Knowing that it was theoretically possible to take the Pino to India by air, and having plenty of experience of flying with my Brompton folding bike did not make it any easier to confront the reality of getting 26kg of very big bicycle, plus everything we would need for a month, to and from a small town in Kerala.
It soon became clear that the best routes were by the various airlines based in the Arabian Gulf as they offer good through connections from Manchester (and many other European airports) to most airports in India, partly because they cater for the large number of migrant workers who need to travel to the Gulf from their homes in India, as well as Europeans travelling on business or pleasure.
The alternative would be to fly to a major city in India then transfer to an internal flight. A lot more struggle than having you and your luggage booked through with one airline. The Gulf states are very proud of their airlines which tend to be run to a high standard but loadsa money doesn’t guarantee good taste as you can see in the photo above.
Emirates Airlines (Dubai) are a popular choice for the UK Cyclists Touring Club (CTC), presumably because they offer an additional 10kg baggage allowance free for bicycles. However I phoned their UK office and the guy I spoke to was emphatic that the allowance meant a separate 10kg item that had to be a bicycle. He was OK about the tandem in two parts as long as they were two 10kg parts. He had some spurious reason that if it wasn’t distinctly and only a bicycle people could sneak in other stuff to take advantage oif the allowance.
In vain I tried to explain that a bicycle in its case or packaging was always going to be more than 10kg so his interpretation could not be correct. I suppose I could have phoned back and asked somebody else but meanwhile I had decided that Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi) might be just as good as they offered bigger baggage allowances for members of their frequent flyer club which we joined. In the final outcome that didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped as the small print said you didn’t get the extra until you had made one flight but meanwhile Etihad announced new baggage allowances which were much more generous, allowing us 30 Kg each in the hold and a 7kg cabin bag. That worked out fine for us.
Etihad was a good experience in general, breaking the journey into two halves with and hour or so in Abu Dhabi airport was better than a single long flight and the strawberry tarts with a cup of tea in the airport’s branch of Costa Coffee were just right (you need something familiar and comforting when you are in that alien machine).
On the way out there was a dreadful scrum to get on to our second flight because there were three flights all going through a single security check in a narrow corridor full of people worried they would miss their flight. Abu Dhabi airport is feeling the strains of its success and the crowding at security plus a very long walk between gates was not what we wanted. Other people we met had travelled with Oman Air and the experience of the smaller airport at Muscat had been much more relaxed.
The flight arrived in India in the early hours and to come back we departed around 4am which wasn’t nice but it was the result of the airlines having to coordinate all the flights through Abu Dhabi, whether you were flying from Karachi to Munich or Colombo to Dublin.The other Gulf airlines all operated the same schedule so it must have been the best they could come up with.
The check-in people in Manchester and Trivandrum were not fazed by an oversize box of bike (I’d checked the Etihad baggage rules for sports goods and phoned for confirmation). At the other end there were special arrangements for collecting oversize stuff, just ask somebody who looks official and they were very helpful. I am used to Manchester Airport which is pretty well-run but Trivandrum was also excellent, small and very slick despite the quite complex security arrangements.
So no big problems flying a Tandem to Kerala and I’ll explain the more complicated business of packing and what we took in my next posts.