This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
When planning which flight to take, there are a few guidelines that may be
helpful. I think the key here is that you want to go through customs and
change planes as close to your final destination as possible. If you miss
a connection because of flight delays or custom delays, you have a better
chance of catching a flight out the same day. Reasonable places to clear
customs are Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Washington DC and Newark.
New York's JFK is hit-or-miss. I have had both very good luck and very bad
luck at JFK.
Also, allow 2-3 hours for making your international connections. Most
airports have separate terminals for international and continental flights.
There may be some distance to be covered to make plane changes which may
result in either you or your baggage not making the flight if you cut the
connection time too closely.
I have had both good luck and bad luck with just about every major airline, so
think all carriers are basically OK. One thing to note is that Delta Airlines
and United Airlines are smoke-free on every international flight. Also,
Alitalia offers good fares to Italy but be forewarned that the workers for this
airline like to go on strike at very short notice.
Most airlines have beefed up their security on International flights, they now
verify that all passengers who checked luggage are on the flight. This means
that every time you change planes you have security checks and potential delays
Suffice it to say, the fewer plane changes the better.
Air fares differ between high and low seasons, arrival and departure
locations, date of purchase(I am a terrible procrastinator), etc.. In 1986
I flew Denver- > Frankfurt->Denver during low season for $620. In 1988 I
flew Denver->Geneva-> Denver during high season for $1050. In 1990 I flew
San Francisco->Barcelona then Geneva-> San Francisco on the return during
high season for $1200. High season runs from about June 1 to September 30.
An interesting note, one year I was flying to a town near Pisa, Italy. The
far e from San Francisco to Rome was $1000. If I added the Rome to Pisa
connection the fair only increased to $1007. The extra $7 charge was well
worth getting closer to my final destination as the alternative was to take
a 4 hour train ride. So, check when booking fares to see if you can get
closer to your final destination for just a little extra money.
Chris Wiscavage advised against flying by charter. He said that charters are
notorious for being overcrowded and if they run out of baggage space on the
plane, then the bikes are one of the first items to be left behind. On one of
his trips flying charter, he had to wait 5 days for his bike to arrive.
Obviously, the conditions vary between charter companies, if you have one that
you trust and the price is right, go for it!
On most international flights, if you check your bike as one of your 2 pieces
of luggage you will save the $50 (or whatever) charge(each way). Current
international baggage requirements (as of 6/94) are: 1st bag - may not exceed
62 linear inches and 70lbs.; 2nd bag - may not exceed 55 linear inches and
70lbs. I have checked two bikes as my two pieces of luggage and not been
charged for an overage.
Flight delays seem more and more common. I have found that if your flight is
delayed going to Europe, unless there is some catostrophic problem that
cannot be fixed, it is best to stay with your original flight and wait out the
delay. If you try routing yourself through another airline or reaching your
destination by hopping through many cities, you may have a much bigger problem,
especially with your luggage catching up to you. Be patient, sitting out
delays seems to be the best alternative. This is a good reason to avoid
booking hotels in advance. You can almost always get a room somewhere, but
trying to stick to a regimented schedule may cause for major stress.