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Travelers complain Southwest Airlines' bike policy is too restrictive — when it's enforced

Published February 5, 2024

OAK PARK, Ill. (BRAIN) — Some air travelers who hope to bring a bike on their trip are running into road blocks with Southwest Airlines. The wording in the carrier's bike policy is confusing and travelers say it is enforced inconsistently. At least a few have found themselves at the departure check-in desk with a bike that the airline will not accept. 

"Imagine you are flying to the triathlon world championships or another big event and you show up two hours before your flight and you're told, 'no way.' So now you have 20 minutes to go find a UPS store and pay $400-$500 or your trip is ruined," said Bob Lickton, an industry veteran who owns, a service that sells bike boxes and handles bike shipping via UPS.

Lickton said he's had two customers recently who bought bike boxes but were told they couldn't check them as baggage with Southwest. 

"I had another customer who flew in (to a race) with a bike, and when he came to go home they kicked him off. They don't know what they are doing," he said. 

A Southwest representative told BRAIN that the airline's policies have not changed recently. Social media postings in cycling groups suggest that the policy has been in place at least four years.

The policy for bicycles as written on the Southwest website could be interpreted in various ways. 

First, it says bicycles that fit into a box with 62 inches or less in overall dimensions (width plus depth plus length), and less than 50 pounds, can be checked as baggage. However, few if any adult non-folding bikes would fit in a box of less than 62 inches, which the policy seems to acknowledge by noting that Bike Friday and Co-Pilot folding bikes can be checked this way. Bike boxes meeting this requirement are counted as one piece of luggage. 

For bike boxes outside the 62-inch/50 pound limit, Southwest has a special policy. It says that bike boxes with a total dimension of 63 to 80 inches or 51 to 100 pounds can be checked as baggage for $75 each way. Anything larger, the policy says, must be shipped as cargo, and cargo is only accepted from "Known Shippers."

Lickton said few non-folding adult bikes will fit in a box meeting the 80-inch limit, either. "I don’t think (Southwest) understand what the number means," Lickton said. "They've been inconsistent. It's not fair and not right. ... it's turned into a crap shoot," he said.

The "or" in Southwest's policy (which we emphasized above) might dictate that a bike box could meet either the dimensional or the weight restriction and be checked. At least that seems to be how some Southwest employees interpret it, according to social media comments. 

"The OR part of the rules on their website isn't clear," said one commenter on "If you call them for clarification, you can get a different answer depending on who you talk to." Other commenters on the same thread said they had flown with bikes on Southwest with no issues. One noted that his Orucase soft bike case for mountain bikes meets the dimensional requirement.

Sue George, the vice president of the Bike Flights shipping service, said she's heard that travelers have had more difficulties flying with bikes in the last year.

"(Last) summer we heard and read more accounts of riders having trouble flying to/from events with their bikes than in recent years," she told BRAIN in an email. "But planes were a lot fuller again this summer as the pandemic subsided and more people started flying more often, and airlines only have so much space for larger luggage items such as bikes on each plane," she said. 

George said she hadn't heard specific complaints about Southwest, nor had other Bike Flights colleagues. 

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