Southwest Airlines bicycle baggage

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Howard Z

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Oct 9, 2022, 1:58:55 AM10/9/22
to Randonneurs USA
I am registered for the Desert 600k in AZ next weekend, and planned to use this experience as a test run for assembling, disassembling and flying with my bike domestically before taking on a longer international trip (like PBP). So far, not so good... I am attempting to use an old Profeta Pedal Pack hardshell case, but my bike is just not fitting into this case well enough for me to be comfortable using it. Pivoting to Plan B with a cardboard bike box, but flying Southwest and just took a look at their bike baggage rules, which seem to be far more restrictive than other airlines:

$75/each way for boxes between 61"-80". No boxes over 80" total dimensions (L+W+H) allowed, which would negate just about all bike boxes, hard case, cardboard or otherwise.

Would like to hear about bike baggage experiences on Southwest Airlines from this well-traveled group, to see if I am misinterpreting their policy or if it is just poorly written. Please let me know!

Thanks,

Howard Zabell
RUSA #14760


Bob Counts

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Oct 10, 2022, 10:33:59 AM10/10/22
to Randonneurs USA
I recommend the Orucase Ninja bike case.  Their design makes it less obvious it is a bike.  There are other reasons I really like it, it is very easy to load my bike in and it is very light, yet also very secure.  After totally loading it, plus tools, helmet, shoes and extras) the total weight was 33 lbs.  Weight to spare compared to my "Trico Iron Case" which was 49 lbs without any tools or extras.

This past summer I flew to San Diego and back using Southwest.  Southwest did not ask or charge me on the way there.  Going back they charged $75 but I suspect it is because Orucase is located in SD and they have become accustomed to seeing their cases in the airport there (totally my theory).

I am not up on the latest but I've heard Delta and perhaps other airlines have removed fees for bicycles, which I find hard to believe.  Excellent news if so.

Bob 
#2619

Eric Keller

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Oct 10, 2022, 10:36:28 AM10/10/22
to Randonneurs USA
Those airlines charge as if it's a second piece of luggage, which
isn't cheap, but it's not the $200 they used to charge.
Eric Keller
Boalsburg Pennsylvania
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Yasmin Boakye

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Oct 10, 2022, 10:40:25 AM10/10/22
to Bob Counts, Randonneurs USA
Just chiming in that I also used the Orucase Ninja Case on Southwest and was charged $75 because it was oversized -- the gate agent actually pulled out the measuring tape...and the bike never made it to my final destination. Really disappointing experience especially given luggage is free on Southwest! I've heard from other cyclists that Delta, American, and United are all better options. 

Jeff

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Oct 10, 2022, 11:11:08 AM10/10/22
to Yasmin Boakye, Bob Counts, Randonneurs USA
alaska, delta and some others simply charge a checked bag fee... some airlines will waive the handling fee for certain status levels. 

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Bob Counts

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Oct 10, 2022, 12:51:22 PM10/10/22
to Randonneurs USA
I think it is a bit of a crap shoot regarding if Southwest charges.  I will say that in four trips since 2019 (legs) using SW I was charged once.  One-out-of-four ain't bad!  I think it is important not to volunteer "this is a bicycle".  In fact, when I was at the counter where I was charged, I was asked "what is in this bag" to which I said "just my stuff".   Well, my daughter was there and said "It's a bicycle!".  Ugggh.

In PBP 2019 I was charged but ONLY because for Air France I had to fill out a form ahead of time saying I was bringing a bike.  When I showed at the counter they didn't think it was a bicycle until they looked at my reservation, both outbound and return.

That being said I like the orucase regardless of if there is a fee.

Howard - I'm not sure if this answers your original question but I will mention that SW Airlines website says it here -  https://www.southwest.com/help/baggage/special-baggage-sports-equipment

I think they have updated their site because I called them before, they will allow "oversized" but will charge the $75.  If it is under 62 inches they shouldn't charge a fee, but if you read what they say - "Additional charges may apply", which is totally up to the person checking you in basically.    I think the only bike case that will pass the  exact requirement of less-than 62" is the S&S coupler (or similar) case.

Bob

Robert Sexton

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Oct 10, 2022, 1:13:01 PM10/10/22
to Bob Counts, Randonneurs USA
I've got a Ritchey breakaway that I've flown with many, many times.   It's not within the size limit, but close enough that almost nobody ever checks.

- Robert
 



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Robert Sexton

RBA of DBC

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Oct 10, 2022, 2:28:12 PM10/10/22
to Robert Sexton, Bob Counts, Randonneurs USA
Me too. And when I am asked, I say that it’s bicycle parts, cuz in that state, it’s not even close to a full bicycle!  ;-)

Deb

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Scott Cowan

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Oct 11, 2022, 1:58:52 AM10/11/22
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I LOVE LOVE LOVE this thread...Deb: your reply had me guffaw so loud my wife was concerned for my well being...I'd been primed already by the posts above yours.  
Ahem, I add slightly unrelated *int'l* bike transport tales, since many here are prepping to fly to Europe for PBP next year and might find helpfulmy experiences with UA and Air France when flying with a standard 700c 54cm bikes packed in  cardboard bike boxes in 2015 and 2019. 
tl;dr: 
The same boxes bike manufacturers use to ship bikes with the same packaging materials (free/cheap at your LBS and in Paris Bike Shops before return) worked well. **UA and Air France had/have different charges for bikes that fit into different size boxes, but reps of each/both companies interpret/enforce the rules...uniquely/sporadically/haphazardly...pick your adverb--prepare to pay whatever is stated as the extra charge for those two/any other airlines and you might be happily surprised when you're not charged a fee.

