Richard Allen Blog: Excess Baggage
Richard Allen knows how stressful travelling with your pride and joy can be.
I think most pro triathletes would say their bike is their most prized possession, and worth more than their car. If a pro crashes while riding, they leap up from the ground screaming, “Is my bike okay?” – never mind that they’re covered in blood and their arm is hanging off!
But, while crashing your pride and joy is bad, there is something much worse. Pros race all over the world and so must pack our bikes into cases and check them in at the airport along with our luggage. When I turn up at the check-in desk, I immediately break out in a cold sweat – I know what’s coming and it’s never a good experience!
I’m usually greeted with a smile, which quickly turns to a look of shock when they see the huge case beside me. Things will then proceed badly or very badly. If it goes badly they will say, “Oh, that’s a nice bike case. A bike is a set charge of £50. Thank you very much, have a nice flight.”
But more often than not it goes very badly. In which case they’ll say, “What’s that? Oh dear!” and pick up the phone. After a 20-minute conversation with their supervisor, they’ll say the dreaded words: “Just pop that thing on the scales, please.”
This is a problem because I have, of course, packed everything for the race in my bike box so it weighs as much as a small elephant! I’m then politely told that there’s a £100 bike charge plus £125 in excess luggage charges! And what do you get for the £225? They stick several ‘fragile’ stickers on your bike box and, with a smirk, say, “Don’t worry sir, we’ll take good care of it.”
Having travelled with my bike for 18 years, the next few hours are not spent relaxing and enjoying the in-flight entertainment. They are spent worrying about what I’m going to find when I get to baggage reclaim at the other end. On arrival, my first thought is always whetherthe bike will actually be there. Several times they haven’t even bothered to put the bike on the plane and, if I’m racing the next day, that’s a huge problem. Once I was flying back to the UK from Japan and my bike was sent to New York!
If my bike does show up, then I dread opening the case in case there’s any damage. Last year I flew from back to the UK from the US to race the Ironman 70.3 in Wimbleball, and 10 miles into the bike leg one of my chainstays fell off – my race was over. The baggage handlers must have thrown my bike off the plane and I didn’t notice the damage.
As baggage prices rise, things only seem to be getting worse. This year I saw my bike going round the baggage carousel hanging out of its case – the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) had opened it up and not bothered to close it properly. Luckily, the bike was okay but they had trashed a £400 bike case. This isn’t my only run-in with the TSA either. On my most recent trip, they at least managed to close the case, but they had pulled the bike out to check it and then thrown it back in upside down and back to front. This meant that on the night before the race, I was up until 11pm trying to bend back the chainstay and fix my broken gears! On complaining, I found out that all baggage inspections are recorded, but they argued that they’d inspected the video and the inspector had done nothing wrong. Seriously? How is that possible?
I don’t want to put you off travelling with your bike, however, so here are a few useful tips to avoid transportation stress. Check bike case fees and limitations before you book a flight. Buy a simple bike case that’s easy to open and easy to get your bike in and out of, otherwise security will rip it open and not put the bike back in properly. Never travel the day before a race, unless it’s a direct flight and there are other flights after yours; then if your bike doesn’t make it onto your plane, it will at least be on the next one the same day.
Something I only found out recently was that you have the legal right to be there when security inspects your case, and then repack it yourself. This is really worth knowing! Finally, don’t travel with a £6,000 bike unless you are prepared to take the risk of damage. ‘Fragile’ stickers are like a red rag to a bull!
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