What should you do if your bike goes missing when you’re flying with it? It’s become a hot topic with the return of mass air travel following two years of coronavirus restrictions that led people to postpone their planned trips, placing unprecedented stress on the world’s airlines. That’s led to a global baggage crisis as mountains of luggage pile up – and bicycles are no exception.
Listen to our podcast episode on the subject above with Laka's Nick Sutton, or read on if you prefer good old words...
As the scale of the problem became fully apparent in mid-2022, we began to hear story after story of people – ranging from keen amateurs setting off for bucket list events abroad to a pro cyclist flying to the Grand Départ of the Tour de France – whose bikes, sometimes costing well into five figures, had gone missing in transit.
Delayed luggage is nothing new, of course, but it used to be the case that you’d wait a day or two for it to be put on the next available flight then couriered to your destination.
Now, however, baggage including bike boxes is going missing for weeks on end, and perhaps forever – which in the case of the aviation industry effectively means 21 days, at which point missing luggage is officially deemed ‘lost’ under the Montreal Convention, which governs airlines’ responsibilities to travellers on international flights and, importantly, their liability.
The latter is capped at approximately £1,400 (although it’s worth noting that some airlines may at their discretion provide higher levels of compensation, while others will try and get away with offering less, in which case point out the Montreal Convention to them.
But if you’re relying on compensation from the airline after your £5,000 bike is deemed lost, you’ll be left well out of pocket – unless of course you’ve made sure that you’ve taken out your own insurance, whether specialist cycling or travel cover, or under your household policy.
In all cases, you’ll want to double-check that your bike is adequately covered, including for foreign travel – so getting confirmation of that from your insurers, in writing, together with acknowledgement of its value (and that of any other kit such as clothing you may stow in your bike box). It’s better to have all that sorted in advance than being wise after the event.
Nick Sutton, the customer experience lead at the specialist cycling insurer Laka, says that until recent months bikes going missing for weeks on end just would not have happened and that the traveller would be able to fairly easily sort out delayed baggage with the airline.
“This is a new situation we’ve had to become adept at dealing with,” he explained.
“In terms of how the cover works, this would be quite a particular scenario which is ‘loss by a third party’ which as you might expect means your bike’s lost because it was someone else’s fault.”
Sutton's top recommendation?
“Don’t leave the airport until you have some kind of acknowledgement from somebody of what’s happened, ie not necessarily the bike’s lost, but for now they can’t find it.”
Sutton says that recent stories of bikes going missing in transit highlighted that “trying to get any kind of answer or traction after you've left the airport is far more difficult – so don't leave until you've got someone to put something in writing in an email or on a letter saying, ‘Sorry, we've lost your gear, lost your bike.”
Some travellers have resorted to using trackers such as Apple’s Airtag to try and keep tabs on their possessions while flying – as an insurer, Laka is clearly familiar with such devices when it comes to theft claims, and they do often help in getting stolen bikes returned to their owners.
From a baggage point of view, Sutton says it “definitely can’t hurt you” but points out that there is a problem in terms of “how far can the airline go in terms of their resources to actually look for it” – especially pertinent right now, given that many other passengers will be in a similar situation with suitcases or other luggage also going missing.
In all likelihood, and leaving aside that 21-day definition in the Montreal Convention, your bike is unlikely to actually be ‘lost’ – it won’t have vanished into the ether, and will be sitting in an airport somewhere, though possibly under a stack of other luggage.
That gives rise to another couple of issues – the first being where weeks or even months have gone by and you’ve successfully claimed for your missing bike on your insurance – and then it turns up out of the blue. What happens then?
Sutton likens it to a situation that he says Laka sometimes encounters in theft claims, where the owner of a stolen bike puts in a claim, the company pays out – and then at some future point, a police raid unearths a stash of bikes, including the one that was the subject of the claim.
In this case, he says, “usually the customer would just then have a choice to make whether they stick with the settlement or reclaim what was lost in the first place.”
The second issue is the possibility that even if it’s in a purpose-made hard case, your bike will have been damaged while stuck at an airport waiting for the backlog to be cleared. Sutton’s advice here is to open the case as soon as you are reunited with it and check everything is in order – and if it isn’t, again get written acknowledgment of what is wrong.
Take photos and obtain receipts for any repairs – and bear in mind that the airline’s liability is once more capped at around £1,400 under the Montreal Convention, so again, double-check that your insurance will cover you adequately for possible damage in transit.
Have you experienced this issue, have any tips or advice to add to the above? Let us know in the comments.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.