Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Travel with a Bicycle

A friend of mine asked me for advice on how to travel with his bike.  Here is my response.

1) Use TSA locks - all TSA managers have the keys - they will not cut those locks. If they do, they buy you new ones.

2) When you check in for a training camp, race, etc (traveling with your bike) - show up at least 1 hr 45 min prior to your boarding time.

3) Make sure connection flights have at least 60 minutes between flights - more is better.

4) When you go to TSA, Stay with your wheels/bike and STAND THERE while they do their security check. In multiple cities, the bike was treated differently because I was standing there and at least twice - I re-directed the re-pack of race wheels and bike box.

5) Look at the type of plane you are flying. People have challenges with this going into small airports. Try to ensure you are going on the biggest plan possible. For example - St. Croix - the airlines will try to fly you to San Juan - but the planes from San Juan to St. Croix are small prop planes (generally) and have a small cargo "pit". Go thru a larger hub a bit further away - IAH (Houston) United Airlines, MIA (Miami) American Airlines will fly 757, 737-900ER or A320 which are better than any of the prop alternatives. This will ensure your bike will meet you.  So if you are flying to STX from ORD - choose your connections - United: ORD - IAH - STX or ORD - EWR - STX.  American ORD - DFW - STX or ORD - MIA - STX.

6) Sign up for the TSA pre-check program. This allows your ticket to be coded differently and helps TSA "process" you. Can help sometimes.

7) Easiest thing to remember - be pleasant. The "front of the house" or "lobby" employees from the airline and TSA get absolutely abused all day long. They didn't set the policies that suck. They have to follow them and help move you on your way. They DO have enough power to help or hinder you.

I can speak to many times when I told a hurried employee that I had 2 hrs to my flight and I can wait while they fix something. Every time they waived the fee for my bike and once I was upgraded to first class. Doesn't work every time, but being overly nice has almost always made the experience easier. Consider using a skycap and tipping him/her. That has gotten me out of bike fees too. Just ask the skycap if they can pass you straight through to TSA - the right tip amount usually works $5-10 depending on the airport.

Write the airline if you have a great or poor customer experience. Most times you just get a standard form letter thanking you for your feedback (or nothing at all). Several times, I've received club passes or first class upgrade stickers when I mentioned the airline employee by name and said that they "made" our trip. Positive feedback almost always gets some kinda swag.

Being pleasant (even when you are stressed flying with your bike) is the key every time.

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