mountainbike - day well lived

Adventures, Life Lessons

Traveling With Bicycles

4 May , 2016  

Chronicles of Frequent Travelers Who *Apparently* Love Chaos.

I can’t count the number of flights my husband and I have been on together in the past two years. Somewhere upwards of 30. You’d think we’d be travel masters by now, and in some regards we are, but in others we’re just a hot mess.

Let me tell you a couple of stories; hopefully to give you a chuckle, but perhaps you will also be able to garner some valuable travel advice.

Last year my uncle passed away. When I visited home in July I went to his house with my mom. She told me that if there was anything special I wanted, I was welcome to take it. This is not the first time I’ve been in this situation and it never gets any easier. It’s always strange and feels a little bit wrong even though you know the person would want nothing more than for their loved ones to enjoy the things they once did. I ended up grabbing a couple of photos from an album. Before we left, we went out to the barn on his property and I noticed a Schwinn bike; bicycle being our main mode of transport in Costa Rica and at the time having only had one, I mentioned, “well actually, if no one else wants this, we do need another bike.” Mom nodded and told me we should take it of course.

We called Spirit airlines to ask about their luggage policy for bikes. The gentlemen on the phone assured us “yes, you can travel with a bike no problem, just bring it to the airport with you.” He was confident. Double checking on their website didn’t occur to us. We walked that bike into the airport and flew with it from Detroit to Myrtle Beach with no issue, just having paid a $75 “oversized luggage” fee. Our trip included a stay in Myrtle Beach and a road trip to Florida, before returning to Costa Rica.

We rolled the bike into Miami International Airport, just as we had done in Detroit….skirrrrrttttttttttttt. Perfect opportunity to bring a second bike back is squashed like a spider in an arachnophobe’s bedroom.

The woman at the counter says “you can’t fly with that bike, it has to be in a box.” A series of back and forth ensues, with her and her supervisor, and her supervisor’s supervisor. All the while the clock is ticking toward boarding time. After a trip downstairs to baggage services and back up to the original counter, and five different opinions – she tells us it will be best to have someone pick the bike up and then figure out how to ship it to ourselves later.

Yeah, lady. Great idea. Except we don’t’ live here, we don’t know anyone who lives here and our flight boards in 15 minutes. Oh and by the way, why would we think this would be an issue, when your airline has already allowed us to fly with the bike in this exact condition?

In a fury, my husband storms outside with the bike, walks up to a gentlemen who is working at the airport helping passengers with their luggage and says “It’s your lucky day,” and hands him the bike.

The day couldn’t have felt heavier or more stressful. We barely made our flight, and basically flew back to Costa Rica in silence.

Only days later were we able to start realizing some of humor in the situation.

Fast forward to our latest trip to the US, just a couple of weeks ago now, and we thought we’d try this again. There’s some great mountain biking trails where we live and we’d love to be able to go together.

This time, we were prepared. We’d be flying back to Costa Rica with United Airlines. We called AND checked the website for requirements and then ordered a mountain bike off of Amazon. We assumed the box the bike came in straight from the manufacturer would be the equivalent dimensions of a “typical” bike box and didn’t even bother to check the dimensions. We made sure only to weigh the box. The big caveat was that it weigh less than 50 pounds; if it did, they would charge us for it as if it were a second checked bag. If it weighed MORE, then we would have to pay $200.

A woman checks us in at one of the kiosks, labels all of our luggage, weighs the bike box – 46 pounds, woo! – charges us and slaps the label and barcode on it. She tells us we need to go down to a separate counter though to check the bike in as it will go in a cargo section specific for oversized items.

“Just when you think you’re in the clear,” I believe the saying goes.

The woman at the oversized counter looks at the box and asks “How much did you pay for that?” We tell her it was charged as a second bag and she proceeds to tell us we will have to pay the $200 charge for bikes before checking it. After some back and forth banter, showing her the section of the website we read and explaining we’ve already paid the necessary fee, she calls over a manager, who rather cockily pulls out a tape measure, and after measuring just one side of the box made his point quite clear. And loud. Clear and loud, loud and clear.

The box far exceeded the dimensions outlined on the website, a point of frustration in itself. However, we proceed to go back and forth over the fact that the first agent checked us in, swiped our credit card and labeled everything as good to go and sent us on our way. That certainly wasn’t our fault. The manager goes to check and see if there’s anything he can do, and by this point, both my husband and I have reached a certain level of ultimate travel anxiety, all the while [déjà vu?] the clock ticking toward our boarding time.

Waiting for the manager to come back, I turned to my husband and said “We should just pay the $200, it’s not worth it to…” He cut me off mid-sentence, snapping “Just stop talking to me right now.”

I glared at him, and said “If you ever tell me to stop talking again…” finishing that thought in my head with “you’re gonna find out what it feels like to be bitch slapped in public.” Somehow, I held that part in.

The manager comes back. I’ve never wanted to waste 200 bucks so badly in my life. We did. We hustle over to security, where we BOTH end up getting pulled aside for further bag inspection, which never happens, except for this day, of course.

We make it to our gate as our flight is boarding. I have to pee, but don’t have time. I’m sweating and pissed off. The husband too. We make it to our seats, throw our disarrayed backpacks in the overhead bin and slump down into our little cubby for the next three hours. Look at each other, and burst out laughing.

The moral of my story is that traveling can be inherently stressful, regardless of your experience level. The price you pay for seeing the world is that of being confronted time and time again with a lesson in just rolling with the punches. And as much as both of these scenarios royally SUCKED, we laugh about them after the fact and have the stories to tell for years to come, stories people might not believe to be true unless they knew someone who had experienced them.

And on traveling with bikes, if anyone has gone through the process with an airline that made it easier in ANY way, I’d love to hear about it. Although, I don’t picture myself attempting this again anytime soon.

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