This year I intended to make our transition out as smooth as possible. Not wanting to worry about boxes at the airport, wanting to do it all according to airline policy, I called Air France the Friday before departure to both remind them we were carrying bikes and to go over the policy issues. No problem the agent tells me as long as I pack the bikes into standard airline bike boxes. Fine, I say. So on Saturday I zip up to SFO to make sure I have the boxes and can pre-pack the bikes and show up with them ready to check-in. At the airport Air France says "no boxes" and sends me to the "Airport Travel Agency" next to the G concourse. The "Airport Travel Agency" turns out to be a passenger service company, has small boxes to package goods for travel but no bike boxes. The owner tells me the best bets are United and Delta and to go straight to their baggage service centers. No one home at United's so on to Delta's where I score two boxes, $11 each, after much hassling with the ticket agent whom I need to pay. Only problem: these boxes are big (69"x40"x9" when assembled). Much pain transporting those home to pack.
Bike packing was a breeze with the big boxes; turn the handle bars, remove the pedals, drop the rear derailleur (protect the hanger), and zip ties things together so nothing gets lost or damages. I use lots of strapping tape to close the boxes to try to make sure things stay intact.
Not wanting to repeat last year's fiasco with waiting an hour for the train I have checked the schedule, and re-checked. We leave a half hour to shuffle across the street, down a block, under the underpass, and back up a block to the proper location on the platform for the bike car. But the monstrous boxes are cumbersome and I have to move each a short distance then go get the other. In the end we are positioned at the proper location only about a minute before the train arrives. We had decided the bike car was the only place with enough room for the bikes. But CalTrain has sent a 'Bombadier', the bullet train equipment; lower platform so easier loading but less room. Fortunately it is mid-day and there are few passengers. Unfortunately the conductor is crabby and she complains about us trying to make it a cargo train with the big boxes. I point out they are bikes and that is a bike car but she grouses for a few minutes, and then each time she passes through the car during the trip. Despite her grouchiness, we proceed and make it to Millbrae station without incident. We do a relatively painless transfer to BART, and soon we are at SFO, boxes on a luggage cart and in line to check-in for the Air France trip to Paris and on to Bordeaux.
Airlines need to train their agents on all the policy issues, and keep them up to date. After a long wait in line we make it to the check-in counter. The agent is incredulous at the size of the boxes; I tell her 'standard airline boxes' as Air France had specified, but she dutifully notes they say 'Delta' rather than 'Air France'. I give her a brief recount of the box acquisition odyssey, she moans then turns to the agent to her left and asks, in French, how much she needs to charge us for the boxes. He responds that he is not sure but they are oversize and will require a supplemental charge. Amazing that they think they can talk in French and a simple American will not understand. After I remind her of the policy, which I had checked on just three days ago, she says she needs to talk to a supervisor and heads back behind the closed doors. A few minutes later she returns with the good news that there is no charge, she just needs the weight of the boxes. Fine, so I heft one on the scale and tell her they are equal enough in size and weight to use the same value for the other. She finishes checking us in, gives us the boarding passes and instructions, and tells us to leave the boxes over against a side wall for their baggage person to retreive and take to the oversize baggage inspection. We do as instructed, but then take a nearby seat to watch until the boxes are safely hauled off to the care of the TSA inspectors.
We grab lunch at a restaurant near the concourse, then make our way through security and on to the gate. Everything goes smoothly, with the exception that the seats which had appeared to be side-by-side on the aircraft diagram when we got the seat assignments are really across the aisle from one another. Oh well, at least we are close enough to touch and talk, better than last year's outbound flight.
The flight to Paris CDG went smoothly and we made a quick transition to the gate for the flight to Bordeaux. The security checkpoint at the gate had a long line, and getting through took some time as the airline folks kept taking passengers for flights soon to leave to the head of the line. Once through security we were placed on a bus and got a wonderful tour of the tarmac as the bus took us for a long ride over a considerable distance before depositing us at our aircraft. Another smooth flight, and we were on the ground at Bordeaux.