Tuesday Jun. 05, 2007 @ 6:37 pm By

my photo On a personal note……

So, for nearly 10 years I have been traveling nationally and internationally to race Duathlons. As a matter of fact, I just returned from a jaunt to Europe (Hungary) for the Duathlon World Championships – short course. This is a common yearly occurrence for me should I decide the location exotic enough and permitted I qualify for the team of course. BTW, you should know that I travel very light by most standards. I can and do live out of a carry-on back pack for weeks at a time – so never have a second bag to check, just my bike.

Anyhow, as you can maybe imagine, traveling with a bike is no easy feat given it’s awkward size. Early on in my racing career when I traveled by flight to races, I could take the bike free and pack the bike case full – very full. That progressed to a flat $50 charge (regardless of weight or size of bike case) when flying to a USA destination and free when flying to an international final destination. So, the way around that USA charge was to obtain “bikes fly free” vouchers for airlines like United. Then, that avenue dried up not too long after 911. At around the same time, ‘they’ (as in ‘the airlines’ as once one airline does it, they all follow suite) increased the cost of a bike case to a flat $100 fee – because of it’s “size, fragility, or other handling requirement.” And, to make it worse, they added an additional possible fee for the bike cases weight if it was over 50 pounds. This would be an additional $50. So, there was a potential $150 charge to take a bike case – $100 for sure given the larger than 62″ bike case sizes. This was, however, still waived in the event of a final international destination. So, in the end, I could often skate by with no payment as I diligently worked to keep the bike case under 50 pounds (no more packing spare parts, bike pump, food, clothing, shoes, helmet, tools, drinks, etc.) and was usually traveling international in the last few years to race these World Championship races.

Well, that changed as of late and I had an interesting experience with Delta just this month. Most recently in 2005 I raced both USAT Teams in short course (Australia) and long course (Italy). Given international destinations, my bike case flew free. I did keep it under 50 pounds as there was still a total limit for luggage weight you could take as I have explained. However, this time around with recently bankrupt Delta, there was no love for my bike case or me. Despite a call to Delta prior to my trip to verify their policy, I was given conflicting information by the check-in person. Pretty par for course with airlines. I was told, and I quote, the fee is for “size, fragility, or other handling requirement.” Bahh…. that is rubbish as I see it.

In the end, I had to pay $100 to get my bike on the plane with me TO Europe from the USA. They would not budge. I tried to explain what I was told, explain the history of bike travel fees given weight, size and the key “final destination” loop hole that made my luggage meet a different standard. I had no other baggage to check, just my bike and it was under 50 pounds (49 to be exact).

So, my gripe is that (a) they went against their own policy as relayed to me by their phone representative. The classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing and mixed information. (b) They did not adhere to the industry wide trend – and past trend on their own airline – that with an international destination – my bike case should fly free given expanded luggage allowance when traveling international. (c) As compared to all those people around me with numerous huge bags, I had nothing else to check in but my bike – so in the end, it all evens out as my 1 bag is equal to most international travelers multiple heavy bags. I actually take LESS luggage than most as I have 1 item checked in: a bike case, versus most over packers numerous pieces of luggage packed to the hilt and uncharged for. (d) They tried to give me the rationale “well, it takes more effort on the part of the luggage handlers and blah… blah… blah…..”. Well, that is rather far from the truth and I think a thinly veiled excuse and here is why: I watched on several occasions that day, and upon my return, when loading luggage how simple it actually was for them to load my bike. Heck, it is even wheelable. I saw them have more trouble and stress with strollers, car seats, etc. Two guys picked up my bike case, placed in on the conveyor and away it went. Piece of cake. So, it did not appear any harder than any other luggage or any more effort or stress. It did not need, nor get, any “other handling requirements” that I saw. Not enough to warrant a $100 fee and under the claim it is because of size and weight and difficulty for the loaders when they load heavier, more odd sized and numerous pieces than my 1 piece. Finally, and the true nail in the coffin was that (e) they did NOT charge me back to the USA! Since I was international my bike case from Europe back to USA was part of that larger luggage allowance and allowed to fly free – as it should have on the way out. So, how was it over-sized on the way to Europe and within size on the way back to the USA?

Interestingly enough, I did NOT meet a single person in Europe at the race that raced and flew Delta that did not HAVE to pay that fee. It appears Delta nailed us all. While at the same time I met MANY people who did NOT pay that fee who flew to Europe on other carriers as they adhered to the larger luggage allowance while flying internationally. The rumor around the race venue on the topic was that because Delta just moved out of bankruptcy in recent months, they were doing everything they could to generate additional needed revenue. And what better way then to stick it to the traveler with an additional luggage fee you must pay as what is your option? Which is a bummer as I flew in 2005 with Delta (and others) and this procedure was not in effect and it went against what I was told on the phone, and why I choose to fly again with them internationally this time.

So, in the end, I coughed up the large fee and made it and I raced. Very well actually. That is what matters….. but I just felt the need to rant a bit on the topic as it seems one more way for the airlines to pinch you where they can.

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