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Anyone ever use an Amtrak bike box as checked luggage on an airline?

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Anyone ever use an Amtrak bike box as checked luggage on an airline?

Old 12-22-21, 06:51 AM
  #26  
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Originally Posted by kevmcd View Post
As I noted in my original post I will cut the box down as a last resort and I will plan on arriving at the airport with enough time to do that. Not ideal for a number of reasons including that my wheelbase is 67" and the length of an Amtrak box is 71" so reducing the length by 5" is a squeeze. I guess I could let the air out of my tires and still not pull the front wheel.
I assume you mean overall length, wheelbase is axle to axle. As far as letting the air out of the tires. Airlines used to say that you were required to deflate tires for flying. I have not seen that reference lately, not sure if any still say that, but it used to be standard practice by many if only because of airline policies.

I don't get why you are hesitant to just remove the front wheel. I'd take it off and put a spacer between the dropouts. A piece pf pvc pipe and the QR skewer or block of wood with a screw and washer in each end will suffice if you don't have one of the plastic gizmos bike come with when new (any bike shop will probably give you one). If you remove the front wheel you can cut off way more than you need to.

wheel∑base
/ˈ(h)wēlˌbās/
the distance between the front and rear axles of a vehicle.
"a short-wheelbase model"
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Old 12-22-21, 06:54 AM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
somewhere I have a photo and I've written down the dimensions of the bike box that fits my bike best.
I have saved the plastic protective bits and some cardboard to protect my leather seat, I know I wrote these numbers on that cardboard. Lots of different bike box sizes.

hope to be able to fly again with my bike.
I have never taken one of my full size uncoupled bikes on a plane. Even though the time to pack and unpack a coupled bike is a big hassle, when I travel solo with a bike on a plane, a coupled or folding bike is a much easier thing to get to the airport in a regular taxi trunk. So although I no longer save the oversize fees on Delta, packing a coupled bike is worth it to me. My road bike in the photos is a Ritchey Break Away bike, badged as a Raleigh. Have not flown with it yet, but I expect to some day.
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Old 12-22-21, 07:39 AM
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If the Amtrak box is under 115 linear inches (doubtful), in my experience airlines will take it. I think Amtrak's box is 120 inches but you'd have to verify that.

The easiest thing to do is use a regular bike box from a bike store and take off the front wheel.
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Old 12-22-21, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
I have never taken one of my full size uncoupled bikes on a plane. Even though the time to pack and unpack a coupled bike is a big hassle, when I travel solo with a bike on a plane, a coupled or folding bike is a much easier thing to get to the airport in a regular taxi trunk. So although I no longer save the oversize fees on Delta, packing a coupled bike is worth it to me. My road bike in the photos is a Ritchey Break Away bike, badged as a Raleigh. Have not flown with it yet, but I expect to some day.
I can see that if you need to use a taxi at one end or the other. For me in my home town I have always had someone to drop me at the airport (or the light rail stop closer to home). At the start of the tour I most often ride out of the airport so assembling a coupled bike would be a big hassle with little to no benefit for me. I guess if I was inclined to get a room upon arrival at the starting point of my tour it would be different. The thing is that times even when I arrived late I still rode my bike a few miles to a motel once, got picked up by a warmshowers host once and a couple times I was picked up by someone I was going to ride with.

