I must make a big disclaimer here that airlines have no fixed policies on things, they change, they vary between airlines, and you should always check ahead on what you can bring before you fly.
Having said that, we’ve learned two main lessons from experienced trike travelers. First is to declare your trike as an “assistive device,” not a bicycle. This is stretching the truth if you aren’t actually handicapped, but it gets the job done. Another thing is unless you can truly find a rigid container that protects your trike, you are better off putting it in a large clear plastic bag. This offers zero protection, but it makes it obvious to the baggage handlers just what it is. They can see it and feel it and will know not to throw it around.
Our customer Alfredo from San Antonio has traveled extensively with his trike to sporting events for wounded military and to present at clinics on adaptive sports. He sent us a copy of the federal regulations on transporting assistive devices:
Title 14, Chapter II, Subchapter D, Part 382
Subpart I—STOWAGE OF WHEELCHAIRS, OTHER MOBILITY AIDS, AND OTHER ASSISTIVE DEVICES
(ESR Note: This applies to human-powered vehicles only. Electric-assisted stuff is a whole different business. If you have an assisted trike, we advise you to ship your battery ahead. Shipping lithium batteries involves a lot of special procedures so be prepared to pay extra for it.)
382.125 What procedures do carriers follow when wheelchairs, other mobility aids, and other assistive devices must be stowed in the cargo compartment?
(a) As a carrier, you must stow wheelchairs, other mobility aids, or other assistive devices in the baggage compartment if an approved stowage area is not available in the cabin or the items cannot be transported in the cabin consistent with FAA, PHMSA, TSA, or applicable foreign government requirements concerning security, safety, and hazardous materials with respect to the stowage of carry-on items.
(b) You must give wheelchairs, other mobility aids, and other assistive devices priority for stowage in the baggage compartment over other cargo and baggage. Only items that fit into the baggage compartment and can be transported consistent with FAA, PHMSA, TSA, or applicable foreign government requirements concerning security, safety, and hazardous materials with respect to the stowage of items in the baggage compartment need be transported. Where this priority results in other passengers’ baggage being unable to be carried on the flight, you must make your best efforts to ensure that the other baggage reaches the passengers’ destination on the carrier’s next flight to the destination.
(c) You must provide for the checking and timely return of passengers’ wheelchairs, other mobility aids, and other assistive devices as close as possible to the door of the aircraft, so that passengers may use their own equipment to the extent possible, except
(1) Where this practice would be inconsistent with Federal regulations governing transportation security or the transportation of hazardous materials; or
(2) When the passenger requests the return of the items at the baggage claim area instead of at the door of the aircraft.
(d) In order to achieve the timely return of wheelchairs, you must ensure that passengers’ wheelchairs, other mobility aids, and other assistive devices are among the first items retrieved from the baggage compartment.