SHIPPING A TANDEM
The amount one travels with their tandem and the particular circumstances of a typical trip will generally dictate which tandem and or travel system best suits your situation.
There are three common ways to travel with a tandem
Traditional tandem in a shipping carton
Traditional tandem in a specialized tandem case
S&S coupled tandem that will fit in regulation size carry
(takes you to a set of links outlining the various S&S packing system options including slide shows of the sequence involved)
Since budgetary considerations often dictate the most practical method, the cardboard box method is favored by some that travel with their tandem infrequently. It is by far the least expensive with the large Santana type boxes costing $100 which are sometimes available. These boxes are specially designed with built in crush zones on both ends and below the wheels. They also permit a completely assembled bike to be put in aside from handlebar and pedal removal.
The commercial BikePro cases run $600-$700 depending upon the size.
The S&S coupled suitcase packable tandems proved the most practical option for those that fly and desire to travel with their tandem on a regular basis. Expect to pay an extra $1500 - $2500 for the couplers and another $350 to $800 for the travel cases. One does have to fly a fair amount to justify the added expense but to many it is well worth it having the "big hassle" factor removed.
Shipping Carton via Motor Freight
You may call a variety of shipping companies including BAX Global or DHL/Danzas for quotes. You will need the following info to attain a quote.
Description of your tandem, Make, Model, Year, Size
Value of tandem to be insured
Dimensions of your carton or case
Weight of your carton or case
Pick up or Origin address and phone number, business or residence?
Origin hours of availability for pickup?
Destination address and phone number, business or residence?
Destination hours of availability for delivery?
Do you need to arrange for return shipping? If yes, provide all pertinent info as above
Credit Card number, expiration date, and 3 digit security code
Many folks make arrangements with a local bike shop to save the residential delivery charge and to perform assembly. Some are also kind enough to store the box for you during your stay.
Shipping Carton via Commercial Air
A full size Santana box where the tandem is fully assembled sans pedals and handlebars, will fit in any commercial jet airliner in operation today. These boxes are huge, difficult to maneuver and one must have a vehicle in order to transport it to the airport. Once at your destination you must also find a vehicle and or a place to store the box until your return.
Changes with the airlines are inevitable but generally expect to pay an extra fee for taking a tandem on a domestic flight. International flights in the past have usually allowed a tandem (call it a bike) to fly free as one piece of your luggage. This has worked well if previously arranged through a travel agent. Be sure to get it in writing and have the document with you when you go to the airport. The box is always referred to as a bicycle or bike, not a tandem. The word tandem is confusing to them and will cause them to dig in books and computers and then in frustration they will pull out the scale and tape measure. Can you see the dollars adding up now under this scenario?
Below is the suggested but dated method recommended by Bill McCready, owner of Santana cycles. Be sure to ask your travel agent questions and any updated information you can provide to improve accuracy would be greatly appreciated.
From a Post made to T@H 11/16/2005 by Bill McCready
sky is not falling! Back in late 2002, some U.S. airlines
instituted a $25 surcharge for suitcases over 50 pounds. Now in its
third year, this minor fee has not spread to every airline. Nor is it
rigidly enforced by the airlines that have adopted it. While some
airlines might be expanding this $25 fee to international flights,
there is no need to panic. At worst a suitcase weighing between 50 and
70 pounds will cause you to pay $25---a small addition to the price of
your international vacation.
Jan and I have regularly flown with tandems since the 70s---often with
3 or 4 tandems. For the past twenty years we've hosted 80 tandem
rallies and tours. We fly to 90% of those events, and typically take
one or more tandems (coupled and non-coupled) plus 3-6 heavy suitcases
full of tool and materials. Additionally, of the 200-400 tandeming
couples who join us for a tour or rally each year, over a third arrive
by air with their tandems.
