On this page we attempt to make available the experience of individual bicycle tourists who travel to Bulgaria (you can share your experiences here).
Bike boxes at London airport; Lost bike - Alitalia.
In 2004 I flew from the states to London-Gatwick via U.S. Airways, spent a couple days, then flew London-Heathrow to Sofia Bulgaria via Alitalia (Italian Airline).
The U.S. Airways counterperson initially wanted to charge me for the bike, but I told him that bikes fly free international. He poked at the computer then asked to see my "Membership Card"(?) I assume he meant my LAB card, which I did not have on me. I told him it wasn't necessary on international flights. He checked with a supervisor, apologized and then allowed me to check my bike for free as one of my two checked items.
I abandoned my cardboard bike BOX (USD $10 - Amtrak) on arrival at Gatwick and purchased a new one at Heathrow. The airlines at Heathrow don't sell BOXes - they contract that to "Excess BAGgage Company" who operate few facilities and charge outrageous prices for BOXes. Allow plenty of time, because you'll be dragging your BOXed bike across terminals. Bring plenty of $$$, because they want a lot for their cardboard.
The BOX they supply is NOT the size I'm accustomed to - it's shorter in height and width but much wider. I had to remove the seat and wheels, but did NOT have to remove the pedals or turn the handlebars.
In retrospect I probably should have removed the pedals anyway because on the way back the pedals appear to have torn huge holes in the sides of the BOX.
Also, on the return trip, the bike did not show up in London. Alitalia filled out the "lost luggage" paperwork and assigned me a CASE number. I never could get an answer on the phone number they provided, but the website DID allow me to check on the status of my lost bike. After a couple of days it was delivered to my home in the USA, saving me the trouble of getting it home from the airport. I'm sure glad it was lost on the return trip instead of on the way out.
By the way, I believe "Excess BAGgage Co" charges 5 or 5-1/2 quid per item per day for storage.
(Oh yeah, the London Underground WILL give you a hassle if you bring your bike to Heathrow on the Tube. They're strict about which subways can carry bikes and which can't - some, such as the Picadilly line, which serves Heathrow, allow bikes only on certain segments. See the other articles here for instruction on biking to or from Heathrow.)