When I have taken a bike on business or other non-touring travel I really can see where I'd have liked to have a coupled bike, but I'll never do enough of that to justify buying one at this point in my life. There were trips where I'd have saved by not needing a rental car.
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Old 12-22-21, 09:43 AM
  #30  
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I always assumed one would take off the front wheel as well. Otherwise, such a large box would be unwieldy for handlers/driving to and from airport.
Also, I thought one needed to deflate tires when flying?
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Old 12-22-21, 10:09 AM
  #31  
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Originally Posted by Happy Feet View Post
Also, I thought one needed to deflate tires when flying?
The baggage hold is pressurized. I believe that if it were to experience depressurization severe enough to cause tires to explode you would probably have a lot more to worry about.
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Old 12-22-21, 11:07 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
The baggage hold is pressurized. I believe that if it were to experience depressurization severe enough to cause tires to explode you would probably have a lot more to worry about.
Tires exploding is pretty unlikely any way. I think the increase is something like 16 psi upon depressurization, since that is atmospheric pressure. Maybe if you were really close to the absolute maximum the tire could really handle and/or the depressurization was so sudden as to be violent enough to cause a problem. I think folks more familiar with the physics than me have debunked the risk though.
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Old 12-22-21, 11:28 AM
  #33  
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For at least 30 years (my touring history with flights) airlines had accepted and provided "Amtrak" sized boxes (or close to that size) of up to 126 linear inches that fit the entire bike with both wheels on, bars turned and pedals off. AA still does accept the large box. Heck, Air Canada used to sell you a big plastic bag and say "good enuf"! It is only in the past ten years or so that the box size has been reduced to 115" by many airlines. I understand why the OP wants to make this work bringing his own big box.

Nothing was more convenient (for me) than using the big box provided by the carrier. I'd pedal into an airport through the automatic doors and then use the bike with panniers still on as my luggage cart. I'd then check the bags, do a ten minute bike pack up and be on the way. Same thing upon arrival.

To re-pack a bike as it was received at the bike shop would be absurd. The asssembled bike is protected from damage by its own installed wheels and inflated tires. No loose parts to keep track of other than the pedals and they can be installed on the back side of the cranks.

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Old 12-22-21, 03:43 PM
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Originally Posted by BobG View Post
Nothing was more convenient (for me) than using the big box provided by the carrier. I'd pedal into an airport through the automatic doors and then use the bike with panniers still on as my luggage cart. I'd then check the bags, do a ten minute bike pack up and be on the way. Same thing upon arrival.
I agree, but the key was the provided by carrier part. I wish they still reliably provided large-ish boxes at the airport. Obtaining and lugging the box to the terminal is a big hassle. They wouldn't have to be as big as the amtrak ones. Some minimal disassembly is fine, but it would be nice to minimize the packing and unpacking.
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Old 12-22-21, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
I agree, but the key was the provided by carrier part. I wish they still reliably provided large-ish boxes at the airport. Obtaining and lugging the box to the terminal is a big hassle. They wouldn't have to be as big as the amtrak ones. Some minimal disassembly is fine, but it would be nice to minimize the packing and unpacking.
the only time I did not pack my bike at home or a hotel or whatever was returning from europe, and had reasonable assurance from someone who could speak swiss german to talk to someone at the airport and be assured that yes, they did have multiple boxes at teh airport. The Swiss being Swiss, I figured this would be the only time I would trust a phone conversation--cuz lets face it, you are totally effed if you arrive and you find out that "Frank" who told you there were boxes was full of baloney.
I much prefer to have time at the end of a trip so that I can track down a box at a store or whatever.
I've also been lucky and reused the same box a few times on trips, but of course that was returning from teh same place, leaving it with someone.
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Old 12-22-21, 05:56 PM
  #36  
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I think that way back you could generally count on one of the airlines havig a box if yours didn't. These days I don't think so.
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Old 12-22-21, 09:22 PM
  #37  
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Originally Posted by staehpj1 View Post
I think that way back you could generally count on one of the airlines havig a box if yours didn't. These days I don't think so.
That has been my experience. Prior to the baggage feeds being added, I flew at least 25 times with my bike and was just able to pick up a box at a US airport. Occasionally, it one airline didn't have them, then I would go to ticket counters for other airlines and get a box. That was occasionally the case for discount airlines like Frontier and Southwest. However, I didn't worry much if the airport was large enough since I pretty much would find a box at one of the airlines.

As far as overseas go, I also made that assumption if I was flying on a US-based carrier and was also fortunate this was the case. There was one occasion flying back from Amsterdam, that I was given huge plastic bag and the bike flew in that without any problems.

