21 comments


  • Nice essay, Russ! Though I have to be a spoilsport and say your lucky nap isn’t always the end of it.

    Our last trip found us equally early and encourged to board with our B’s. The ticket folks at the gate suggested we carry them on. We took our place in line, only to be stopped as the Ramp Czar scanned our tickets:

    “You can’t bring those on.”

    “But _they_ (pointing to the ticket desk) said we could!” We got here early and they gave us permission.

    “That doesn’t matter. It’s my decision. In fact, I should make you check them and charge you $50 each for them.”

    We then went back and forth for a bit while other travelers began filling _our_ seats (Southwest, where your seat isn’t yours unless your butt is in it).

    … he finally gave into gate-checking them (while continuing to threaten the $50 charge). Phew!

    But unlike the monster strollers and chubby-toddler carseats that awaited their owners at at the arrival gate, our “mobility devices” were a delivered a subway train ride away from our satellite terminal.

    The two Bromptons were left waiting with skis and golf clubs — no one around to check if they were really ours — fresh deep gouges and dings on both.

    I’m not really looking forward to our next flight. And though it probably won’t make any difference, I don’t think I’m going to let my guard down about our, uh, “mini strollers” until the boarding door closes and the “fasten seatbelts” sign is lit.

    March 09, 2011
  • […] bicycles. Not sure also whether most people could come up with the emotional toughness exhibited in Ross’s blog post on the subject but it was a very interesting experiment which shows how far somebody can go if they are determined […]

    March 10, 2011
  • Stuart Knoles

    Great piece Russ! Moral: keep your chain clean – and your underwear.

    March 10, 2011
  • yes cover that baby. bike travel is all about enjoyment, and ease of travel. To put this kind of stress in your life to save a few bucks (or a lot) is not worth it in my opinion. To travel 3,000 miles form home and have your uncovered bicycle destroyed by the airline baggage handlers Is not a option I would look forward to exploring. Cover and pad the hell out of it.
    Enjoy the ride, young Jedi apprentice.

    March 10, 2011
  • Andy

    I once bought a bike bag from the Kiwi company Ground Effect. It came with instructions on how to pose as a French artist. Bicycle? Bicycle? No eeeze art supplies, ‘ow you say, easel.

    March 10, 2011
  • Superbly written. I fly often, and endure this humiliation every time. I read your story and relived those feelings all over again.

    March 10, 2011
  • pretty soon they’re going to smell your fear, russ! that’s when they pounce. do, or do not; there is no try.

    doubters: i’ve traveled dozens of times this way. the problem with covers is that they conceal without offering any real crush protection, so the item is likely to be treated more roughly. also they make the thing look bigger than it looks naked. same thing to a lesser extent with hard cases: they’re not all that tough, but most importantly you can’t ride to/from airports with them. your bike becomes just another bulky sporting good needing to be schlepped about in a motorcage.

    my “plan b” if stopped by airline people has always been to request one of the big plastic bins that they put suitcases whose hinges, seams or clasps have failed. hold it in with a compression strap. failing that: find cardboard, any cardboard, and make a kind of sheath held on with compression strap or duct tape.

    keep these photos on your iphone. photos of the bike being gate checked, in overhead bins, etc. “i do this all the time, sir…”

    March 10, 2011
  • well done russ.
    absurd, yes, the hoops we jump through for the ‘pleasure’ to fly.

    did you have to go through the pornoscan?
    i dodged that the last time through dc. a local let me in on which lines tend to miss the scanner.

    personal mobility device. i like it.

    March 10, 2011
  • Jim

    Maybe if you removed the pedals it would look less like a bike. Bring a 15mm cone wrench to remove/install.

    March 11, 2011
  • Penny

    Are the cabin baggage restriction more generous in the US? Flying Economy in Europe the cabin baggage is only 7-8kg and a “naked” Brompton weighs around 9-12Kg.

    Have wonderful trip – look forward to reading and being inspired.

