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Wine Enthusiast? Business Traveler? How to Transport Fragile Bottles When Flying

December 28th, 2016 /

I will never forget my business trip to San Francisco last summer. On my return home, I made a last-minute decision to pack two bottles of vintage cabernet in my checked bag, wrapped only in my second-best suit. I’m sure you know where this is going. My luggage arrived at JFK leaving blood-colored drips on the floor. My wardrobe (and suitcase) were gone for good—as was an investment of several hundred dollars.

But I’m stubborn. So rather than give up entirely, I began to look for slightly more foolproof methods of flying wine home in a suitcase. After months of trial and (sometimes quite spectacular) error, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for those of you who want to get fragile bottles home without staining everything you hold dear.

traveling with wine bottles is possible if you plan carefully

Bringing wine bottles home from a business trip can be tricky. Make sure you know the rules. Image by Flickr user Tnarik Innael (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Become an Expert on Official TSA Rules

Let’s back up a bit. My first recommendation is actually to make sure that you’re well-versed in the alcohol transport rules provided by the TSA. In fact, you should be prepared to quote these regulations if necessary. I’d go so far as to suggest keeping a copy of the official rules in your carry-on. I’ve occasionally run into new or ill-informed employees, and if your luggage happens to get searched, this type of documentation can help expedite the process.

But here are the basics: first, fly your wine home in a checked bag. This one is obvious, but business travelers are so used to flying carry-on only that it might be second nature to bypass a second bag. So long as it’s not in your carry-on, however, wine is unrestricted.

If you’re interested in flying with other alcoholic beverages, though, note that you’re only allowed five liters of alcohol with higher proofs (up to 70%). Different rules also apply if you’re flying internationally: you sometimes have to pay an extra 3% tax on alcohol above one liter when you pass through US customs.

flying with wine bottles can require some experimenting

Make sure your gift wines actually make it home without leaking all over your clothes. Image by Flickr user Brendan DeBrincat (CC BY 2.0)

Protect Your Suitcase from Wine Stains

I’ve packed my bottles in Wine Diapers, Jet Bags, Wine Hugs, cheap sleeves from wineries, and even plain old bubble wrap, but the packing option I’ve had the most consistent luck with? Wine Skins. These consist of a layer of bubble wrap inside an adhesive plastic covering. The layers serve both to protect your wine from rough handling and to prevent leaks from spreading to the rest of your suitcase (although I haven’t actually had any problems with breakage).

The downside is that each Wine Skin is only good for a single use. To be fair, I’ve found that a lot of reusable velcro and ziplock wine sleeves aren’t that reliable after a couple of trips anyway—I’d rather pay the extra five dollars per bottle just for the peace of mind.

But this method does take a little advance planning—and sometimes you find yourself with a last-minute impulse purchase and nowhere to put it. In this situation, I’d suggest sliding a sock over your entire bottle, then wrapping it with any soft and inexpensive items you’ve got in your suitcase (undershirts work well). Place the padded bottle in a ziplock bag or a knotted hotel garbage can liner, then position it in the very center of your suitcase, with the rest of your clothes arranged as padding between it and the walls. You run a small risk, but the odds are pretty good that you’ll arrive home with your purchase intact.

flying with wine isn't your only option

If you’re transporting many bottles at once, you might consider other transport options. Image by Flickr user Greg Pye (CC BY 2.0)

Other Options for Transporting Your Wine

If you’re purchasing directly from a winery, most locations also offer shipping to your home address. Depending on how many bottles you purchase, this option can be more expensive than just packing your wine in your suitcase, and you might arrive home quicker than your wine does, but you’re also freed from dealing with the hassle.

If you want to purchase multiple bottles but need them immediately upon your return, you can also try purchasing a wine shipping box and foam inserts directly from the winery, packing your bottles yourself, and then checking the whole thing at the airport. I’ve tried this a couple of times and had good results.

traveling with wine bottles doesn't have to mean ruining your best suit

Enjoy your wine at home without worrying about transporting it on the airplane. Try shipping! Image by Ralf Smallkaa (CC BY 2.0)

Traveling with Wine Is Possible if Done Carefully

With a little experimenting, you should be able to add to your wine collection without worrying about ruining your wardrobe on every flight.

Bringing wine home makes for a taste of luxury after you’ve returned, of course, but what about when you’re still on the road? Business travelers need to be able to depend on comfortable amenities year-round, and a membership with JetLux Hotels will grant you access to discounted corporate rates at the best hotels in the nation, so you’ll be able to travel in style no matter where your business takes you—or what you’ve got packed in your bag.

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