Traveling with your Tandem (for Tandems Without S&S Couplings)

Paul and Liz Grun have traveled quite a bit with their tandem.  This is an excerpt from a message Paul posted in June of 2019 to the email list:

 Liz and I have some recent experience with traveling with our tandem that may be helpful to you.  Our bike is not coupled; nevertheless we have taken it on three overseas adventures in the past few years, including to New Zealand, Italy, and Germany/the Czech Republic.  We’ll be traveling to the British Isles in September.

The club owns a full-sized travel case, courtesy of Jack and Robin, which is currently stored in our basement because, hey, we’re the only ones who seem to need it.  That said, the case is a little rough for wear but serviceable.  We’ll be taking it to the British Isles in September.

 

Here is our experience so far:

  1. The fees you pay, and indeed whether the airline even accepts the case, are very much at the whim of the ticket agent at the counter.  Be prepared to pay, if needed.
  2. We have found that flying on United is, so far, the safest bet because they have a written tariff that says, paraphrasing, “bicycles, INCLUDING TANDEMS, travel for a flat fee of $200 each way, regardless of weight.”  That has always worked for us, but we did have a close call on one trip when a rookie ticket agent began to weigh the thing because she did not know the rules.  Luckily, a more experienced agent saved our bacon.
  3. It does not matter how you book the ticket, it’s the ticket agent at the receiving airline that controls what happens to you.  We booked a trip through United, but Lufthansa was the carrier on the return trip.  They were unimpressed by United’s rules (see item #4).
  4. I recommend that the total weight of the case plus bike be kept to under 70lbs.  We found ourselves in the Czech Republic last year with a ticket agent who absolutely would not accept the case because it weighed, ahem, 71lbs.  We ended up frantically pulling the wheels out of the case and shipping them separately and stashing other miscellaneous pieces in our luggage. The story is a bit longer, but the long and short is we were faced with a situation where no amount of love or money was going to solve the problem of the overweight case.  Our new policy is to buy a separate case for the wheels, and incur the excess baggage charge.
  5. To state the obvious, you have to be sure that each leg of your trip is on planes that seat at least five across.  Smaller than that and you risk the case being rejected.  Our trip to Italy originally included a last leg on Dolomite Airlines, until we discovered (thankfully before the fact) that was on a regional jet and our case would not fit.  We ended up booking through Istanbul on Turkish Airlines instead.
  6. Bill McCready (Santana Cycles, with whom we have traveled three times) has an interesting and useful expose on the subject of traveling with tandems.  Some of his advice I agree with, some I do not.  Let me know if you need a pointer to his essay.  If nothing else, it’s a useful point of view from someone who has vast experience traveling with tandems.
  7. No matter how you slice it, maneuvering a full-size tandem case through an airport is a pain in the rear.
  8. Ground transportation to/from the airport can be an issue.  In the Czech Republic we could not find a taxi big enough to fit the case to get us to our local hotel.  With sufficient advance planning this can be overcome.
  9. We seriously considered ordering a new coupled tandem, to the point that I wrote up a Request for Quote to be sent to a few manufacturers.  Two things stopped us – 1) we really enjoy our Sterling and see no need to replace it, and 2) $10,000+.