HOWTO: successfully check wine on a plane

After two bad wine travel experiences this summer, I finally got it right about ten days ago. Returning by plane from a business trip to the Windy City, I found myself unencumbered by either checked baggage or children. Thus the time was right to return to the storage locker that I couldn’t empty when we moved from Chicago over three years ago.

I bought two Styrofoam shipping containers at a wine store and filled them with 24 bottles, some collectible, others I could ditch if necessary. Since I was flying United, I was worried; readers have posted comments on this blog about rogue United agents refusing to check passengers with wine. And Paul Gregutt recently wrote about the experiences of some Washington wine country travelers who were only allowed five liters of wine (less than seven bottles) because the airline agent thought the TSA limit on spirits also applied to wine.

Before I hopped in a taxi, I asked the friend I was staying with to print two web pages. First, the United policy on wine in checked baggage, which has no limit, though it does state that wine must be in a “Styrofoam-type” insert. Second, the TSA rules on traveling with alcohol, which state that there is no limit on the amount of wine you can check. I wanted to have these printouts handy in case I got a rogue agent. I also wrote my name, address and flight number on a paper that I put inside the box before I sealed it with packing tape.

At O’Hare, I went straight to curbside to avoid a repeat experience of schlepping a bulky, handleless box any distance, as I have in rental car return lots on previous trips. Fortunately, the skycap was very polite and didn’t even flinch when I replied to his question that it was wine in the boxes. He just charged me $40, the current fee for two bags (the fee will be rising to $65 for two bags after November 10). In my euphoria of not having a problem, I gave him a nice tip.

When I collected my boxes from the belt on the other end, there were no wine stains that I had seen on my luggage the last time, without proper packaging. But there was “TSA INSPECTED” tape on the boxes. I just hope Hardy Rodenstock wasn’t on TSA duty that day.

Funny, but only after I made it home safely did it occur to me about insurance. I usually rely on my credit card to automatically provide me insurance. But because I had cashed in that increasingly useless currency known as air miles for the flight, I paid only $5, the security fee, for my flight. Had the bags been lost, would I have been covered? I asked Mark Ashley, travel guru at Upgrade: Travel Better, and he told me that I would, in fact, be covered because I paid the entire cost of the ticket ($5) with my credit card (but this varies by card, so read the fine print or call for a “legal opinion”). Cheap tix, free insurance, unbroken bottles–I’ll drink to that!

UPDATE: if you’re traveling with just a few bottles, several commenters on the previous post recommended a product called the Wine Skin, which looks very good.

Related: “Puzzle of the day: where can you fly with wine in the USA?
Poll: bringing wine home in an age of baggage charges

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28 Responses to “HOWTO: successfully check wine on a plane”

  1. It’s great to see improvement, this is above and beyond your past packing job you did.

    Glad it was worth the effort.

  2. Just came back from Cali with United and had no problem checking wine(they even put fragile stickers on my styro for me). Although I did have an entire row to myself in economy so I think I may have been in some other dimension of flight travel.

  3. Many many readers responded to the column you mention, and a lot of them excoriated me for not suggesting that they simply have the wines shipped directly from the wineries where they were purchased. However, that will not work in all instances, may be even more expensive than the usurious baggage charges being piled on by the airlines, and risks wines being broiled, boiled, frozen or simply confiscated en route. So I think there are no perfect solutions, but this is a definitely a topic worth tracking over time. Thanks for your insights!

  4. We now regularly send our visitors home with these shipping containers, which many wineries in Napa will provide for a discount. There is one type that has a handle that folds for shipping, but for those that don’t we fashion one out of additional packing tape, so it’s easier to lug around.

  5. Styrofoam?…you devil.

  6. haha Sarah, indeed! I plan to bring them to my local shop so they can reuse them and give the boxes at least one more use.

  7. Lost 2 of my bottles at LAX. Mondo Cellars wine….the best in Paso Robles….I will miss my Mambo #5. Next time will use Shipper box.

