Unrealistic Bike Policy at Southwest, Alaska & American Better
Ask a Southwest Airlines representative about the cost and size restrictions to check your bike on board and their first response likely will be, "I don't really know."
We know. We looked.
First is cost. $75 EACH WAY. So yes, you may have booked that non-refundable ticket and now you have another $150 add-on. In the old days, if your case met the size guidelines, it was free. BUT, the size guidelines were completely unrealistic, so you still had to pay up.
Second are the size guidelines. A look at the bike-check policy reveals box requirements that despite being increased STILL aren't cycle-friendly. The original policy from years ago required a VERY unrealistic max of 62" -- length + width + height. But the new, larger, max still is smaller than a standard cardboard bike box. Ugh.
NOW, the policy reads:
"Bicycles (defined as nonmotorized and having a single seat) properly packed in a bicycle box or hard case from 51 to 100 pounds in weight or 62 to 80 inches in total dimensions. Pedals and handlebars must be removed and packaged in protective materials so as not to be damaged by or cause damage to other Baggage. Bicycles packaged in cardboard or soft sided cases will be transported as limited release items. Bicycles over 100 pounds in weight and 81 inches in total dimensions cannot be checked as baggage and can only be shipped as Cargo if the Customer is a known Shipper."
A standard, cardboard bike box found at any local bike shop measures approximately 49inches x 30inches x 8 inches, for a total of 87 cubic inches -- over Southwest's 80- inch size limit. We're big fans of Southwest, but we just wanted to ensure you don't fall for their "free bike" fallacy.
So what to do? Consider looking into another airline! It makes a difference. For example, Alaska Airlines' policy is that a bicycle is treated as ANY OTHER checked baggage. VERY fair! As of now the charge, assuming the bike is your only checked item, is $30 each way. So $60 total vs SWA's $150! Wow. And we've tested Alaska's policy. We recently checked a surfboard! No measuring, fussing, etc. Just check it like any other bag. And don't freak out when you see the 63" linear limit because sports equipment is exempt.
Even American Airlines is better than SWA with a first bag for $30 each way. But AA is more restrictive than Alaska. American's reads:
"Standard checked bag fees of your destination apply up to 50 lbs / 23 kgs and 126 in / 320 cm (length + width + height) and standard overweight fee applies from 51 lbs / 23 kgs to 70 lbs / 32 kgs."
Happy travel cycling!