The only occasion my assumption of finding a box at the airport (at least with one carrier) broke down was in May 2011 when I flew from Portland to India. None of the carriers in Portland had a box. My primary flight was with Lufthansa from Seattle and Lufthansa allowed bicycles to fly without a box. Hence, the airline for the short hop to Seattle told me to fly without a box there as well. Photo below shows how I taped things up. The bike flew fine in a three hop flight [Portland -> Seattle -> Frankfort -> Bangalore].

That bicycle stayed in Bangalore for a few years since I made multiple visits for 6 weeks and hence I was able to visit and have a bicycle there.

I flew back in August 2014. As it turned out, I flew back with both the original bicycle (from 2011) and a second bicycle as well. Since I was flying back with Lufthansa again, I decided to try flying without a box. However, I went to the folks at the airport that have that plastic wrap normally put around suitcases and see if they were willing to try a bicycle. It was more interesting than their normal work - so they attacked it with some interest.

This time the packaging material went through most and at least looked a bit worse on a three hop flight back: [Banglaore -> Frankfort -> Houston -> Austin]. In addition, the bikes appeared two days after I arrived. Most likely due to flight delays and a shortened connection in Frankfort. However, even in this case the bikes were ok despite the visual appearance.
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Old 12-23-21, 07:18 AM
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All of this reminds me I should probably just keep a box or two from a local bike shop on hand. It can sometimes be a hassle to find one when you need it, especially in a smallish city.. I typically only pack my bike going to my tours and have a shop pack and ship them to get them home so that would cover my needs.

Covid has kept me around home lately though and when I start to venture more widely it may be either a long rv tour with my wife or a long backpacking trip, so a bike tour may or may not be in the plan for a while. So it is pretty uncertain when I will need another box. Worst case I can use the soft case and mail it home.
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Old 12-23-21, 02:41 PM
  #39  
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Thanks to everyone for all the helpful suggestions!

I visited Portland's premier bike store yesterday and it was surprisingly quiet for 4pm 3 days before Christmas. They had a big line of pre-purchased assembled bicycles waiting to be picked up. The manager came over to help me and spent about 10 minutes discussing how to pack a bike and the problems that he has seen. Then he disappeared for 15 minutes and he came back with the biggest box he could find with plenty of packing material inside (including a plastic fork protector) and I bought the box for $10. In my experience there are no bad bike stores in Portland but I went to the big one because I was pretty sure they would have lots of boxes.

The biggest box he could find was 55" x 32" and he said it is for a medium sized bike. I have a 60cm frame with 27" wheels. The 55" length will work with the front wheel and handlebars off and the forks rotated 180 degrees (which is the correct way to box a bike for shipping with the front wheel off). The 32" height might work with the seat post pulled and the fork all the way to the floor (I'm not going to verify it because I don't want to pull my front fender). He gave me his card and offered to get me a bigger box after Christmas which is extremely generous of him. He also recommended that I contact a bike store at my tour endpoint so they could set aside a box for me. (This is no way for bike stores to make money and stay in business)

The bike store visit convinced me of 2 things. 1) I can't count on a bike store having a box big enough for me. 2) I don't want to pack my bike by taking off the front wheel.

The additional things I will need to do in order to box the bike with the front wheel removed are: remove the front fender, pull the handlebars and wrap them and attach them to the frame (without kinking brake cables), remove the bolt holding the front brake calipers so the fork can rotate 180 degrees and wrap the brake caliper in padding, remove the seat/seatpost and wrap and secure to frame, pull the spindle on the front wheel and put in panniers and pad front wheel and secure to frame. Also take the dremel to the plastic front fork brace because it doesn't seem to fit my vintage dropouts.

An oversized box may be at additional risk when transported. But as Bob G notes above a bicycle fully assembled may be the configuration most resistant to damage. (If my fork is going to suffer an impact I'd rather it first go through the pneumatic tire and the rim which can also elastically deform).

