We’re oenophiles. Not only do we love tasting and learning about wine around the world, wine is one of our favorite souvenirs to bring home from a trip. Wine can be delicate to travel with and you never want to arrive home to your clothes stained burgundy from a broken bottle of red. Traveling with wine is actually a lot easier than you think, though. Can you bring alcohol on a plane? Absolutely, but only in checked baggage unless you’re purchasing it from duty free. After years of flying with wine ourselves, we’ve put together our tips for how to pack wine in luggage and everything you need to know about how much wine you can bring back.
Flying with Wine, Alcohol and Champagne
Rule 1: you cannot take alcohol in hand luggage.
This might seem blatantly obvious, but too many travelers overlook the fact that you can only travel with wine in checked luggage. Whether it be nostalgia for the days before 9/11 when you could carry bottles – or even cases – of wine on the plane or just total lack of awareness of the TSA prohibited items list, we still see far too many distraught travelers reluctantly handing over their bottles of Dom Pérignon for the TSA agents to drink later. Or worse yet, travelers standing on the other side of the ropes while they guzzle their bottle before boarding the plane.
Liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are prohibited to take in your carry-on bags, with the exception of wine and spirits purchased in duty free shops after passing through security. Just be aware that if you are making a flight connection in which you’ll have to re-enter security, you may not be able to bring duty free wine through with you when re-screened. This happens particularly if you are flying international and then connecting to a domestic flight.
Bringing wine into the US on the plane is easier than you think, though, and you have a couple of options for flying with alcohol.
- If you only plan to bring back a couple of bottles, there are various types of wine bottle packaging you can purchase ahead of your trip. A wine travel bag or wine bottle protector is designed to add some cushion around the bottles, and the best ones seal and are leak-proof.
- If you’re planning to bring back a larger amount of wine than just 2-3 bottles, consider investing in a wine suitcase. These suitcases are designed specifically to fit and protect 12 bottles of wine.
- Consider checking a case of wine as luggage. It’s treated as any other checked baggage and the winery often will package it up for you with the same protective materials they use when packaging wine for shipping.
Champagne in checked luggage also isn’t a problem. Many travelers are concerned about whether the pressure affects champagne and you can rest assured that even the cargo holds on planes are pressurized. Even though the plane’s interior goes through small cabin pressurization changes that can make your ears pop or cause a bottle of shampoo to occasionally pop open, champagne bottles and their corks are built to withstand far more pressure.
One last thing. It should also go without saying that you must be 21 years of age to bring alcohol into the US, even if you are only bringing it as a gift.
How Much Wine Can You Bring Back into the USA?
Rule 2: when it comes to bringing alcohol into US in checked luggage, you need to adhere to the TSA’s rules on alcoholic beverages. The TSA alcohol limit is divided into two categories:
- alcoholic beverages that contain between 24% – 70% alcohol are limited in checked bags to 5 liters per person;
- alcoholic beverages that contain less than 24% alcohol have no limit.
So how much wine can I bring back from France then? Great news: as much as you want!
Nearly all wine contains less than 24% alcohol, so there is no TSA-regulated quantity limit for the amount of wine in your checked bag for personal use. Just always be sure to check the TSA website for any changes to this policy before you travel.
Individual airline baggage weight limits still apply, but you can use up your entire weight allotment for wine if you chose. It’s good to know that one bottle of wine weighs approximately 3 pounds, though it may vary slightly since some winemakers use heavier bottles.
How to Pack Alcohol in Checked Luggage
The challenge of packing wine in your checked luggage is making sure you don’t end up with 750 milliliters of Chianti on your clothes. Wine bottles can be delicate and luggage handlers generally don’t handle your luggage with the utmost care. Your luggage is likely to get tossed, jostled, and probably will end up shooting down onto the conveyor belt upside down and backwards.
As frequent travelers flying with wine, we’ve tried it all and have yet to arrive home with a broken bottle. When we’ve not planned in advance to bring wine home, wrapping one or two bottles up in something unimportant like pajamas, socks, and t-shirts does the trick. Just be sure to nestle your bottle into the middle of your suitcase and cushion it as best as possible. You might even want to add a little extra protection like placing it inside a plastic shopping bag or the plastic laundry bag from your hotel room just in case.
It’s really best to be prepared with wine sleeves for airplane travel, though. There’s many brands making these wine bottle travel protectors these days and it’s super easy to order them on Amazon. Many wineries often sell wine bottle bags in their shops too, but you’ll pay a higher price than if you just ordered them and brought them along with you on your trip. They’re flat and weigh next to nothing, so there’s no reason not to just pack them and save that extra money to spend on wine.
We particularly like the brand WineSkin. They’re basically bubble wrap wine bottle protectors that are a special leak-proof vinyl bag specially contoured to fit 750 mL bottles of wine. The have an adhesive seal and will keep your bottle safe and the rest of the contents of your suitcase dry just in case the bottle does break. WineSkins are sold in 2-packs, 4-packs or 6-packs and are often even available in wine shops if you haven’t ordered some in advance.
If you’re bringing back more than just a couple of bottles, consider purchasing a wine suitcase like the Vin Garde Valise Grande 04 Wine Travel Case. It’s a spinner hard shell suitcase with specially designed compartments to hold up to 12 wine bottles of any shape or 10 wine bottles and two champagne bottles. When fully packed with 12 bottles, it comes in weighing between 43-49 pounds and under the checked baggage weight limit of 50 pounds for most airlines. When you’re not using it for packing alcohol in luggage, it can be used as a regular suitcase.
Even with a specially configured suitcase for packing wine, alcohol and other bottles like balsamic vinegar, you might want to consider adding extra protection by securing the bottles in WineSkins.
Checking a Case of Wine as Luggage
Most airlines treat cardboard boxes just as they would a suitcase. It shouldn’t exceed the weight limit (typically 50 lbs for most airlines) and should clearly display your name on the outside of it.
Many wineries, particularly if they ship their wine, have packaging materials on hand and will either just package it all up for you at no extra charge or will only charge a small fee for the packaging materials. Wine cases for shipping have separators and bottle protectors that will help keep your wine safe during your flight home.
Marking the box fragile really won’t help. Most airline baggage handlers say that they rarely notice those stickers, so you want to make sure it’s all packaged up really well. Write all of your information on the outside of the box, including your flight number. Then simply show up at check-in, place it on the scale and pay any additional baggage fees since the case of wine presumably isn’t your only piece of checked luggage.
Some airlines will let you check a case of wine for free, like Alaska Airlines’ Wine Flies Free program. Alaska Airlines allows Alaska Mileage Plan members to check one case containing up to 12 bottles for free when departing from 29 airports in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California wine regions. So be sure to ask about any airline loyalty perks either before you fly or once you arrive at the airline check-in counter.
If it all still seems like a hassle, inquire with the wine shop about shipping options. Many wine shops and wineries will ship wine direct all over the world. They’ll take care to package it all up properly and your wine will arrive at your home without the weight and hassle of having to get it there yourself.
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