If you visited Napa or Sonoma while traveling to the Bay Area, you probably did a bit of wine tasting. You may even have bought a bottle.
But if you’re like many visitors, you didn’t necessarily finish that bottle! Napa and Sonoma wine is pricey–if you have a half-drunk bottle from a tasting, you might be wondering how to safely bring it home with you on the plane.
Can you pack an opened bottle of wine in your checked bag? Yes, it’s physically possible to protect an opened bottle reasonably well in a checked bag. But you shouldn’t do it in the US, as it’s likely against TSA regulations.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the regulations and also share the best practices for packing opened alcohol in checked luggage, in case you find yourself traveling in a country that allows this.
1. Understand Airline and TSA Regulations
The alcohol content of your beverage determines whether or not it can be packed in checked luggage. As per TSA regulations, you can pack alcoholic beverages with up to 24% alcohol content in any quantity. For those between 24% and 70%, there is a limit of 5 liters per passenger. Anything above 70% is prohibited.
There’s a catch, though. Those laws apply only to unopened bottles. The TSA says that alcohol must be in “unopened retail packaging” to be in your checked bag.
So if you got a couple extra unopened bottles, feel free to bring it back. But when traveling in the US, opened bottles can’t legally fly, at least officially.
Ambiguity in the Law
It’s a little ambiguous exactly how these regulations apply, though. When we asked the TSA directly about whether a resealed, partially opened bottle of alcohol can fly, they said:
“Per FAA guidance linked above, “Alcoholic beverages containing 24% or less alcohol by volume are not restricted as hazardous materials. This includes beers and most wines.”
That suggests that previously-opened hard liquor is prohibited, but previously opened and resealed wine might be okay. Again, the safest bet is to avoid flying with partially-opened bottles, since the rules are a bit ambiguous.
Maybe drop that half bottle of pricey Cab here at the Bay Area Telegraph’s office instead? 🙂
2. Use Wine Protectors
Okay, so you likely can’t legally bring back an opened bottle from Napa. But what if you find yourself traveling in a country that does allow opened bottles to fly?
Here’s are tips to keep that bottle safe.
Wine Skins or Bubble Wraps: These are essential for any wine lover. They’re designed to wrap around the bottle and offer a padded layer of protection. If the bottle breaks, the wine skin/bubble wrap will absorb the liquid, preventing a mess.
Some people like to use a wine protector and then place the entire bottle in a large Ziploc bag for extra protection.
These help with unopened bottles too, if you want to bring some back from Napa.
3. Repackage Opened Bottles
a. Use Wine Stoppers: Before placing the bottle in your suitcase, make sure it’s sealed correctly. A good wine stopper can make a world of difference.
b. Parafilm: Consider wrapping the top of the bottle with parafilm, a stretchy, self-adhesive film. It provides an extra seal to prevent leaks.
4. Position Bottles Carefully
Centered and Cushioned: Place your wrapped bottles in the center of your suitcase, surrounded by soft items like clothing. This provides additional cushioning and minimizes the chances of breakage from external impacts.
5. Consider Using Wine Shipper Boxes
For those who are serious about bringing back a treasure trove of wines, investing in a wine shipper box is wise. These boxes, made of sturdy cardboard and lined with styrofoam cutouts, are designed to hold multiple bottles securely.
6. Check the Weight
Luggage weight limits can be easily exceeded when packing bottles of wine. Always weigh your suitcase before heading to the airport to avoid any excess baggage fees.
Remember, liquids are heavy! You might overload your checked bag if you fill it with wine.
7. Declare at Customs
If traveling internationally and you’ve packed more than your allowance, declare the extra bottles at customs. It might result in paying some duties, but it’s better than facing fines or having your precious wine confiscated.
Traveling from Napa and Sonoma with opened bottles of wine isn’t allowed, due to TSA regulations.
It’s physically possible to protect an opened bottle if you’re traveling in a place that allows it, though.
By following the above guidelines, you can maximize the chances that your wine reaches its destination safely.