirmation from your airline that they will accept your bike like this. An email or online chat transcript should suffice. Take this with you to check-in, either as a printout or a PDF on your phone

Cycling UK policy on flying

Cycling UK actively encourages members and the wider public to use environmentally friendly ways of travelling when they make their journeys, and we will always advocate using less polluting alternatives to air travel for personal journeys

As a charity which encourages cycle use to protect the environment and promote its conservation, we aim to progressively reduce and ultimately stop the promotion of travel overseas that involves flying.

This article does not seek to endorse or recommend air travel, but aims to provide advice for those who choose to travel by air.

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Recently flew back using BA from Vienna, having procured the CTC Bags from Wiggle. However, BA check in refused to acknowledge that this was an acceptable "Bike Bag". Fortunately we were able to purchase a box at the airport. Heathrow BA Customer Service when challenged on arrival agreed with the decision of the Check In clerk at Vienna.

<p><strong>Warning concerning flying with your bikes on Cathay Pacific&nbsp;</strong></p>

<p>A word of warning about flying bikes with Cathay Pacific. A few days ago we purchased tickets direct with the airline to fly from UK to Taiwan. We were given a 20kg limit, bikes could be included. We would clearly need an extra bag and checked the website for charges.</p>

<p>It looked at first glance that charges for an extra bag would be $60. However, if you read carefully, any bags in addition to your 20kg allowance are charged per kilo. For us, a 15kg bag would be charged at $35 per kilo - a whopping $525 each way (our flights were only &pound;460 return!). We phoned the airline to check within an hour of making our booking. They confirmed the charges and offered to cancel our booking for a fee of &pound;200 each. We eventually got to talk to a higher authority and managed to wave most of these fees.</p>

<p>But - a lesson learnt - Read very carefully the (sometimes ambiguous) wording concerning extra baggage charges. Don&#39;t fly to Asia with a bike on Cathay Pacific unless they change their policy</p>

<p>We are flying with China Southern - which allow 23kg and charge &pound;54 for an extra bag up to &nbsp; 23kg</p>

I've been using the plastic bag product for 15 years or so and last year went to Leeds Bradford as usual to be presented with a very nice lady who firmly told me that plastic bags had never been allowed and the specification on the website was cardboard.  After a lot of humble pie she asked the handlers who said "no problem love" and off we went.

Landing in Nice, no problem and in Pisa for the return journey we went to a local bar and took some old crisp packet boxes from their bins (asked first) which we stuck on the inside of the plastic bag.  This seemed to satisfy the staff at Pisa and the thing appeared at LBA with bits of cardboard dangling off.

My concerns are

1) I don't see cardboard as a structural material and it hinders the handlers from seeing where the centre of gravity is.

2) I'm off to at Manchester this summer. Not sure if we just change the plastic bag for a rip-nylon bag, this of course offers no protection, no visibility but might well appear to be a bag.

3) I admit to some frustrations, I like to do two-airport holidays and shipping a big squashy bike bag around is just not part of my mind set.

We used CTC plastic bags coming out of Alicante airport last year, no problems, no damage. One bike carbon, the other aluminium. However, flying from Geneva the bags were refused, fortunately we were able to purchase cardboard bike boxes in the airport at desk 93, cost 20 schillings. 

I flew from Cardiff to Malaga and back just a few weeks ago on Vueling (Spanish budget airline). I was charged £100 to take the bike; but given the price of own return fare that didn't seem too unreasonable. The only real problem encountered was finding that the adhesive tape I'd used was too adhesive - unpacking at Malaga I couldn't avoid tearing the plastic bag (supplied by Wiggle), making packing the bike for the return flight rather problematic. I needed a locker to leave not only the plastic bag in, but also a large holdall I'd used for carrying my tent and panniers. Malaga airport doesn't have lockers - but the main railway station in Malaga itself does (I was advised not to try cycling from the airport to Malaga, but to use the underground: a 20 minute journey costing less than 2 euros - fully loaded touring bike easily accommodated and without charge!). One final comment: baggage handlers at Cardiff airport have a policy of not putting bikes on the carousel - instead they deliver them in person by hand.