Caution to those flying with your bikes... I flew United who damaged it on two different flights and refuse to pay for any bike damages what-so-ever. I wanted to share my experience flying with my bike from Houston to Boulder this past weekend just in case you may be in a position to make a less costly decision in the future.
First and foremost racing the Boulder 70.3 was an amazingly beautiful experience and I highly recommend the race to anyone. Unfortunately Ironman selected a local bike support company, Colorado Multisport, for all bike services. Because Ironman selected them, no other bike transport company was allowed to take your bike up to the race. I checked with 4 different companies who said they would trailer my bike up to the race but couldn't do so because they wouldn’t go against Ironman's wishes. Since Colorado Multisport doesn't transport bikes (just assemble/disassemble/maintenance), this left me with two options. Either I ship the bike or carry it with me on the plane. Since I did not have a bike box, I opted to ship the bike months before the race. Approximately 8 days before the race, I went to Houston’s Bike Barn store off of Wesleyan who was going to disassemble the bike and package it for $50 (very good price). But I had to pay for shipping. UPS wanted $450 for round trip which included leaving me without a bike for 7-10 days after the trip. After going through heart failure, the manager at Bike barn talked some sense into me and suggested that I may as well buy a bike bag for the same price, fly with it, and break even this trip but walk away with a bike bag versus nothing. I was happier with that decision. He highly recommended the Evoc soft shell bike bag because the owner of Bike Barn flew with it multiple times. After his suggestion, I went home to research the bag - I couldn't find one bad review on it and there were an enormous amount of great reviews on the award winning bike bag. The bike bag allows you to keep most of your bike intact, removing just your headset, wheels, and pedals. The wheels had two very padded sections on both sides of the bag with supportive bars. Before flying, I super padded the bike frame inside and added 7 very large labels all over the bag that said "fragile" and "please do not stack items on this bag."
I flew United - $100 for the bike bag (each way). The bike went through a special luggage department to deal specifically for bikes. When I landed in Colorado, the bike bag went straight to Colorado Multisport for assembly ($115). I picked up the bike the next day (day before race). That evening, I noticed that the carbon fairings in both wheels were punctured and damaged. This meant that the bike bag had to be heavily impacted on both sides of the bag. After an emergency call to my bike guy, James McCowen at Houston Cycling Centres, I stuck electrical tape over the holes and cracks in the carbon and raced the next morning (hitting speeds over 40mph).
After the race, I repackaged the bike back in the bike bag, making sure it was overly-padded. After picking up the bag from United in Houston, I rechecked the bag and discovered that TSA inspected my bag, moved items around, and did not repackage and pad the bike correctly. I found loose bike parts in the bottom of the bag and I didn't know where they were from - I later discovered that my stem was cracked, brakes were compacted, bearings broken, and front brake housing on the frame broken off. I went straight to the United baggage claim department where I was informed (and re-verified by a manager) that United does not pay for ANY damage done to bikes what-so-ever. They consider the bikes delicate items and it's up to the customer to get their own insurance. Well luckily I did. So I thought?!? I have USAA and I have been extremely happy with them in the past. I thought my bike was completely covered at all times. Well there is a clause that if the bike is in the custody of an American Government air carrier then the liability and responsibility falls on the air carrier. I don't blame them - it is United's fault but here I am in a position where I can't buy insurance to cover my bike when it's on a plane.
So the bottom line is that if you fly with your bike - any damage done will come out if your own pocket. I contacted Bike Barn and I have to say the manager was extremely professional, felt horrible, contacted the bike bag company Evoc and refunded me the money for the bag. Evoc (German company) was very interested in seeing the pictures of damage and hearing the story but I don't think I am going to be seeing any offers to offset the costs of repairing my bike. I have a 2013 Trek Speed Concept 9.5 and this is going to be costly. Parts are on the way but I am not sure what can be done to repair the carbon on the wheels without basically paying for new wheels. James McCowen from Houston Cycling Centres is doing an amazing job on repairing my bike expediently. He has been taking care of me for years. I just hope that someone can learn from this experience and hopefully avoid this heartburn.