Bike Box Chronicles

Recently on Twitter, I saw a tweet from a fellow triathlete who was trying to get United to explain their $100 fee for bikes. They made some claim about treating it as a fragile item, which is about as bald-faced a lie as I can imagine. But nevertheless, the purpose of this post is not to rip on United, which does in fact stink if you are a cyclist. It’s to relate an equally funny – though disturbing – story of the last time I tried to engage someone from the airlines on a bike box fee.

I was flying Continental, which is now also (like United) on my NEVER fly list. As I was checking in, they told me that I needed to pay an additional $95 for my bike (this was some years ago, as I believe they’ve since upped the amount they screw – I mean, charge – you). I said to the clerk, “$95, but isn’t the oversize fee $80?” as I had prepared myself ahead of time – I thought – by checking the website. But I had made the number one mistake you do no make when dealing with airline clerks – I was honest. I admitted that I had a bike in the big grey case.

She replied, “yes, $80 is the oversize fee, but $95 is the bike fee.”

I was dumbfounded. I asked, “so you mean that if I had this exact same case, weighing this is exact same amount, and it had rock climbing equipment in it, you would charge me $80?”

“Yes,” she replied while looking at me as if I was a complete moron.

I said, “Okay, so what do I get for the extra $15?”

“Well that’s the bike fee.”

“I understand it’s the bike fee. What do I get for $15 more than just paying for this same case with other stuff in it?”

“You have to pay that fee. You have a bike in there.”

“Yes, I know I have a bike in here. But if I didn’t, you would only charge me $80. There is no difference in the way that this case will be handled. So what do I get for $15? Maybe I’m not making myself clear, so I’ll give some examples. Like, do I get more coverage if you break my bike in transit?” Checked luggage has a cap of – I believe – $500 if it is lost/damaged as set by the FAA, so it would seem reasonable that an intelligent business might wish to insure more obviously expensive items against loss or damage.


“Do I get any additional coverage if you lose my bike?” Though at this point, I would have actually welcomed a straight up reply of, “You get nothing. If you can afford to fly with your bike, you can afford to pay extra. Cyclists have enough money that we can gouge them…” That would at least have been honest.

“No.” She remained unfazed and, in fact, seemed more confused by my confusion than anything else.

“Do I get anything at all?” I already knew what the answer would be. Cue the music and…

“It’s the bike fee.”

Sigh. But wait, it appears that she suddenly had an idea!

“You know, you don’t have to take the flight.”

BRILLIANT! I booked a flight, packed my bags, and came all the way to the airport because I thought, “Hey, maybe I’ll fly somewhere with my bike.” Seriously. This was her brilliant option. I could not pay the extra $15 by simply not taking the flight. How could I have missed this tremendous alternative? To this day, I still don’t know how I could have been so stupid.

In one of the ultimate strokes of irony, this was the same flight on which I was unable to lower my armrest because the passenger sitting next to me was unable to actually fit strictly within the confines of his seat. (Admittedly, this may have been on a different flight; they all blur together now.)
Such is the ignominy of flying with a bike these days…

6 thoughts on “Bike Box Chronicles

  1. Reminds me of a Seinfield episode…

    Jerry: I don't understand. Do you have my reservation?
    Rental Car Agent: We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.
    Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the reservation.
    Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.
    Jerry: I don't think you do. You see, you know how to *take* the reservation, you just don't know how to *hold* the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.


  2. Ironically, I have also run into really nice folks…

    when I did KSR in '97, the lady at the checkin said “really? that is rediculous”. she then charged me the $80 for the check in of the bike, but then handed me two vouchers for $80 each.

    I paid the $80 fee with one voucher and used the other on the way back…

    She got it…



  3. LOL…it almost seems wrong to laugh at the lack of common sense in this world though :/
    I was practically speechless when she agreed I could sue for damage- yea right!!


  4. Yes that Seinfeld episode was great and that came to mind too. Also what came to mind was Meet the Fockers where he is waiting online (he is the only one there) and they tell him not to pass the line. Ha ha – the airport is ridiculous, they make you feel like cattle.

    My bike story… Keep in mind bike with box = 52 lbs. In 2008 United (the only company flying to where I want to go) said I had up to 70lb weight limit. Bike box fee = $120. Got to the airport and said that weight limit only applies to top of the line United Plus members and that my weight limit was a mere 50 lbs. The woman informed me because my bike was over the limit I would be forced to pay an oversized baggage fee of $100 on top of the $120. I asked the lady if she could let me slide since I couldn't take anything else out and because I was a poor college student – the answer was no. Total Damage (one way) = $220 plus a wasted argument after she made her decision. However, this is only the beginning.

    Get on the plane, ask the stewardess for the suit rack. Her reply, “we don't have one, welcome to the new United”. Yeppie!

    Next I sit down in back of the wing seat. Stewardess comes over and finds out that the family sitting in that seat has a son who is too young to sit there in case of an emergency. They now have to relocate. I am sitting right in back of the son and I offer to switch, the parents are ok with it, but the stewardess says since I am not a United Plus member, I can't sit there. Rather the stewardess continued to search the plane for another family of three who wanted to move.

    Lastly, the captain patches through to the passengers and says that the right engine appears to not be starting. He says he will be patched through to the airlines headquarters to ask for technical support. He gets back to us shortly after and says they said turn off the plane, wait 5 min., then turn back on. He did just that, gets back on the intercom and says, “It appears everything is ok now, must have been a little bug in the system, we are clear for takeoff”. WOW


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