Flying with Wine: How to Pack Wine in your Luggage

One of the best souvenirs money can buy is bringing home a bottle of wine. Not only does the wine allow you to relive your experience, but it is a great excuse to share your stories with your friends. But flying with wine is a source of great anxiety for even the most well traveled individuals. Not only does packing wine in your luggage create the risk of broken wine bottles, but you could also ruin everything else in your suitcase.

Flying with wine

Having brought home a fair number of wine bottles in my checked baggage I’ve certainly stumbled across a few approaches that work, and a few that… don’t.

Each approach depends on how many bottles of wine you are carrying and how important that wine (or your luggage) is to you. I’ll break this article about flying with wine down based on those criteria:

How not to Fly with Wine

When it comes to flying with wine, most people believe that they can put the bottle into the center of their suitcase, wrap the wine in some clothes, and everything will be ok.

Having done so many times, I can attest that is not the case. Wrapping your clothes around a bottle of wine is the absolute worst thing you can do. I’m reminded of one story in particular:

While traveling through New Zealand we visited the beautiful island of Waiheke and went on a wine tour.

Having picked up a few bottles of wine, we carefully packed them into our checked luggage with the intention of bringing them home. Much to our shock, upon arriving at our next destination in Australia, we found one of the bottles had shattered.

Luckily, the broken wine bottle had only soaked a few articles of clothing and the hotel we were staying at had a laundry facility. We quickly got the clothes into the wash (while the wine was still wet) and it came out. If this happens to you, the key is to wash the clothes before the wine has a chance to set.

The key takeaway here is: Don’t wrap clothes around wine in your luggage.

Seriously, don’t do it. I know, you’ve done it a before with great success. That’s awesome. Stop now while you’re ahead. Protect your clothes from your wine by:

  • Bring a large ziplock bag to put your wine into (and then wrap with clothes)
  • Wrapping your bottles of wine in the laundry bag provided by your hotel
  • Planning ahead and bring a wine diaper with you!

Packing Wine in your Checked Luggage

When most people travel with wine they are focused on packing one or two bottles of wine in checked luggage.

In the section above I outlined what not to do when traveling with wine in your checked bag–wrap your clothes around the wine bottle. In this section we’ll focus on how to transport wine the right way.

Wine Bottle Travel Protectors

The best thing you can do is invest a few dollars in a wine bottle travel sleeve to protect both your clothes and your precious wine.

These products go by a bunch of different names–wine diapers, wine sleeves, Jet Bags–but they are all largely the same thing. My favorite is the Jet Bag, but the Wine Wings and the WineSkin both get notable reviews. The WineHug also looks interesting, but maybe overkill.

I have used a Jet Bag on many trips. In fact, I keep two in my suitcase at all times.

I’ve yet to have a bottle break in my bag with one, and I was curious how well it would perform. So I decided to smash a bottle of wine with a hammer to test it out! Because why not, right? Check it:

Traveling with wine: Putting the Jet Bag to the test

Pack Wine Bottles in the Center of your Suitcase

As you are packing your wine bottles in your luggage the placement of the bottle is important.

Always pack your wine bottles as close to the center of your suitcase as you can and always pack them vertically.

This provides the most protection as possible and it aligns the most vulnerable part of the bottle — the neck — with the forces that will be applied to it.

This is especially important if you travel with a rolling duffle type suitcase like the North Face Rolling Thunder.

Baggage handlers will always lay these bags soft-side down. This exerts a stronger horizontal force on the contents of the bag due to rigid back and soft sides.

Protect the Neck of your Wine Bottles

As mentioned above, the neck of a wine bottle is the most vulnerable part.

The body of the wine bottle is remarkably strong. When a wine bottle breaks in your luggage, the break usually occurs at the neck.

Take special care to limit the amount of movement or impact the neck of the bottle could experience.

Traveling with Expensive or Valuable Wine

Packing wine in your luggage

If you are traveling with expensive, rare, or just emotionally valuable wine, then you’re probably not going to like my advice.

Travel Tip: Have your wine professionally packaged a shipped.

To be honest, this is really your best option. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Temperature changes – Any connoisseur of fine wines knows that large fluctuations in temperature can ruin a prize vintage.
  • Quantity – If you are buying something fancy, you’re probably buying a few bottles. Any more than two bottles in a suitcase and you’ll run into issues.
  • Risk – If you’re willing to spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on a bottle of wine, pony up for the shipping.

If you absolutely must bring the wine back yourself, then you might as well get a ridiculous wine suitcase to protect your investment. Many of these suitcases can hold up to 12 bottles of wine or a combination of wine and clothes.

You’ll need to check this bag though, so temperature can be an issue.

The average temperature of an airline baggage compartment is about 45° F or 7°C. This is right at the low end of ideal wine storage temperature.

Laws around Shipping Wine

The scenario where a wine suitcase starts to make sense are often the ones where direct shipping is not allowed in your state.

Wine Spectator has a good breakdown of the state-by-state wine shipping laws that is worth a quick read.

The shipper you use (or the vineyard you are visiting) will often have a good understanding of the laws around shipping alcohol. Moreover, even some of the states that do not allow direct shipment within the US will allow direct shipment from abroad. Always ask.

Shipping wine is way easier and less expensive than you would think. Vineyards know that flying with wine is hard and it limits the bottles you purchase. It is in their best interest to help you ship it.

As such, a good vineyard makes this process seamless. They will even coordinate dates to make sure you are back from your trip when your wine arrives.

The Bottom Line on Flying with Wine

If it hasn’t become clear by now, a little pre-planning can make the act of bringing home a wonderful bottle of wine much easier.

But of course, given that you are reading this article, you probably knew that already.

So do yourself a favor, grab a few wine bags, and go on an epic trip.

And if you’ve ever had a bottle break in your luggage, share your story in the comments below. These are always some of the best travel tales, and the price of entry for being well traveled.

Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *