I am going away on a cycling holiday to the Alps and need to take my bike on the plane with me. Has anyone had experience taking bikes on planes and how did you protect your bike?
Can anyone recommend anything which will solve this problem?
There are two schools of thought.
1a) Bike box: This is a hard shell, fairly large box that with wheels, pedals removed, and handlebars (disconnected at the stem) put to the side fits your bike.
From a safety of your bike perspective this is pretty protective. I have used this approach flying within the United States, and over to Europe.
You will almost certainly be charged by the airline extra. At one time membership in the US's Mountain Bike association (whose name escapes me) had a deal with many airlines to waive the fee.
1b) Paper bike box: Sometimes you can buy these at airports (Call ahead), or else many bike stores will let you grab one from a new bike they recently assembled. (I know taking Via Rail on Sunday from Ottawa to Toronto they sell them for $10 at the train station).
2) Bike bag: By using a soft bag, it implies to the luggage handlers, be gentle. I know people who travel with bikes who swear by them. Again wheels and pedals removed, to minimize size.
I am not personally convinced that luggage handlers at airports around the world really feel that way.
You will still likely have to pay an oversized luggage fee.
In both cases, many airports have different luggage carousels so it will probably NOT come off with your regular luggage, so look around or ask where that might be. I have seen as nice as a specially marked obvious area, to an unmarked door you have to wait at.
Also, some smaller planes might not have room for your box or bag, so they might send it later, making you wait for it, depending on how your connecting flights work out.
I am a fan of boxes, I have flown all over europe, and once to New Zealand with my bike and the worst damage were some scratches, and (once) a slightly bent rear derailleur (that was quite fixed).
In the Netherlands you can buy really strong really nice boxes from KLM, and they fly the all over the world for about EUR 100,- one way (including the box). These boxes are so big you just have to remove your pedals, lower your handlebars and saddle, and you can drive your bike right in.
Outside the Netherlands you could check the odd-size luggage department of various airlines to see if they carry boxes, but a better option is to ask your LBS to save a box for you. They mostly get their bikes shipped in boxes that .. oddly .. fit an entire bike! The best you can get are Koga boxes. They are huge and strong, but not worldwide: http://www.koga.com/koga_uk/find-dealers/
Regarding the return trip: What I usually do if I'm returning from the same airport is to spend an hour or two to find someone willing to keep my big-ass box in his office or storage space for a few weeks. If this doesn't work I ditch the box and buy a cheap foam camping mat and a roll of duct-tape at the last campground and wrap pieces around the most vulnerable bits of my bike.
Box is safest for your bike, no doubt.
I've flown twice from Australia to Europe using a bag. On the whole it was great. Once my wheel needed a bit of truing, and on one trip (home luckily) my derailleur hanger was bent and needed replacing.
The advantage of a soft bag is you can pack it up when you arrive, which is great if you are touring.
British airways had a policy where you could buy an extra luggage allowance for a bike for about $50, ie not per kilo, though that was about a year ago and may have changed.
Either way you have to dismantle your bike fairly significantly, so make sure you have the skills to put it back together :-)
You will no doubt need a bike-bag these range from 60quid to hundreds