Published Jeremy. Last Updated on March 9, 2023.
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Whenever we travel to wine regions, we always like to buy wine at wineries we visit. But as we often visit five, ten, or even more wineries in a single trip to popular regions, the wine we accumulate adds up (we very rarely leave any winery without a bottle- call that a good or bad habit, we'll accept either distinction).
Then we are faced with a problem that traveling wine addicts know all too well- how do you take wine on a plane? and even can you bring wine on a plane? to begin with!
The short answer is, on most airlines, yes, you can take wine on a plane. But as we all know, carry-on liquid limitations are quite small everywhere in the world (outside of duty-free purchases, at least)- so to take full-sized wine bottles on a plane we have to pack them in our checked luggage. But as these are taken outside of our control shortly after arriving at the airport, we have to take great care in how we package our wine to survive the bumps and jolts they may experience along the way.
So in this one, we wanted to share some of the ways we go about checking wine in suitcases to help improve the odds of having intact bottles when we arrive home. Currently, we have used the below to bring 24 bottles home from a single trip without issue!
Disclaimer: The below steps are what we personally use to fly with wine in suitcases that are checked. Please note that this is not foolproof and there are inherent risks associated with each method. If you take bottles on a plane, be aware that they could break and airlines often want you to sign a liability waiver for products like wine. While we've had good luck with the below, we also cannot call them foolproof. As such, if you are checking wine, note that it is a risk that you are accepting on your own.
Wine Shipping Boxes Are Great (If You Can Get Them)
One of my favorite ways to fly with wine is to simply utilize wine shipping boxes.
These are standard cardboard boxes with specially designed, stackable inserts that can accommodate three, six, or even 12 bottles (per their respective box). The inserts are designed in such a way that bottles are held apart from each other and held mostly still* while absorbing any minor vibrations and shocks the box may receive during shipping. If you've ever had wine delivered via mail, odds are good it was in one of these boxes and many wineries have them on hand to fulfill mail orders.
- *Emphasis on the word mostly as these inserts generally are designed to accommodate most 750 mL bottle shapes. As such, the minor gaps will possibly exist and could allow for some movement. That being said, as long as a bottle fits within the space, we generally don't worry about this much.
As many airlines allow you to check standard boxes as a piece of luggage (size and weight rules apply- confirm rules with your airline prior to flying), these shipping boxes are a great option for checking wine on a plane without going all-out for one of those extremely expensive wine suitcases.
Of course, there are some caveats attached that we must discuss further.
First, acquiring these boxes is easier said than done. While we receive these regularly throughout the year with online wine orders, they're often too big to place into our luggage when traveling. So you are often at the mercy of asking for a free one from a friendly winery (our success rate is often quite good here- especially when you buy a lot from one place). That being said, you may need to be prepared for an alternative solution if no one says yes.
Second, checking wine in dedicated box counts against your checked bag total. Some airlines allow free checked boxes of wine for all guests (Alaska Air is a notable one from select cities on the west coast- as always reconfirm this before you fly), but not all of them do. So here it is more a matter of if you have bag allotments available (or are willing to pay for it) and also if your airline weight limits allow for it. Generally speaking, six conventional bottles in a shipping box runs about 21 lbs (just under 10 kg) and twelve runs about 42 lbs (just under 20 kg)- bottle shape can influence this greatly, however.
We have to admit, we personally go the wine in luggage route if only because we have a premium United credit card that allows two checked bags for free. But if you do not have that luxury, the fees associated with checking an additional bag may make this one expensive in a hurry (so, at a minimum, make sure you're buying very good wine to justify the extra cost!).
- Be sure to write your name and contact information (address and phone number) on each box in the event they're lost. Every extra bit of security helps. Our info was edited off the above photo for privacy.
So, what can you do if you don't have the ability to check a box? We also buy Wine Skins to secure our wine in suitcases!
Wine Skins Are A Good Alternative
Wine Skins are a lot like what you'd imagine based on their name (click the previous link to read our full review). They are bubble wrap lined bags, shaped like wine bottles, with adhesive tape (often double-layered) to prevent leaks in the event of a bottle break. While they should be considered one-time use due to the adhesive strips being worn out, we've had little issue reusing these and seal them with some added conventional tape or double-sided adhesive strips (this comes with added risk, naturally, as DIY sealing may not be as good as original).
Once secure, all you have to do is tightly pack the bottles in your suitcase surrounded by clothes and other soft items. Care must be taken to ensure the bottles are spaced apart from each other (and the harder edges of your suitcase) and also having enough clothes to ensure there is no space within your bag that could allow the bottles to bounce around. The more gaps/space you have, the bigger the impact from a bounce or vibration, and the greater risk you have of a bottle breaking during shipment.
As such, when we pack wine in a suitcase with Wine Skins, we go fully loaded with clothes to provide as much padding as possible (clothes that we wouldn't be upset getting ruined in the event of a break, too- an important caveat).
Our generally cautious approach will significantly reduce the yield of bottles you can have in any given suitcase but maximizes the padding and safety potential as best as we think possible. Our record is nine bottles in a single, large suitcase, but generally, four to six allows for the best amount of padding. Your mileage will vary here as there are simply far too many factors at play for what works best.
While these sleeves can help you avoid having a second bag, note that every bottle of wine increases your suitcase weight by about 3-4 lbs (1.3-1.6 kg). It doesn't take much to push an already loaded bag to the max weight limit, so once again you may want to plan for a contingency in the event of going over. Personally, we'll chuck our toiletries any day to save the wine.
Ultimately, the answer to the question of “can you fly with a bottle of wine?” is yes. But there are many hurdles you need to cross in order to do it safely and being within an airline's terms and conditions- namely, taking wine in checked baggage above all others.
Whether you use wine shipping boxes, Wine Skins, or a mix of both, the above options are great ways to help check wine on a plane. So far, our luck has held out with these and we've never had a bottle break. But that being said, we also view this as an inevitability and are fully prepared for the day when it happens. We just hope it'll be the cheap bottle and surrounded by old clothes when it does.
The above is our current approach to flying with wine. If this changes in the future (if/when a bottle breaks, specifically), we will update this article accordingly. Please remember that there are inherent risks associated with these methods and none are totally foolproof- one bad drop and even the best-packaged bottle will break. As such, you are liable for your own wine at all times. If you are worried about breakage via these methods, your best course of action is to simply pay a winery to ship your bottles outright.
Do you fly with wine as checked luggage? How do you do it to ensure your bottles do not break? Comment below to share!