Traveling by air with beer


By Bryan Kolesar, website: The Brew Lounge, (Twitter: @BrewLounge)

PHILADELPHIA, January 31, 2014 — Vacation is winding down. You have relaxed and soaked up the local culture. You’ve picked up a thank-you gift for the neighbor watching your house. You’ve picked up some future holiday and birthday gifts.

Now for a little something for yourself, you are considering bringing home a few bottles of beer (substitute wine wherever I say beer, if that’s more your thing).

But, then you’re reminded of the TSA ban on liquids in forms greater than 3.4 ounces (100ml) on board of domestic U.S. flights. Many people I speak with say that is where any thought of bringing indigenous beverages home from their vacation ends.

With a bit of planning and some careful packing, it really is not that difficult to bring tasty treats of beer home by plane. The first, and perhaps most significant key, is getting past the mental sticking point of packing bottles in checked baggage.

Bottles of beer that you bring home will likely be at least 11.15 ounces (330ml, or 1/3 liter) and up to 25.36 ounces (750ml, or 3/4 liter). I once brought home a 1.5 liter bottle of very special beer from San Francisco, but that likely is a more infrequent occurrence, so let’s keep this conversation to bottles of 750ml and smaller.

Following are some tips for increasing the chances of successfully bringing a bottle of beer home to enjoy from your favorite faraway brewery.

Don’t tip the scales– Considering the strict weight limits for checked baggage, you will want to carry a small hand-held scale with you so that you can ensure proper baggage weight before you get to the airport. There is no reason to pay more for your checked beer than you already have.

Choose wisely– If you are not planning to check a bag, but bringing home beer now forces you to do so, most major airlines will charge a fee, even for the first bag, that starts as low as $15 but typically is $25 or greater. Only one major domestic U.S. airline does not charge a fee for the first two checked bags. This may be an airline worth looking at when making your plans if you think there is a good chance that you will be checking a bag, particularly with beer.

Pack the wrap– Bubble wrap, packing tape, and newspaper are a few of the choice items you could pack in your bag when leaving home that will make your beer travel easier and tidier when you are packing to return home.

Reuse, re-purpose, recycle– Why let hotel housekeeping simply throw away the daily newspaper that gets dropped outside the hotel room door? Repurpose it and then recycle it when you get home. One day’s newspaper can often provide enough packing material for wrapping at least a half a dozen bottles. If you didn’t bring the bubble wrap and tape from home, these newspapers work well and you can often find tape in the hotel’s business center.

Dirty laundry still serves a purpose– In a pinch, without any of the materials mentioned above, small bottles can be slid inside of shoes (and laced over). Socks can hold small bottles as well. T-shirts can be good for wrapping around larger bottles.

As with dressing, layer– Once you have the bottles nicely wrapped in bubble wrap, newspaper, or clothing and lined up in front of the suitcase, you are ready to pack them away for travel. Be sure to intersperse the wrapped bottles between other clothing, toiletries, and packed items. This will provide yet one more buffered layer of protection from the rigors of air travel. It also is a good idea to pack the bottles away from the outer perimeter of the suitcase to prevent direct bumps and blows from baggage handlers and errant objects that may come into contact with the suitcase.

Special delivery– If you want to keep beverages away from your clothing at all cost, you can consider (if legal in your home state) having a brewery ship direct to your home (though, this is a rarely-offered option) or packing the beers in a box with special form-fitting plastic or foam trays made for shipping glass bottles as a separate piece of checked luggage at the airport.

With just a bit of care, in as little as a few hours after purchasing beer that you can only get from where you were vacationing, you can be enjoying a new found beer with family and friends at home.

Bryan J. Kolesar travels the world for great beer and food. He writes from his native Philadelphia region.

Kolesar’s writing can be found here in Communities Digital News, at his popular long-running blog – The Brew Lounge, and followed on Facebook (@TheBrewLounge) and Twitter (@BrewLounge).

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Bryan Kolesar
Bryan Kolesar has been tracking down great beer for over twenty years. In 2005, Bryan co-founded The Brew Lounge blog/website as a canvas to illustrate the best of the craft brewing industry and to document his own travels within it. Though he has lived in Philadelphia and is currently headquartered in the city's western suburbs, Kolesar shares a wealth of information and images that he collects from his travels around the world and some of the best beers that he has tasted along the way. While the beer - its tastes, aromas, and incredible pairing opportunities with food - is often the beginning of a story, he often finds it more interesting to dive into the stories behind the people, places, and events associated with the final product. In 2015, Kolesar's first published work hit the streets, the 416-page Beer Lover's Mid-Atlantic documenting the best of Del., Md., NJ, and Pa.
  • Bryan, I agree this is completely feasible. I’ve packed wine in a suitcase and it made it with no problem. Bubble wrap and add some packing peanuts inside a trash bag, and tie it up tight, then place in the interior of the suitcase with dirty laundry as a cushion. Another way to cushion a bottle of beer, if your feet are big enough: inside an athletic shoe!

    • Bryan Kolesar

      Ha, yes indeed. My size 10.5-11 fit 12 oz. bottles of beer just fine. I imagine I’m well into the hundreds of beer and wine bottles brought home in checked luggage since the years-ago liquid ban. The last trick is knowing how to “work” the baggage check counter when you know your bag is at 51.5 pounds or something like that. Only once have been turned away and forced to decide between drinking at the airport baggage check or tossing a bottle to make weight! I’ve been given up to four additional grace pounds without extra charge. Travel — always the adventure 🙂