From this experience I can share the following:
First, it is pointless to worry or fret about an airline's published
rules. The skycaps and counter agents have full discretion to amend or
ignore them. Their primary job is to process passengers quickly enough
to dispatch planes on time. And yes, they are also there to collect
additional revenue, but this is a smaller part of their job.
Much has been made, for instance, about the 62-inch rule. In over ten
years of checking our larger "non-regulation" SafeCases, a counter
agent has taken the time and effort to measure a case just twice. One
agent said "close enough" and another agent nailed me for $80. Because
I've checked these cases on over 100 flights, my cost for using an
oversized "non-regulation" case has averaged less than one dollar per
flight. The primary reason for airline size-regulations is to make sure
suitcases can travel through the terminal on the conveyor belt systems.
Because each individual dimension of the SafeCase is within these
parameters, the counter agents and/or skycaps simply toss it on.
(Additionally, the SafeCase fits through all of TSA's various scanning
machines.) Other "oversize" cases (for golf clubs, non-coupled bikes,
skis and surfboards) require the agent to call a baggage handler who
might spend 10-15 minutes escorting the item through the terminal.
While it is popular to hate excess baggage fees, this time-consuming
effort costs the airlines extra work-hours and/or delayed flights.
As for the 50 pound rule, the odds of paying the $25 fee are about
And the cost of an extra case? If the two of you need to check more
than 2 pieces each, there is a near 100% chance that you'll pay an
additional $80 to $150 for each "over count" bag or suitcase.
Based on hundreds of my own flights and over a thousand flights by
customers, here are your odds:
A tandem hidden in two "regulation suitcases" will nearly always be
free if each weighs under 50 pounds AND you can get by with just two
additional pieces of checked luggage. If a case weighs between 50 and
70 pounds your chance of being nailed for $25 is 50/50. If you go over
count, however, there is a 90% chance that you'll shell out $80-$230
for the "additional" piece. I say "nearly always" because we've seen
situations where a TSA agent told a nearby counter agent that the case
held a bicycle. Ka-ching! According to the regulations, a bicycle rates
a charge even if you could somehow stuff it in your coat pocket!
A non-regulation SafeCase will trigger the $25 "overweight" fee 50% of
the time, and will trigger an "oversize" fee less than 5% of the time.
When you need more than two additional pieces of checked luggage, a
heavier and larger SafeCase is, statistically, less expensive than
smaller, lighter and more numerous cases. More important, the larger
SafeCase with it's sheets of die-cut foam allows the unwrapped
components from rubbing or touching. Because the foam is compressed as
you close the case, each piece is suspended away from the hard shell
and surrounding components. Additionally, when TSA opens a SafeCase,
they can quickly determine that it's just a bike. Because there are no
wrapped pieces, they "leaf" through a layer or two and then close the
case---we have had ZERO reports of problems due to TSA inspections.
Finally, since this is all a game of odds, you should also realize that
the chance of a crushed, delayed or lost piece of luggage (and a ruined
vacation) is cut in half when you ship a tandem in one case instead of
Also, the SafeCase is robust enough to allow you to ship via UPS, which
is exactly how we ship them from the factory. Other builders of
S&S-equipped tandems recommend 2-case systems, and then ship their new
tandems and these cases in separate boxes!
PS: While your personal experience is undoubtedly different than mine
(YMMV!), please realize that the entire airline/baggage system is
incredibly random. My perspective comes from hundreds of personal
flights with tandems PLUS over a thousand couples that I met just after
they got off the plane. While I can only claim personal experience with
MOST containers, couples I have picked up at the airport have tried all
of the remaining combinations.
PPS: If you have an uncoupled bike, there's an 80% chance you'll pay to
check it on a domestic flight and a 25% chance you'll pay to take it on
an international flight. Here again, the size of the container is
usually ignored UNLESS the agent isn't sure it will fit into the plane.
Of the thousand-plus couples that have flown with their tandems to a
Santana tour or rally. Only ONE couple couldn't check their tandem. The
reason? An inexperienced counter agent at Phoenix believed the box was
too big to fit in a Seattle-bound Boeing 737. My customer, who wrongly
assumed the agent was right, took the bike home and caught a later
flight. (That afternoon I checked my own tandem plus one for him on a
different Seattle-bound 737.)
