On this page we attempt to make available the experience of individual bicycle tourists who have travelled with Virgin Atlantic (you can share your experiences here).
Virgin Atlantic, Bordeaux. British Airways
We flew Virgin Atlantic from Miami to London Heathrow. As per Virgin's policy, stated on its website, we were not charged for either of our bikes which were in TRICO hard cases. The bikes arrived at Heathrow without any problems. We had to transfer to Gatwick for our British Airways flight to Bordeaux. Again, as per BA's policy, as stated on its website, we were not charged for the bikes. British Airways is really strict about carryon luggage at Gatwick and what was a carry-on roll-aboard suitcase on Virgin had to be checked. The bikes arrived in Bordeaux without any problems.
We cycled for 3 days in the Medoc and St. Emilion areas and 3 more days in the Sarlat region of France on our own before joining up with a Backroads organized bike tour. These are both amazing regions in which to ride. There are a number of "piste cyclables" in both areas which are old railway lines that have been paved over as bike paths. Most notably there is the Piste Roger Lapebie which starts in Sauveterre-de-Guyenne and goes for about 50K, terminating just south of Bordeaux. It is a beautiful ride through the "entre duex mers" area with no cars except for at the crossings with roads. We parked in the town, and rode down the hill to get to the entrance to the piste. You can find a map of it by searching Piste Roger Lapebie in your search engine of choice. The main tourist offices in both St. Emilion and Sarlat have brochures/maps on the piste cyclables.
The other piste we rode started in Sarlat and terminates in Souliac and is another rails to trails ride which was really beautiful.
The bike store in Sarlat (Cycle Sarlat) was a life saver as my rear derailleur cable was frayed down to its last strand. The mechanic wasn't speaking English to me and my French was embarrassing, but he fixed my cable and tuned up my rear derailleur for a very reasonable price.
We used a Garmin Edge 705 which is the greatest thing going for cycle touring. I set up loop rides using Garmin's MapSource mapping software on my computer and downloaded the rides to the 705 (yes â you have to buy maps for different regions). On the road, the Garmin gives you both a beep and text cue for the next upcoming turn or change of direction as well as shows you the upcoming route on the map screen. A number of times, we wanted to go off the course I had set as a road looked pretty. The Garmin automatically re-calculates the route to get you back on track to the destination. We really loved having the Garmin on the bike and it made self guided touring a real pleasure for roads we had never been on and had no real clue where we were going, except for the mapping we had done on the Garmin. The mapping feature also includes an elevation screen, so you can see the upcoming incline. Again, this was fun at first, but could be depressing on a really long climb.
The return trips on BA and Virgin Atlantic with the bikes was uneventful, except that one of the straps on the TRICO case broke yet again. The case is pretty tough as even with a broken strap (it was one of the small ones on the short end of the case) the clamshell held together and the bike and gear inside were fine.
We rented a Citroen Picasso to drive between our various destinations. This was a great car for our purposes as I was able to put the rear seats down, making sufficient room to lay the bike cases flat and stack the bikes (front wheels off) on top of the bike cases and fit our suitcases and front wheels in around the bikes. That's a lot of stuff to stuff into a little car.
Virgin not helpful at SFO
I arrived at SFO with bike and panniers, ready to take the pedals off and turn the handlebars. The Virgin employee said it should be in a box and that they didn't have a box.
Since I was in Upper Class they went to United to ask for a box but United said no (they compete on the same route). Then they said tough luck, sir, maybe at the travel agency, but otherwise nothing doing. At the travel agency, they told me to go to United domestic (go to special size luggage check-in).
They sold me the box for $10 + tax. Take the people mover it's shorter than walking back. Another employee said something like "usually we have boxes" but the others played ignorant.
At Heathrow I left the box at the Virgin counter and took Heathrow Express.
Virgin Atlantic SFO-LHR
Just wanted to report some potentially suprising info that I found out during my recent tour in Italy. I arranged to fly with Virgin for the SFO-LHR leg of our trip. We got the bikes to the airport via BART, and had them folded flat, no pedals, no air in the tires, per Virgin's bicycle policy stated on their website (under "luggage").
While checking in, the lady at the counter INISISTED that I use a bicycle box, despite the fact that I told her I had researched the policy beforehand and no box was needed. Unfortunately it was the one thing I had forgotten to print out.
She refused to escalate the issue and I spent the next hour frantically searching for cardboard bike boxes (which, by the way, can be found in the United domestic baggage claim) and buying overpriced rolls of packing tape. We got the bicycles in the boxes and *barely* made our flight.
Needless to say I was rather frustrated with the situation and will open a complaint with Virgin. The rest of the trip went fine (2 Ryanair flights, return leg on Virgin).
The unfortunate part is that the woman's colleage did the same thing when backing her up -- she didn't consult the policy but proceded to tell me how I was crazy for not wanting to ship my bikes in a box, and that was how "everyone did it".