My plan now is to buy an Amtrak box and set it on the floor and lay my bike down on it and see how best to cut the box down. Then retrieve some swimming pool noodles from the garage and cut them up to pad the forks, handlebar stem and rear triangle. The hope is that when I end the tour I can get a box at Amtrak and I will have already practiced cutting it down and the dollar store will have swimming pool noodles for packing material.

Once again, thanks everyone!
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Old 12-23-21, 04:07 PM
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Maybe I missed it, but is this an end-to-end trip or a loop?

In any event, to give you and idea about protection, this is my 60cm Surly LHT packed in an airline legal, corrugated plastic box for UPS shipping from the east coast to Montana. Wheels rest on top. Iíve also flown with bikes in this box with less protection. No problems.


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Old 12-23-21, 04:15 PM
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hope it works out for you. Certainly sounds like the store manager really helped out, thats the sort of service that makes you remember them and return to support the business.
I personally have no issues with removing teh front wheel, but what I can add to this story is that it may take a few tries of packing to get the procedure down pat. I always look at the bike in the box and imagine "impact here, impact there, this will squish against that with a side impact" etc etc. Try to imagine the worst and try to pad stuff for that sort of thing.

in the end though, we do our best learning how to pack the best way, then we say good bye to it at the counter and cross our fingers....
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Old 12-23-21, 04:30 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Maybe I missed it, but is this an end-to-end trip or a loop?

In any event, to give you and idea about protection, this is my 60cm Surly LHT packed in an airline legal, corrugated plastic box for UPS shipping from the east coast to Montana. Wheels rest on top. Iíve also flown with bikes in this box with less protection. No problems.

end to end trip (ending point different from starting point)
Packing looks nice but I would rather avoid it if I can. Your picture made me realize that I would also probably need to remove the rear rack if it tilts up higher than the top of the seat tube when the fork is on the floor. I carry most of the tools necessary to do all the disassembly anyway with the exception of wrench to remove the bolt holding the front brake caliper.
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Old 12-23-21, 06:47 PM
  #43  
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Ive never had to remove a rear rack, and Ive never turned the bars 180 degrees either. Ive also usually been able to put the seatpost all the way down and the seat was at box top height---but I realize your frame is larger, but a larger bike box would probably be ok (guess on my part, never flew with more than a 56cm frame)

for me the tricky stuff was getting the bars onto the frame properly after removing them and not kinking the cables (has always been ok though, never kinked) and then securing the front wheel into and up against the frame using zip ties so that the hub doesnt hit the frame at all.
plastic doohicky that goes into front hub qr hole protects disk, and on a non disk wheel, stops the hub from hitting the side of the cardboard box
plastic fork doohicky super important
I also put some foam under this and tape it to fork, for shock absorbtion, and make sure there isnt free space for bike to move back and forth.
plastic doohicky that fits in rear dropout that protects rd , i always put it in biggest cog at rear to move rd inwards

make sure to put front wheel qr somewhere safe, not in box though, as holes sometimes can appear from rough handling so you dont want little stuff falling out.
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Old 12-23-21, 11:24 PM
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Originally Posted by djb View Post
....plastic doohicky that goes into front hub qr hole protects disk, and on a non disk wheel, stops the hub from hitting the side of the cardboard box
plastic fork doohicky super important...

I also put some foam under this and tape it to fork,

make sure to put front wheel qr somewhere safe....
cut a short length of pvc to fit between the dropouts, insert the qr skewer.
drop the fork leg into a block of foam padding, cut to fit the bottom corner of the box.


when i'm done, use twine or thin rope to make a mesh net around the box. helps hold it all together.
add some rope handles with pvc pipe grips so's the baggage guys don't grab the handhole cutouts and tear the box. that also gives them a clue as to which end goes up.
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Old 12-24-21, 03:08 AM
  #45  
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On the hand holes I use duct tape or packing tape all along the opening to reinforce and this stops cardboard ripping from overly enthusiastic grabbing of hand holes by the gorillas (Samsonite ads from the 70s)

I also reinforce all corners with tape as box often gets dragged and can wear on tarmac, especially if wet.
Tape tape tape

Good idea on plastic handles to orientate what is up, some baggage handlers are either thick as fricken bricks and or don't give a flying rats patootee, so it's always better to over prepare.

