The first time I traveled with my bike was way back in 1993 when I went home for Christmas. Not knowing what to do (totally clueless), I showed up at the airport, bike in hand and upon entering the terminal, an American Airlines agent spotted me and as soon as I got to the counter, she already had this cardboard box waiting for me. $25 and some tape and I was on my way, oblivious to the fact that my wheels were not going to be round, ever again.
Learning from that mistake, I asked a friend on my second trip for his bike box. This thing was cumbersome at best to handle around the airport, and combine with my bag and carry on, it made for some fun times around ATL's ariport. Another drawback on the box was the fact that because its size, the airlines were like sharks waiting for you to enter the water and bite you with a hefty "bike fee" for flying your precious ride. Sure, you could check in at the curb and attempt to "brive" the agent there but if a supervisor was around, you were paying.
Two trips with the aforementioned box was all I could take and went back to the cardboard box from the local shop, adding some pipe insolation and foam to the frame for some extra cushion. The wheels went on as carry on, but even then, the flight attendants didn't want to share the precious space in the small coat closet with the sharp looking Campy bags and wheels.
That became my M.O. while traveling with the bike until two years ago when my good friend Chance, Sales, Product and Market Manager for Blue Bicycles visited DC. Knowing a little bit about bikes and travels, the crew over at the Norcross, GA based company came up with this handy bag and after watching Chance unpack and put his bike together and later on do the opposite, I was sold. A few days later one them puppies showed up at my front door and I was quick to put it to the test. It has enough padding to protect your bike from a nuclear explosion. Two large side "pockets" for your wheels, saddle, a handy small bag for maybe pedals, tools, a blue cover that according to the picture on the website is for the top tube, but I use to secure the rear deraillieur to the chainstay and a shoulder strap that lets you carry the thing as a doped gym bag. Packing the bike takes about 15 minutes once you figure out the procedure.
Chance advised me to just pack the bike, seat, pedals and the allen wrenches (#4 and #5), but I have never listened to his advise and on my first trip with the bag, I added a second set of wheels inside, which it handled with no problems. I have also thrown in my helmet, shoes, clothing and whatever last minute item was left behind and didn't fit in my carry on. Although airlines allow a bike bag/box with a total of 62in. (W+H+L), this bag is way over that and it's an easy target for the $100 each way charge airlines like to impose for bikes on flights within the US. But I think the charge is just a matter of luck. I have noticed that depending on the airline and agent at the moment you check in, you have a 50/50 chance that the bike may get onboard for free.
I just got back from Panama and again the bag proved to be the right tool for the job. And while there, I had a few adjustments made to it, by visiting a local upholestry shop, the bag was reduced by about 7 inches, still leaving plenty of space for everything but the extra set of wheels, but it looks smaller and the people at the airport didn't even bother to ask what was in it. Again, here Chance advises to gently explain to the airline personnel that you are carrying "aerospace-testing material" and he says it works. Give this "explanation" technique a try at your own risk.
If you are looking for a bag that will protect your bike, be easy to transport and better yet, store afterwards (three of my closest friends ordered theirs), give the guys at Blue a call and if you are traveling soon, get yourself one of them ASAP.