Whisky Advocate

How are you transporting your whisky, post 9/11?

October 4th, 2008

Before  9/11, while traveling, I used to bring those special bottles of whiskies that I just bought on the plane as carry-on luggage. As you all know, we can’t do that any more. We have to check our whisky and put our trust in (gasp!) the luggage handlers at the airport. This is something we all have to deal with, so I was wondering how everyone handles this logistically.

I’ll get the discussion started by telling you what I do. Next week I am traveling to San Francisco for WhiskyFest. I’m taking one of those cardboard shipping containers with the Styrofoam insert that has the built-in holes where you put the bottles. It holds six bottles, and I’m shipping it empty with the anticipation that I might fill it while in San Francisco. I’ll either bring it with me and check it as carry-on luggage or send it to my hotel ahead of time via UPS. Then, when I am leaving to come back home, I’ll either ship it back via FedEx or UPS, or I’ll bring it with me and check it as luggage. I’ve never had a problem either way (so far).

The downside to using a carrier like UPS is that it costs money to ship. But now that airlines are starting to charge for extra luggage, the costs might be comparable.

Sometimes the retailer where we buy whisky can ship it directly to our house.  But, if we are bringing whisky back from overseas or live in a location that doesn’t allow alcohol to be shipped, we have fewer options.

What do you do?

22 Responses to “How are you transporting your whisky, post 9/11?”

  1. David S says:

    I have actually packed a well wrapped bottle in my luggage on the way back from London to the US. However concerns about theft and/or breakage mean I usually stick to duty free or shop at merchants that will ship to the US. As far as travel within the US, unfortunately I have just stopped bringing whisky with me. Luckily I have always found a decent store where I can pick up some decent, smaller size bottles to enjoy. I have had quite a bit of Oban and 10yr Glenmorangie in 50ml bottles while away. I have even found some old 375ml from Signatory on occasion which can be a treat.

  2. Dear John,
    Oh I remember the good old days when I could bring sealed bottles on the plane in my carry on & only check the open bottles. I LOVE the Built NY bags, which pack flat & can nest many bottles in the checked luggage. I have also checked Styrofoam shippers in my luggage, in case I buy way too many bottles, then I can take the shippers to FedEx. I will typically wrap open bottles in plastic trash bags, inside the Built NY bags, which are made of neoprene (wet-suit material.) I still bring the boxes on the plane, recently carrying on a HP 30 case (minus the bottles.) I hate to travel without my whisky! Cheers.

  3. Joe says:

    Just came back from Kentucky (Bourbon Fest) and we took a styrofoam-insert cardboard shipping case, filled it up, and Northwest airlines took it no problem. We might have had to sign a release or something, but they took it.

  4. John Hansell says:

    David: Yes, I have also put well-wrapped bottles in my luggage. Especially if they came in a wood box. I also put many a bottle of whisky in dirty socks, wrapped inside other dirty clothing. But my really special bottles were always hand carried on the plane.

    William (Bill): Ah yes, the good old days…

    This thread is early, but those Styrofoam shippers seem like a good bet.

  5. Ron Pease says:

    I take Scotch Whisky in both directions, all in checked luggage. When I go to a destination I take enough to drink while I’m there and when I come home I bring what I have purchased in liquor stores. I do this whether for travel in the US or overseas. It all goes in with my clothes. If it is in a tube or carton then I just place it in the luggage. If no tube then I put it inside a sock for protection. I do this all the time and have never had a problem. I use a TSA approved lock on the luggage.

  6. John Hansell says:

    Ron, it’s certainly easier logistically, but perhaps slightly riskier than the Styrofoam shippers. Up until a couple of years ago, I did what you do exclusively. And I still do if it’s only a couple of bottles.

    I usually on go one direction–back home. My other passion is beer, and I will usually drink the local beer and whisky and then bring the bottles back home with me.

  7. While I’ve yet to have a problem putting bottles in my checked luggage wrapped in clothing, I now check the individual airline’s rules before flying after learning about this (new?) rule from United.

    “When placed in checked baggage, glass bottles must be in a Styrofoam-type insert that is molded to the shape of the bottle and completely encloses the bottle.”

    I don’t like to bring styrofoam or other containers when I travel because it means I’ll need a larger suitcase, but now I know to always check and make sure I don’t have to adhere to this rule.

  8. I just ran into this issue on a recent trip back from Europe. Knowing that I would be bringing back a box with a large number of sample-size bottles, I deliberately took an semi-empty rolling bag packed with my computer and the laptop case inside as a carry-on on the flight over. On the return flight, that case carried the three full-size bottles I acquired during the trip and most of my clothes as checked luggage, while the box with all of my samples went into the larger rolling suitcase. I made the weight limit by 5 pounds…and all of the whisky made it through the trip (and Customs) safely.

    Now…if we could get them to relax the rules on liquids in carry-on luggage so we could carry our flasks on board once again!

  9. John Hansell says:

    Camper, I wasn’t aware of this rule by United. I wonder how much it’s actually enforced?