Oh, with a thick marker I put big arrows and "UP" in English and language expected.
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Old 12-24-21, 05:56 AM
  #46  
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OrÖMaybe look into the possibility of making arrangements with a LBS at the destination to box your bike while you relax with a beer or something. Also, maybe ship it home using ShipBikes.com or Bikeflights.com rather than lug it to the airport.
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Old 12-24-21, 06:13 AM
  #47  
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
OrÖMaybe look into the possibility of making arrangements with a LBS at the destination to box your bike while you relax with a beer or something. Also, maybe ship it home using ShipBikes.com or Bikeflights.com rather than lug it to the airport.
In the USA, I ship my bike ahead of time. So worth it to me. But that possibility does not exist realistically if flying internationally.

I remember the days of yore, pulling into the checkin counter (with people there to help you) and asking for a box. Out would come a big, huge honkin box and you could put your bike (with turned bars) right into it. No charge for the box or the extra baggage.

I have not had a LBS pack me up but that is a good idea.
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Old 12-24-21, 06:58 AM
  #48  
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Originally Posted by kevmcd View Post
]The bike store visit convinced me of 2 things. 1) I can't count on a bike store having a box big enough for me.
You really can't be sure about what if any boxes will be available in a given town on short notice. Unpacking schedules may mean that the boxes are all gone on a given day. If you ask ahead of time most shops would save you one though. The thing is that Amtrak boxes are not completely reliably available either. I've heard quite a few stories of folks who went to an amtrak station and found that they had no boxes. Worst case a box can be pieced from two boxes. Those two boxes could even be wide screes TV or furniture or appliance boxes.

If you are planning ahead you can buy boxes designed ground shipping and sturdy enough for multiple usage. They can fold flat and into a smallish package for easier shipping when empty. They have some well thought out packing materials to protect the bike. Bikeflights.com and Shipbikes.com both sell such a box. They both offer inexpensive shipping if you choose to ship rather than fly with your bike. Personally while I fly with my bike to a tour I prefer to ship my bike home rather than deal with it on the return trip. For me that has usually meant just letting a bike shop handle packing and shipping it home, but uslng bikeflights or shipbikes would be an option.

2) I don't want to pack my bike by taking off the front wheel.
Your call, but it seems like an unreasonable fear. Every bike is originally shipped that way and pretty much all bikes shipped to and from tours in boxes are as well unless on amtrak and I have not read of a big rash of fork damage. Additionally you make your larger box stand out to baggage checking agents and add at least some risk of being hassled or turned away at gate check. Same for TSA agents who are probably a bit more likely to inspect a box that stands out as different. They tend to not repack things as they find them and to not be responsible for subsequent damage.
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Old 12-24-21, 11:48 AM
  #49  
kevmcd
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My back-up plan for a box at my endpoint is to go to a local UPS or FedEx store and have them build me a box if Amtrak doesn't have a box. I've never had UPS/FedEx build a box for me but I see that many of the franchises offer the service.

The only reason I don't want to take off the front wheel to pack my bike is that it looks like a lot of unnecessary wrenching. I really can't say whether a bike is less likely to get damaged when shipped in one configuration or another but I speculate that shipping the bike assembled is no worse than breaking it down.

When I discussed bike damage during shipping with the bike store manager he couldn't recall any instances of bikes being damaged by airlines. His experience with damaged bikes were with bikes shipped on UPS. Then again, maybe UPS ships 1000x more bikes than airlines.
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Old 12-24-21, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by kevmcd View Post

The only reason I don't want to take off the front wheel to pack my bike is that it looks like a lot of unnecessary wrenching.
Wut
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