Tarmac Travels

"Rush" and "Priority": Did Not Happen!

I said goodbye to my Tarmac at the Air France check in counter at SFO. Then I pulled out my credit card to pay the $150 extra baggage fee to have the bike case fly to Europe with me. We were both excited and looking forward to a week of cycling in the Northern Alps of France.

The trouble started with a delay of over an hour boarding the flight to Paris. I had a two hour connection to Geneva at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and the late departure meant my comfortable 2 hour transfer morphed into a 40 minute mad dash to deplane, get through Immigration, through a second security check, and relocate from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal, which the airline magazine said would take over 20 minutes alone.  It was going to be tight, but I wasn’t excessively worried; I knew there were two later flights to Geneva and if I missed my connection I could get on one of those.

2 Weeks Stuck in a Box: The Tarmac Tours European Airports

But I made it to my original flight with about 10 minutes to spare. When I arrived in Geneva I was not especially surprised to see neither my bike nor my checked bag had arrived with me. Just what I needed after almost 24 hours in transit: I had to file a lost luggage report.

Which I did, and then took the shuttle to my hotel. No change of clothes, and no toiletries. I did have a toothbrush and toothpaste from my Air France on board comfort packet, and the hotel provided a shaving kit. I had my cycling shoes and pedals and a jersey and pair of cycling shorts in my carry on bag. The pedals and shoes turned out to be an excellent idea.

I still wasn’t really worried. I assumed that my luggage would be on the next plane, or the one after that. They would be delivered to my hotel during the night and I would be off with the 44 | 5 van on our journey to the tour start at Alpe ‘d Huez.

However, no luggage appeared at the hotel during the night. I went back to the airport and showed my ‘Property Irregularity Report’ to the agent and asked where my bags were and how they were going to be delivered to me. We were going to be riding through the Alps and changing hotels every one or two nights. Now I was starting to get nervous. Really nervous.

The agent took my claim ticket and we located my checked bag. At least I had all my cycling kit and toiletries and some clean clothes to wear to dinner. But the bike was nowhere to be found.

My 44 |  5 guides John and Gerry made some phone calls to a bike shop owner they knew at Alpe ‘d Huez and found me a bike to rent. It was the right size. We expected I would need the rental for the short warm up ride that Saturday afternoon and perhaps Sunday’s ride up the famous Alpe ‘d Huez climb, but that my Tarmac would show up sometime Sunday before we had to check out Monday morning.

But no bike showed up either Saturday night or Sunday. A fellow guest suggested that since it was unlikely the bike would be delivered to the relatively remote hotels we would be staying at over the next week, perhaps I should tell Air France to just send it home to California and accept the fact that I would have to ride the rental. Sadly, I had to admit to myself that he was correct and after lunch Sunday I called Air France and told them to send the Tarmac home.

The rental was a decent but very average bike. It was a low end Wilier and it was very pretty. I hated it. It was the right size, but the geometry was a little different from what I was used to. The Wilier weighed almost 20 lbs., compared to the 15.1 lb. Tarmac. Since I was climbing over 44,000 feet during the week I really felt the difference. The shifting had some issues. The wheels and tires were much rougher riding than my Hed Ardennes wheels and Schwabe tubeless tires. I didn’t like the saddle either. Overall I did not have a single really comfortable moment on the bike.

I did have my own pedals and cycling shoes: remember I brought them in my carry on bag. I always do this when flying with my bike. Lots of people put these items in the bike box which would have added my complications and expense. As it was, I had to pay $350 to rent the Wilier, so with the Tarmac baggage fee I’m out $500 and on an inferior uncomfortable bicycle.

I called the Air France baggage customer service (that’s funny!) number once or twice a day for the rest of the week. I also followed the Tarmac’s adventures on the Web. As far as I can determine, the bike stayed in Paris until Wednesday. Then, despite my instructions on Sunday to send it back to California, the bike flew to Geneva. Then it somehow got shipped to Zurich! And according both the Web tracker and the customer service agents, the bike changed airlines from Air France to Swiss Air and was scheduled to fly from Zurich to SFO on August 31. And now the bike disappeared from everyone’s radar for 5 days. Air France could not track the bag because it was on Swiss Air. Messages sent to the various airports where the bike was supposed to be went unanswered. No one could tell me where the bike was for certain or when (or even if) I would see it again. I was beginning to get very worried, and since the baggage claim limit is $1500 and the Tarmac is worth a lot more than that, it would be quite an expensive loss.

Finally on September 5 I got a text from Air France. This was the first communication from them since I lost my bags; I had to call them for information multiple times and they never called me. This text had the nerve to say my bag was supposed to be delivered Sept. 5 and could I confirm that I had it? Since I didn’t, I sent them a negative reply, and amazingly did not use any profanity. But another text arrived with a phone number for a delivery service, and at 6 pm the van driver called and said the bike was on its way, but he was just leaving SFO and had lots of deliveries and he would get to Brumby Road at 10 PM or a bit later. Quite a bit later: at 11:30PM the van pulled in and the Tarmac was finally home.

My Alps trip was great. 44 | 5 is my favorite touring company and their Northern Alps adventure was filled with wonderful roads and amazing scenery and terrific food and wine. And a mediocre bike that makes me appreciate just how good the really good cycling stuff is.

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  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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