Ironman Alaska athletes are scrambling to get their bikes to Juneau

many bikes on a rack outside
(Creative Commons photo by Andy Tyler)

Many Ironman Alaska athletes are scrambling after Alaska Airlines notified them that bicycles shipped through them may not arrive in time for the triathlon in Juneau, which is less than two weeks away.

In an email to customers on Tuesday, Alaska Airlines said that applies to bikes checked as baggage or shipped by Alaska Air Cargo. The airline steered athletes to the Ironman organization to find other shipping options.

Suzanne Rinehart is a college administrator in the Chicago area who’s been doing Ironman races for a decade. Now 51, she said she was looking forward to doing her last, full-length Ironman in Alaska.

“I invested a lot of training — it’s a little frustrating to think of all the training I put in,” she said. “And now I’m this close, and then everything kind of raveled and fell apart at the last minute.”

After she got the email from Alaska Airlines, she looked into last-minute couriers. The options are limited and expensive. Some require disassembling the bike. Alaska Airlines offered her an earlier flight to Juneau to beat the rush, but that would mean spending a lot more on accommodations, taking more time off work, plus extra headaches coordinating with her travel companion.

So she decided to cancel her whole trip.

“The bike thing was the last straw for me,” she said.

Mike Arabia is still headed to the race from southern California. He said he got quotes to ship his bike into Juneau through UPS and FedEx for around $1,000. But he was able to get an assurance in writing from an Alaska Airlines agent that his bike would arrive by Aug. 5 — two days before the race.

“I’m going to have to cross my fingers and hope that this agent that I chatted with … is correct,” he said. “And that my bike makes it there before race day.”

Like Rinehart, Arabia’s unhappy about the last-minute communication for a foreseeable problem. It’s too late now, but affordable, third-party options for shipping bikes are available with more notice.

“Shame on Ironman. Shame on Alaska Airlines for not coordinating early,” he said.

In a statement, Alaska Airlines said they’ve been communicating with the Ironman organization for the last year with a goal of getting important travel information to athletes. The airline said its email to customers about bike capacity was a backstop, “in the event they had not heard from the Ironman organization.”

Other athletes do appear to be opting for some of those expensive shipping options. Ken Hill owns the shop Juneau Bike Doctor. He saw a thread about the bike issue  on Facebook and offered up his shop as a shipping destination and storage spot for athletes sending bikes ahead of their flights.

“The phone’s been going crazy and our Facebook messages as well,” he said. “I literally can’t step away from my computer without it piling up.”

Within 24 hours, he said 30 to 40 people took him up on the offer. He said he expects bikes to start showing up on Monday.

Travel Juneau, Juneau’s destination marketing organization, has been working closely with the race organizers. Executive Director Liz Perry said the race organizers and airline are working together to smooth things out.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Alaska Airlines did not respond to a request for comment. The reporter failed to make a request.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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