PPPS: A full-size jetliner can hold LOTS of tandems. In Zurich in 1995
(before coupled tandems) 23 couples with boxed tandems arrived on a
single Boeing 767. Our record, however, was on a tour where we checked
40 unboxed tandems in the belly of a much smaller Hawaiian Airlines
DC-9 (a single aisle jet with 5-across seating). The tarriff for
Molokai to Maui via Honolulu? $800.
"You stuffed forty unboxed tandems in a small jetliner?"
Yep. We padded the frametubes with foam pipe insulation, removed the
pedals, and turned the handlbars sideways---both wheels stayed on. The
worst damage on our inter-island flight was torn handlebar tape! What
an adventure: 80 tandem riders (dressed in riding clothes and wearing
our helmets) filled all except the 6 first-class seats.
From Spring 1995 Santana Special Travel Newsletter
Bill McCready, Santana's president and founder, has taken one or more tandems on over 200 flights. He's never missed a flight or left a tandem behind. His advice? "Don't ask, don't tell."
Deep within airline bureaucracies, a bean counter created a maximum size for bike boxes. Sadly this was done without considering tandems or measuring an airliner. The result: a ridiculously small dimension is buried within most airline rule books. If you call and ask, airlines will find and quote this arbitrary figure. If you attempt to pack your tandem within this dimension, you and the airlines both lose. You lose because of the time it takes, the airline loses because it will not protect other passengers' luggage or your tandem from damage.
We know from experience that Santana's huge shipping carton will fit within every jetliner now in commercial service. "In fact, I've carried no less than six boxed tandems with me when flying on a first-generation (smallest) Boeing 737. Here are the simple instructions I've been providing for years. No one has ever called back to report a problem."
1. Work with a travel agent and make sure all connecting flights use jet aircraft. Tandems won't fit in regional propliners.
2. If you use a Santana box, wheels, racks and fenders all remain in place. Slightly used boxes are available for $40 from most Santana dealers. Make sure the dealer shows you how the wheel braces work. Use filament tape to belt the outside of the carton.
3. Show up at least two hours before your flight. Drag the box into the terminal and put it off to one side while you go through the line.
4. After checking your baggage and verifying seat assignments, pull out your credit card and say "One more thing, I need to pay you for my bicycle(s)."
5. One time out of ten, the agent will hesitate. This is why you bought your ticket from a travel agent and showed up early.
Remain calm and say "Yes this has all been confirmed by my travel agent. There's probably a note in your computer."
6. After paying, stand beside your "bike" and give the baggage clerk $10 when he shows up with the cart.
Also according to the League of American Bicyclist, if you are a member, the following airlines allow bikes to fly free.
American West Continental
North West TWA
BikePro Travel Case
A BikePro case provides very good protection and is more compact than a Santana shipping carton since both wheels are removed. The soft-sided case glides through airports on built-in wheels. Packing requires wheel, captain's bar, captain's seatpost and stoker bar assembly removal. The frame is secured in the case by brackets at the stoker bottom bracket and the fork. It generally takes about half an hour to complete the assembly or disassembly process. One must have a vehicle in order to transport the case to the airport and a vehicle and or place to store the case upon your return.
The S&S case system is the most practical due to its convenience and overall size when ready to travel. The only real downside is cost. One can carry a complete tandem inside of virtually any car and depending upon which cases you go with, you in all likelihood will travel with your tandem as checkable luggage and therefore for free.
All systems provide reasonable protection and damage has been reported with any and all methods. If someone uses a forklift improperly it will not matter how it is packed, what it is protected with nor what it is in as damage will occur. That said, the S&S cases are generally handled by hand as compared to the large boxes and cases. One can see how a luggage handler might opt for the assist from a forklift.