Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Planes, trains and bicycles

How do I get to France with a bicycle? For a while it looked simpler to just pedal there.

I started looking for a plane ticket for the event. One important factor to consider of course is how the airlines charge for bicycle-related luggage. The main choices to get to Pau from the US are Alitalia, Air France, KLM. British Airways is also a usually cheap and effective way to get to Europe (Heathrow bottleneck notwithstanding) but would force me to land in Paris and find some alternative mean of transportation (likely the TGV, the French high-speed train) to get to the the Pyrenees.

Not surprisingly, British Airways offers the best deal: they allow bicycles to fly for FREE. However, this generosity is tempered by an array of contradictory information.

British officially restricts the size I picked up the phone and navigated British Voice mail menus to reach a human. As usual service is very courteous, and after a brief manager consultation of the luggage to 62" of Height+Length+Width). Sixty-two inches are not a great amount of space when trying to fit a non-foldable bike. However he bicycle bags on the site map precisely to known models for sale in the US, and their average H+L+W size is 88", way beyond what is allowed. I was told that they will accept bikes independently of the nominal size restriction if the total luggage weight does not exceed 70lbs. That's not easy, since some of the more robust bike bags weight 40lbs by themselves. I would need to buy a superlight bike, and travel to France only with a couple of bibs and one jersey for the whole vacation, possibly not ideal. The alternative is to pay their "excessive luggage" fee: 60 British pounds online, £ 75 once at the airport. Given the current that status of the dollar had recently declined below that of sheets decent papier cul this could mean as much as 20% higher plane ticket (yes, the fee needs to be paid both ways!).

Things are not much better chez AirFrance. Although the French flagship airline is less fussy about sizes, bikes are not and cannot be part of the regular luggage allowance. This means: pay, pay, pay. Since once more the web page gives contradictory information (weight vs. number of luggage items) with a little phone time I got the straight dope: there is a one-way fee from the US to Europe and from Europe of the US of ... 150. One hundred and fifty what? Well, dollars in the US, Euros in Europe. In other words, at the current rate of exchange, taking the bike back home costs one and a half more than taking it there! This I think illustrates well the randomness of the system. Still AirFrance, at equal ticket costs, seems like the best bet as it would take me close enough to destination, hopefully with all my expensive luggage.

A very helpful link: the International Bicycle Fund Airline Baggage Regulations page.

Bicycle luggage I am considering:

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