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I have three bags (bike panniers) that I want to check as luggage. Together they weigh less than the 23 kg included in the ticket, and they will be something like 40x50x60 cm in total. How can I pack them so that they are treated as a single checked item?

Would it be sufficient to tow them together with straps or tape?

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    Get a cardboard box. Some airlines do not accept the taped together method. – user 56513 Apr 15 '17 at 22:13
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    Straps or tape would be risky, even if accepted by the airline. Presumably, if they are checked in as one item, they get one tag, so if they come apart they will at least be delayed if not lost. Would they fit in a lightweight, foldable duffel bag? – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '17 at 22:13
  • You could plastic wrap them together (kind of like how some people wrap regular luggage) and then only have one handle stick out for the luggage tag. – Michael Apr 15 '17 at 22:21
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    My reason for suggesting a foldable duffel bag is that it would be a permanent solution. When using the panniers separately, fold it and store it in one of them. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '17 at 23:41
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    You have to remember that your "bag" will go along automated conveyors belts, fall down chutes, be pushed mechanically along, be dumped onto carts and accelerated to high speeds along automatic railways, then be dropped from height into containers. Followed closely behind by someone else's 30 kg hard case that will fall on top of it. All without anyone watching. As soon as you have bits sticking out or pieces of tape holding it together, it is going to snag on something along the way and get stuck and then damaged or detached from the rest of your bike. – Calchas Apr 16 '17 at 0:19
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You can read in https://travel.stackexchange.com/a/42030/4188

I was offered a giant, durable, resealable (great for security checks), clear plastic bag, similar to a trash bag but thicker, with the airline's logo on it, to prevent any straps or hooks from getting caught in the baggage handling. Since that flight I've found that most legacy airlines have these.

You can call ahead to make sure they have one at both airports (I presume you will be checking bags at two airports, one the start, one the end) but the same answer continues with:

I've often encountered check-in agents that didn't know their airline had these, but in every case they asked their colleagues or manager and discovered they did. I've never been charged for one. I've gotten these in Europe, Asia and North America.

Or you can buy for yourself. These are called contractor bags (or rubble sacks or builders sack) and their thickness in the USA is measured in mils which is a thousandth of an inch. Elsewhere it is measured in microns which is a thousandth of a millimetre. Thus a 100 micron bag is a 4 mil bag which is thick enough. I used 3 mil bags for protecting my plane side checked backpack and it was fine (but note plane side is not the same ordeal as a checked in bag by far).

I also found a A Buying Guide for Rubble Sacks which looks quite useful.

  • It's also worth noting that, while airline bags are transparent, it's totally fine to use ordinary thick black garbage bags. – jpatokal Apr 16 '17 at 2:25
  • It may be theoretically fine, but garbage bags rip easily. – DJClayworth Apr 16 '17 at 2:36
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    An emphasis on thick. An ordinary garbage bag is usually 0.55 mil or even less. What @jpatokal meant is that black is fine, no need to splurge for clear. I concur. – chx Apr 16 '17 at 2:57
  • A late response: I found a huge plastic bag at home that we had received at a different airline for a huge backpack. So I brought that along, and when checking bags I offered to put the panniers (which were strapped together) into the bag. However the baggage people on both trips said it wasn't necessary. But after the first trip one of the handles was ripped off on one side - probably got snagged somewhere along the way, as hinted at by @Calchas. For the return flight I mad sure that handles and straps were towards the inner side of the strapped-together panniers. – oliver May 24 '18 at 20:09
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I have always just used a simple nylon duffel bag. The panniers fit inside for the flights and the duffel gets folded and strapped to the bike rack while pedaling. The duffel occasionally get used for storing items as I ride that need some protection from the elements.

The duffel has a big advantage over plastic bags as it has handles for easier carrying (by you and baggage handlers), handles which also provide an attachment point for luggage tags and ID tags. It also tends to be stronger, less rip prone than a plastic bag. Plus you always have it with you, so no hunting around for new ones every time you fly.

  • +1. Many outdoor equipment stores sell lightweight duffel bags or totes such as this that are used when travelling with backpacks -- packing the entire backpack in a tote saves all the straps and externally attached items. – mustaccio Apr 16 '17 at 16:47

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