Thursday, October 15, 2009

Domestic flights carrying a bicycle

In 1998, I had the chance to make a small tour in Tohoku. My plan was to go from Sendai to the Zao mountain area, which is soemthing like 50 km south-west of Sendai. Originally I planned to go from Sapporo to Tomakomai by bicycle and then board a ferry to Sendai port. But out of time constrains, I had to go by airplane. Okay, I thought, I buy a bag (also useful for transporting the bicycle in the train), and go by airplane (Japan Airlines) to Sendai. The Ono cycling shop in Sapporo has a variety of bags. Usually one has to dismantle the front and the rear wheel to fit the bicycle in the bag. This leaves the crank set prone to damage, even if you handle it carefully. ONE bag was that big, that only the front wheel has to be taken of. Then the frame with the rear wheel fits into the bag! Dismantling takes only a few seconds and after 3-4 minutes (after practice) the change from a cyclist to a airplane passenger can be made!

That morning I went by bicycle from my house to Sapporo Station. I did not have to pay extra for the bigger luggage in the train. I just made sure that I enter the last car of the train. Then my next worry was at the airport, but the lady at the check-in counter just asked me if this is a 'normal' bicycle or a racing bike and if it is possible to take it on the conveyer belt for luggages. I choose to define my Araya bike to be the latter and said it should be handled with care. So she handed the bag to another attendant and I saw him disappear through a door with my bike. The strange feeling that I would see my bike again did not disappear.

When I was waiting to board the plane I saw that my bag was loaded with great care onto a conveyer belt and into the plane. So it was not put into a container for transport! Great, I thought.

Then in Sendai my normal luggage came out of the plane in the normal procedure, but here again, the bicycle was brought by an attendant. As adviced by the person who sold me the bag I immediately opened it and checked the bike for damage, but there were none. Once you leave the baggage claim area, then claims (sorry for the pun) about damage are not valid anymore.

The same procedure took place when I went back to Sapporo, so I have to say that I am very positively surprized how careful bicycles are handeld on DOMESTIC flights. I ahve heard other stories for international flights, but I haven't tried that yet.

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