  8. I travel to Australia for work every other month and bring wine home in my checked luggage all the time. I use a bag called Wine Mummy at It’s less than $5 and re-usable. I’ve never had a problem.

  9. I travel a great deal and as I live part of the year in a Muslim country, I am constantly bringing wine and spirits into the country in my luggage (The laws for non-Muslims are kind of vague, and they don’t check ex-pat luggage anyway).

    I use a combination of bubble wrap, duct tape and 2 gallon ziplock bags. My biggest haul was 17 bottles in one check and I’ve never had any spillage.

  10. I am going to Belgium, and the only thing I can find is that customs allows 2 liters.

    I have heard that I can bring more, if I check it. Its not specified on the site whether the 2 liter limit is Carry-on, or checked bags, or both.

    Any guidence?

  11. […] also recommend reading this post: How to successfully check wine on a plane. Posted in General | 2 Comments […]

  12. try the vinnibag…it works great and and is also a great gift item for all wine lovers!

  13. […] “HOW TO: successfully check wine on a plane“ Permalink | Comments (0) | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "HOW TO: bring wine onboard a […]

  14. Thanks Doc, very useful stuff!

  15. We came back from France with a case between the two of us last year, packed in plastic bags with dirty clothes for cushioning (a new meaning to “terroir,” I guess). Best of all, there was a hassle with the luggage so it got delivered to our house the next day, with no trip through customs!

  16. […] 4,000 calories and weighs 3 lbs (via Gizmodo) 3. How to successfully Check Wine on a Plane (via Dr Vino) 4. Make This: Gluten Free and Vegan Apple Bread Recipe 5. Is your child a picky eater? There is a […]

  17. Here’s another vote for the Wine Mummy. I used several of them coming home from Washington a couple of years ago and they work great. They also seem to be increasingly easy to find at wine shops, and a lot of tasting rooms carry them now. I’ve never had a problem with checking wine, not even when I checked a mixed case on a flight home from France. I checked an empty styrofoam-insert box on the trip over, in those long-ago days (circa 3 years ago) of no baggage fees.

  18. Inspected by H. Rodenstock? Whaa, where did this 1871 Chateau Yquem come from?

  19. Chris,
    I’m glad United treated your wine well. Now if they’d just stop hating on guitars!
    : )

  20. Thank you so much for the tips! You’re def. helping my wedding out.

  21. hi,
    I was just wondering if anyone has had any problems taking wine to China.
    I’m going to China in March and was hoping to take some wine as a gift for the accommodation.
    Does anyone know if it’s a bad idea or if it will be confiscated ?


  22. […] traveling with wine HOW TO: Bring wine on board a plane HOW TO: successfully check wine on a plane window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({appId: "", status: true, cookie: true, xfbml: true}); […]

  23. Is it safe to put sparkling wine in your luggage? Mightn’t it explode in the baggage area of the plane?

  24. Re taking wine to China – you are allowed 2x 750mls bottles per person duty free – after that it is the luck of the game how much they will charge you ! On recent experience, it was approx 100RMB per bottle = USD approx $13 per bottle

  25. ,heather c wrote:
    thank you for your answer, considering the price being around 50 to 60 € a bottle i think that even if they charge me 13 USD per bottle it’s still fine.
    Or does anyone thinks the tax may change depending on the bottle ?

  26. Hi there, can you possibly fix the links for the United Airlines policy and TSA policy? I am planning on bringing ~24 bottles of wine with me to Japan, and I would like to make sure I am fully prepared.

    Also any tips with bringing this wine with me via check in baggage?


  27. After struggling to travel with wine in styroshippers with no wheels or handles, I created a product to make it easier.. That said, there are other great options, too. Pelican hard cases are great (although heavy and expensive). Wineskins are great for a couple of bottles. Hope we can carry on wine, soon! Happy wine travels!!!

  28. Here is another great option. My wife and I used these up in Napa a few years ago and they worked amazingly. They even kept our wine cool on a hot summer day.

    The Wine Mummy


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