Flying With A Bicycle In A Plastic CTC Bag

When we have to board a plane with our bicycles, we’ve traditionally packed our bikes in a box. Now we’re trying something different: the CTC plastic bicycle bag.

CTC Bicycle Bag

One bike packed up in a plastic bag and ready to fly.

What is it?

  • A heavy duty plastic bag that can be used about 5-6 times before it will probably need to be thrown out.
  • It’s really not much more than a thick sheet of plastic, sealed into a bag shape. You could make your own with any thick sheet of plastic and a bit of tape.
  • The CTC bag weighs 800 grams and is 1.27 meters wide x 2.5m long.
  • When folded it can be as small as 2.5 cm x 15cm x 30cm.

We like it because it is:

  • An affordable way to pack a bike. It costs under $10 U.S.
  • Quick! It takes only 15 minutes to get your bike ready to fly.
  • It’s small enough to slip under your luggage rack, so you can carry it with you while touring.
  • A multi-purpose bag. You can also use it as a groundsheet for your tent.

How do you pack it exactly?

It’s pretty straight forward. We start by turning the handlebars so they are parallel with the frame. We then put a cloth (in this case our travel towel) around the frame to protect it from scratches.

Packing A Bike For Air Travel: Put A Towel Around The Bicycle Frame

Putting your travel towel around the bicycle frame can be one way to protect it.

We take the pedals off (they go in our checked luggage):

Packing A Bike For Air Travel: Taking The Pedals Off

Taking the pedals off the bike.

We protect the derailleur. The first time we used a cardboard box:

Packing A Bike For Air Travel: Protect The Derailleur

A cardboard box is one way to protect the derailleur.

And the second time we found a plastic water bottle did the trick:

Packing A Bike For Air Travel: Protect The Derailleur

A plastic water bottle can also be a protective layer between your derailleur and any bumps.

Now we just have to let the air out of the tires and put the bike in the bag. We use packing tape to secure the bag. That’s it. The whole procedure takes about 15 minutes. Packing a bike into a box can easily take 1-2 hours (plus the time needed to find a box). When you have to unpack it, a bag also saves at least an hour of time.

The CycleTourer website shows a similar technique for packing their bikes in a bag.

When you get to the other end, you can put your bike back together, neatly fold the bag and stash it under your rack. Our bag stayed here without problem for an entire 3-week bike tour. We didn’t even notice it was there.

CTC Plastic Bike Bag

The plastic bike bag, neatly tucked under a back rack.

Won’t the bike be damaged?

The first time you use this bag, it may feel like a leap of faith. Will a simple plastic bag really protect your bike from the whims of baggage handlers and other airport risks? In our opinion, you don’t need to worry.

We flew twice using these bags and both times they were well treated. On the vehicle that brings the luggage to the plane, the bikes were carefully put to one side of the cart on their own (there were no other suitcases placed on or near the bikes) and the luggage handlers were careful when loading the bikes in the plane.

This seems to confirm the view that baggage handlers will be more careful with your bike if they see it’s a bike. If a bike is in a box, no one knows it’s a bike and it doesn’t look fragile, so suitcases and other heavy cargo might be piled on top of it, causing damage.

The CTC (the national cycle touring organisation in the UK) has this to say on the topic of packing bikes for a flight:

“When bikes fly naked, they paradoxically seem to suffer no more damage than when they go covered – usually less. We guess that’s because baggage handlers really are human, and don’t deliberately kick in the wheels etc! But a bike in a bag or box is just a package: that can be dropped, thrown, shoved and kicked into place just like any other bag or box. To prevent damage in that case you need a really hard case, that will only be big enough for a racing or mountain-bike and yet be heavy enough to make quite a dent in your luggage allowance.” – CTC

Of course it’s always possible to be unlucky. Sometimes bikes DO get damaged during air travel, however we’re not convinced that using a box makes that damage any less likely than with a bag. We’ll be using the bag from now on.

Will all airlines accept this as a valid way to pack a bicycle?

Before we used this bag, we were concerned that the airline (in this case, easyJet) would not accept the bikes unless they were in a box. We had heard stories about bikes being rejected at check-in.

To counteract this, we wrote easyJet and specifically asked if the CTC bag would be okay. They said yes.

In the end, this was a non-issue. The bikes passed through with no problem. Policies do change however and vary by airline so we advise you to check first before you buy your ticket!