Moral of the story: if you're planning to fly Virgin out of SFO, be prepared to need a box.
Just returned from a trip to the UK from California and everything was fine until I made my Delta Airlines connection in New York headed for San Francisco with my custom touring bike in a box. Virgin had handled its transport up until this time, without charge and without trouble or attitude, but due to unforeseen circumstances I had to switch to Delta.
Check in agent at JFK admitted she really didn't want to charge me to carry the bike in the box but she had no choice...so I put the 80-dollar charge onto my credit card and watched it get carried off for loading. When the Delta baggage guy delivered my bike at Oakland airport there was actually very little of the box left.
Fortunately I did an excellent job of boxing the bike so no parts or accessories were missing. But I was furious that this was how the bike arrived after being handled by Delta for 80-dollars! I tried to get the baggage agent to admit that Delta had screwed up but she was having none of it. She said that despite the fact I had paid more to have the bike on the plane that did not mean it was due any special handling or consideration. She said I could reassemble the bike right there if I wanted to submit any damage claims...but that once I took it from the airport all bets were off when it comes to whether or not the airline would be responsible for damage discovered later.
The Delta baggage office staff at Oakland was not helpful, or understanding of my concerns at all, and just downright rude. If I have a choice in the future I will NOT fly Delta again...and would say you shouldn't either if you're taking a bike you care about.
Virgin Atlantic Airlines
From Liz.Vallez@fly.virgin.com Thu May 24 14:05:40 2001
To: Thomas Krichel
Dear Mr. Krichel,
Thank you for contacting us.
With reference to transporting bicycles on Virgin Atlantic, our policy is as follows:-
Packing and Carriage Instructions
VAA does not use bicycle boxes. If required by the passenger, these may be obtained from bicycle shops. Tyres should be partially deflated, handlebars turned in line with the cross bar and any attachments should be removed, including pedals.
Gearing systems should be well protected. VAA strongly recommends separate insurance is taken out by passengers as the Airline liabilty of US$20 (GBPÂ£15.89) per kg, is unlikely to cover the cost of the bicycle in the event of damage. NB: Cosmetic damage (paint chips) will not be considered for compensation, and passengers are recommended to protect frame with
bubble wrap or similar material.
As you can see from this, a box is not compulsory, although appropriate wrapping such as a box is recommended to protect the
bicycle from damage.
I do apologise for the conflicting information you were given at JFK, and I have contacted the Virgin Duty Managers to make sure that the check in agents are up to date on this policy.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can help you further
Bags vs. Boxes ... (a continuing debate)
I took a pair of bikes on various trips back and forth from Dulles airport (Washington, DC) to Heathrow on both British Air and Virgin Atlantic last summer when I lived in London for 5 months. My experiences:
Trip #1 - Two bikes: Santana tandem boxed in Santana shipping box, Fuji touring single in Performance rigid case. The folks at British Air wanted to charge $455 to ship the tandem. No charge for the packed single. I talked them down to a single extra bag charge since the box was oversized (105" x 48"). Upon arrival at Heathrow, the box had been shredded and the contents were deposited in a carelessly assembled heap on the floor of the baggage claim area. No announcement was made as to the arrival of the bike, but all pieces were present and no damage occurred. Lesson: NEVER use an opaque large container on an international flight - customs will likely destroy it upon arrival in an attempt to open it. THe single's container had obviously been searched as well.
Trip #2: Heathrow->DC, British Air. Rolled the bike into the terminal, the smiling counter person jokingly suggested that I would need two of the thick plastic bicycle bags and handed two to me, also inquiring if I would need tape to secure the bags (I'd brought some). 5 minutes later the bike was carefully loaded on a baggage cart and hand carried to the plane. No fuss, no muss. Bike arrived intact at Dulles with one minor ding where the handlebars had been pressed against the frame and flaked a bit of paint off.
Trip #3: DC->Heathrow, tandem again. Bagged the bike in the british air bags at home, carried into Dulles terminal. Virgin wanted to charge $80 to fly the bike internationally. I calmly suggested that they take their charge and ... well, I was calm and cordial - but insisted that I would like to speak to successively higher supervisors. I finally insisted that they show me the fee regulation in writing and when they could not produce that they let the bike fly free. No damage, bike fine upon arrival.
Trip #4: Heathrow->DC, tandem. THis time Virgin insisted that the bike be boxed not bagged. I showed them the previous bag stickers and insisted that the bike had flown at least a half dozen times within the last few months packed just as is (in the plastic bags). After arguing for 15 minutes, I signed a damage waiver and the bike went to the plane.
The bottom line is that the airlines pretty much make up the rules as they go. Single bikes appear to have less problems than tandems. US agents seem to want to charge for bikes, European agents seem to be more concerned with packing.Stephen Ciccarelli, June 12, 1997