Longer story for those with more time+inclination:
In 2015, I flew into Gothenburg, Sweden 5 weeks prior to PBP and rode around not enough of Western Europe before my first attempt at PBP. I recommend something like that to anyone who can swing it in 2023. Gothenburg, in particular, is a lovely place, with a GREAT airport for cyclists to fly into/out of. In 2015, it was a super cheap destination. That is not true every year. 
Cycle touring in Europe, as I feel certain many others with vastly more experience can relate in far greater detail, is SHEER H E A V E N.  Touring, after having qualified for PBP, as a way to keep fit+avoid over-training AND to get your body onto the GMT+1 time zone completely reliably pre-PBP, AND, during France cycling km, to get one's digestive system accustomed to eating the foods you'll find on PBP...well, it's hard for me to imagine a more enjoyable way to spend the summer.
In Gothenburg's friendly, fairly small airport, kind baggage handlers gently delivered my bike to the oversized luggage area. I had ample space and time to assemble my perfectly transported touring bike, attach panniers and bags, then pedal into the city on quiet roads in a warm, steady, moderate rain that dissolved the route instructions I'd printed on paper. [I did not buy a handlebar bag with a plastic cover until I got to Paris and went to Cycles Alex Singer. Make that rando pilgrimage to the iconic shop just barely beyond the Périphérique that encircles Paris on Rue Victor Hugo 53 in Levallois.  I never did figure out how to upload routes reliably into my Garmin 820 Edge...have never had any problems with the Wahoo Elmnt that replaced that computer in 2018] Luckily, road signs in a Germanic Language not entirely dissimilar to English + a non-horrible sense of direction combined with a friendly couple at one intersection to get me to my hostel shortly after the rain had cleared and a rainbow correctly forecasted a summer filled with joys. 
... Post-PBP, I found a bike box at Cycles Laurent in the 10th arr. in Paris and packed my touring bike for the return. I added to that LARGE box ALL sorts of clothes, tools, helmet, etc that I just did not want to carry as I had before. I spent a week post-PBP unburdened by all but a change of clothes. My bike traveled home with a generous SFR couple who delivered it to a friend in SF. Here's the thing about the French: if you have patience, you can get ANYTHING you want in France. If you don't have patience...bonne chance!  My bike box was WAY overweight since I over-packed it for the return on Air France in 2015. At the Paris CDG airport I thus had to lug that heavy box (on a cart) from baggage check to a special weigh-in area...and back to baggage check with a special sticker...long story just a tad longer: in all the back-forth, the AF agent charged me only the over-weight fee and not the de rigeur Bike/sports equipment fee (grrrr) for luggage. 
2019: United Airlines SF-CDG-SF (aller-retour) charged their usual each-way extra bike box fee outbound but not inbound. Go figure. Again, I used a card board bike box from my LBS outbound. However, this time Cycles Laurent--as did EVERY other bike shop in Paris!--had zero empty cardboard boxes. Not to beg, not to borrow, and, while I'd never ever do this, not for anyone else to steal. Paris had gone green. Recyclers picked up all cardboard regularly, including the day before I tried to pack my bike for the return. I had to, thus, RER to CDG the day before my flight, buy a super flimsy box for a nominal fee (€2?)...and bring that 4 pound but crazy-unwieldy flat rectangle back on RER and Métro to my friend's apt. and pack my bike for the next day's travel. This time, my bike was not overweight. I expected to be charged the fee on the return as I'd been charged outbound, but the agent at the gate liked to chat about whatever was on her mind and I let her and...well, she just never got around to charging me and I never got around to telling her she should and that was that.
Oh...in 2019 I toured other parts of Western Europe for a few weeks before PBP and had other adventures roughly equal in joy to those of 2015. 
Go Ride Your Bike In Europe...everywhere you can, for as long as you can.  You're welcome!



Dave Thompson

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Oct 11, 2022, 4:11:33 AM10/11/22
to Scott Cowan, Randonneurs USA
I do the same as Deb because my handlebars are in my suitcase, so it's not quite a complete bike in the S&S case:).

Howard Z

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Oct 12, 2022, 8:08:31 PM10/12/22
to Randonneurs USA
All,

I greatly appreciate everyone sharing their comments, experiences and advice. Just what I was looking for (and knew I'd get from this group). Some of you verified successful transport on Southwest, and a non-bot customer service agent eventually gave me the same info.

Will also be looking at some of the suggested alternate permanent case options for future travels.

Thanks again,

Howard


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