Transporting our tandem bike from the UK to Bangkok: how we did it

1. Research tickets. 

Two months before the planned departure date I began researching available tickets, plus airline policies when it came to transporting bikes/oversized luggage. We picked KLM Royal Swiss airlines as having both cheap tickets and a reasonable fee of €100 for tandem transport. I phoned them up, told them the measurements and weight for the bike and a week later had their approval to transport the bike on their flight. I then bought the tickets.

(This short paragraph in reality involved a lot of screen-shots of airline websites, emails that did or didn’t get answered, plus phone calls, phone calls, phone calls. It was a faff.) 

2. Arrange transport to the airport, and from the airport upon arrival.

My parents arranged transport to the airport as they were travelling to Bangkok with us. They informed the transport company how big our bike was and the company suggested that a minibus would be suitable. 

I sorted out transport from Bangkok airport via email. Mum told me the company I had found was expensive, and that you can hire a mini bus when you get to Bangkok airport. I asked mum if she wanted to do that instead. She paused. She said no. 

3. Get up at 3AM

because I’ve suddenly realised that I told the airline that the bike would be two metres long, when now that I think about it I have no direct recollection of ever measuring it. As it’s at the repair shop I spent forty minutes on Google trying to find out how long the bike is. Results were inconclusive. 

4. Pack the bike. 

After phoning around we found a bike shop that was happy to give us two bike-shaped cardboard boxes (all bike shops we contacted were happy to do this for free, but not all of them had bike boxes available). 

Eric removed the front wheel, removed both sets of handlebars, took the pedals off and deflated the tyres. He then taped the wheel and the handlebars to the main body of the bike. Different airlines have different specifications, but they are generally fairly similar. 

Eric then joined the two bike boxes together. We lifted the bike in, shoved in sheets of bubble wrap and then taped up the box with strong duct tape. I wrote “FRAGILE” all over the box, and wrote our destination address on there too. 

We measured the box. It was 215cm. Hmm. I phoned the airline and asked if this would be OK. I also asked how much I had said the bike would weigh. They told me 18kg. I had given them the weight of the bike without considering the weight of the box. Doh! To be on the safe side I upped my requested weight to 23kg. They said that they would get back to me in 24 hours to tell me if my request was approved. 

5. Lie awake

wondering how I had gotten these simple things wrong and if this was ever going to work. 

The next day we phoned back and were told that our request had been approved. Phew! 

6. Print out stuff.

We printed out evidence that we had permission to take the bike on board the plane. We were now ready for a possible self-righteous confrontation with airport staff. 

The journey

Here’s the mini bus at Heathrow at 6.30AM, with our tandem balanced on top of most of the seats. 

  

We carried the tandem into the airport Chuckle Brothers style, and left it with my parents while we queued to check in. We arrived at the check in desk, and a tired-looking guy said he would need to see the box. 

Eric went back to get it with the help of my dad. The man viewed the box dubiously and called his supervisor. 

“I need to find out what the cost will be to transport this box,” he said. 

“260 for extra luggage and 90 because it’s a bike,” said the supervisor. 

“We were told it would be 100 euros,” said Eric. (We were.)

After some more repeating from both sides, the supervisor went to talk to her supervisor. 

A few minutes later she was back, and it was good news. Because “it wasn’t clear” we would be charged €100, which translated to £71. Whether she meant that the rules had not been explained to us clearly, or that the rules themselves weren’t clear I couldn’t tell. But I wasn’t about to ask. 

We checked in our suitcases and then carried the box to the excess baggage check in point. 

  
The box was too big to be checked in there, so we were escorted down a floor to the staff security area to be x-rayed. 

While we were waiting I asked the guy we were with if I was allowed to take photos. He said that if he allowed me to do that then he would get the sack. So I’m afraid there are no photos of the staff security area (a shame because it’s about the most amazing place I have ever seen).* 

*Or is it?

It turned out that the box was too big to be x-rayed, so another man turned up and the two guys carefully peeled back all our duct tape so that they could swab inside (for traces of drugs or explosive chemicals??). My mum had gotten the bubble wrap inside from the hospital pharmacy where she works, so for a second I vaguely wondered if it would have traces of drugs on it… but we were OK, and the box was resealed (note to self: have extra duct tape in hand luggage next time) and then taken out of our hands to board the plane. 

We took the lift back up, got out and high fived. 

The first leg of our journey was from Heathrow to Paris. Here we managed to see our bike being loaded onto the plane! You can see it on the pickup van strapped down very firmly, looking a lot like a coffin.

 As we approached the French coast we realised that we were probably passing over an area where we had cycled. It looks flat from a few thousand metres in the air (bitter laugh).

  
From the huge, shiny Charles de Gaulle airport we got our connection to Bangkok on a massive plane that could accommodate 489 passengers. 

  

Our airplane lunch, provided by Air France, had port, wine and cheese.

  

Over the next ten hours Eric watched Jurassic World, Ant Man, Mad Max, Fantastic Four, The Minions, Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I watched a bit and slept a bit, though I unfortunately did wake up at one point with my head resting on a stranger’s shoulder. Luckily she was asleep (or possibly pretending to be asleep to avoid an awkward situation?). 

We landed at 6.45AM on Friday 13th November, and I was feeling surprisingly chipper. After travelling the slow way for the past 6 months it felt amazing to step off a plane and be on the other side of the world. 

After passport control we found my parents and then collected the bike. The box was now rather battered looking.

  
I was smugly pleased to note that we had the most oversized oversize baggage. 

After some debate we decided on a different tactic for tandem transporting: the old double trolley technique.

  

Then we found our Thai minibus driver and stepped outside of the airport, which felt a bit like when you open the oven door but forget to move your face out of the way. Whoomph! Heat. We’re in Thailand. 

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