    March 11, 2011
  • Waldemar Kowalski

    Looking forward to trying this – have BIG Delsey suitcases we’ve used in the past. Safer, but not as mobile. (Elite on Delta allows me 70 lbs/suitcase and multiple suitcases, but that’s hardly mobile and agile!)
    I do think the cover is a great idea. Curious to know which airlines are gate-check friendly, in general. I do it on the Delta Regional Jets – anyone have experience on this with the regular large hub flights?

    March 20, 2011
  • Great, concise story Russ. I’ve done that dance with my Moulton, though not as bravely as you (it fits inside a sampsonite case). If enough of us editorialize, maybe we can change prevailing attitudes.

    March 21, 2011
  • Evan

    In the US, I’ve had a lot of success gate-checking my Brompton with no case or enclosure whatsoever. I even put it in the overhead on a NYC-LA transcontinental flight. My problem with cases is what to do with them when I land. It seems logical to pack light enough that when you are riding your bicycle, you can carry everything with you, and a soft case can take up precious cargo space. Russ seems to have had the exact experiences I’ve had – TSA has never been a problem, and they are often enthusiastic about the bike (I’ve done fold/unfold demonstrations several times). The airline employees are the ones to avoid, but once you’re through security, there’s not much they can do – the gate staff seem to accept the TSA’s approval. I did not, however, have the gumption to try getting through security on a recent trip through Heathrow, but I just put the bike in a paper-thin clear Ikea bag and put my faith in airport employees. The bike emerged unscathed.

    March 24, 2011
  • babs

    i once boxed a bike as small as i could and had it count as one of the (at that time) 2 free allowed bags.
    “contents?” i was asked…and i did not lie…
    “exercise equipment” i said to admiring glances…
    contrast that with summer 2009 standing in the delta line with my bike boxed in a box i had bought from an airline ready to check it and pay my fee…and i am told that it is too big and i should have arranged to ship it freight, the man took out a measuring tape and said even just one of the three dimensions was bigger than allowed … i just stood my ground and when i got to the ticket agent had to make my case AGAIN and HE got out the tape and quoted the measurement rules and called a manager-eventually they read the rules for quite awhile and found a part 4 subsection C sentence that went size limits blah blah blah… except bicycles. “OH”.
    all that and i still had to pay the exhorbitant fee of probably 175.00. “i just didn’t know ” i heard over and over from the three ignoramuses. they would not believe i had been shipping bikes like that for decades and HAD BOUGHT THE BOX FROM AN AIRLINE. it was hard work, that day, being positive and polite that whole time- it took about 25 minutes- and there were a lot of people waiting.

    April 01, 2011
  • […] (Recommended reading: ‘This Bike is not a Bike‘) […]

    July 22, 2011
  • What airline did you fly? Out of Seatac or Portland?

    September 13, 2011
  • Ondrej

    Nicely written. I’m not sure I’m ever gonna risk it, when I fly I hide it in a hard suitcase, a cloth cover usually works wonders with employees of all kind.
    The problem is, at least in the UK, that they often follow orders saying “no bikes” and a cover both conceals the nature of your luggage and, to the more clever ones, gives the opportunity to turn the blind eye and let you off as they can pretend they didn’t know it was a bike.

    September 30, 2012
  • […] (Recommended reading: ‘This Bike is not a Bike‘) […]

    December 11, 2012
  • Hi! Pretty cool “history” i know the feeling, i make art toys and when i travel to SDCC or something like that everyone at the airport is asking and checking whats inside the box, what material is, etc etc…

    Anyways, i want to buy a Foldable bike in the states and take it to a different country, so i wonder if you guys have an idea if thats possible or they going to ask me for import fees?

    If i buy it directly online if cost me 400 usd extra as taxes.
    Hope you know about this.

    Thanks!

    January 31, 2013
  • Have you ever flown United with the Brommies? I am taking a red-eye from Sacramento/LAX to Boston next month and would like to fly with my folding inline wheelchair, if you know what I mean.

    April 18, 2014

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