    Mark, I miss being able to bring my flask. Let’s face it: the chance of getting anything decent to drink on a plane is slim unless you’re flying business class. (That’s a topic for another posting some day.)

  10. Amen to that, John…on this trip, the only whisky available in steerage was Glenlivet 12 for $7. Perfectly acceptable dram at an outrageous price…I remember the days when drinks used to be free on transatlantic flights…it wasn’t that long ago.

  11. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Transporting memories…My first attempt back in the early 80’s was to bring 8 “dumpy” bottles from Cadenhead in Edinburgh. To get them out of Logan Airport would have required something equivalent to obtaining a retail liquor licence.Fortunately I had a friend who was`schooled in the distribution systems of Boston.My case was obtained for the cost of a new Louis L’Amore hardbound book for a non whisky drinking official.Since that time up to 2001 I had always carried my precious bottles with me so they never left my sight.As we all know,today it isnt allowed.We now must check everything.I usually take bottles as gifts of appreciation when I travel and also bring back bottles that cant be purchased in the States.The anxiety of checking something as precious as these bottles doesn’t add to the “joy” of traveling and yes I have had bottles go missing and others opened.My anxieties and loss may not be on the scale of SAYBREX losing its 180 plus bottles of32yr old H.P. but I think we need a better way of getting our whisky across the pond.As far as carrying cases I have found and have some good carriers anything from 1 to 24 bottle cases,many with wheels.
    Again I think we need a better way. Perhaps the giants of the industry, S.W.A. and other organizations could get together with the politicians and work out a more productive way of transporting whisky bottles.I’d even accept S.W.A. ‘s new defintions of whisky if they made it easier to travel with.
    Hey heres an idea !All members of whisky organizations like Malt Advocates,Scotch Malt Whisky Society ect. would be issued a special security card that allowed them to carry their bottles on board handcuffed to themselves.
    A special airline that only flew “spirit secured” members?
    Any other ideas?John let us know what you know.
    Mike “w.m.d.”Dski
    Thats “wee malt dram” not the other w.m.d.

  12. John Hansell says:

    Mike, I have never had any bottle be opened or go missing (yet), and I have only had one bottle break. It was in my luggage, wrapped up in a K&L padded carrying case and dirty clothes.

    Ironically, it made it through the flight fine (I checked it upon retrieving my luggage). We hired a car to pick us up and take us home and the driver threw my suitcase in the trunk with other luggage and broke the bottle. Fortunately, it wasn’t something I couldn’t replace.

  13. smsmmns says:

    Some good tips here, and a great topic, John. I just hope it doesn’t get any of us in trouble with the taxman!
    I lived in Scotland for years and would travel overseas twice a year to see my family and friends back home so smuggling is something I got used to.
    I currently use a Heys rollie bag and, like may of you, use laundry to secure and protect the bottles. For boxed or cannistered bottles I stuff a sock around the neck in case of movement and for bottles that have no box I tend to use jeans with a sock stuffed above and below. Pack wisely and there should never be a problem. Post 9/11 just means they are looking for more important stuff than your two bottles of Hedo Max, or whatever.
    My record was 10 bottles, never had a broken one, never had a stolen one, and always claimed the max allowance on my customs cards, but I learned a good tip when the airlines broke a musical instrument of mine: check your bag BEFORE you leave the airport if you intend to file a complaint for damages. Otherwise, your claim will go nowhere.
    Happy smuggling!!!

  14. John Hansell says:

    Good advice. Thanks!

    My max (in checked luggage) was 9 bottles, but I also had 5 bottles in my carry on. That was about a decade or so ago. I’ve mellowed out a little since then.

  15. B.J. Reed says:

    My record was 11 I think in 2001 right before 9/11 – There was a Mad Cow Scare in the U.K. so I volunteered to go through line that was set up if you had been near animals or farms (well, gosh distilleries… Scotland.. yes, I had!) – They never looked at anything in the carry on luggage that trip.

    I tend to use checked luggage in the states with well packed bottles but I have been saving up styrofoam containers figuring I will need them one day.

    For trips to Scotland we almost always ship and, with one exception no problems with breakage.

  16. Rob says:

    Had to deal with this last year on a trip to Scotland for a wedding. The groom requested we bring some bottles with us as it was cheaper to do that than purchase there. Found that my hard pistol case was the perfect size to carry two bottles. Plenty of padding on the inside and hard protection from less than gentle baggage handlers. Worked on the return trip as well.

  17. Kevin says:

    Very scientific method here:

    1. Roll each bottle in 2 feet of bubble wrap
    2. Put each bottle in a plastic trash bag and tie it shut
    3. Roll each wrapped bottle in a pair of pants or shirt
    4. Pack tightly in extra suitcase.

    I’ve done this a number of times, and have never had a broken bottle, and only one that happened to leak a little bit…

  18. Kevin says:

    Also, my record was coming back from Kentucky with a number of signed bottles, and KY exclusives… had 17 bottles between 2 suitcases…

  19. J.D. says:

    The timing of this blog entry is funny.

    Just last week I went to Salt Lake City on business. I was told they had some good microbreweries there but not to even bother trying for spirits… The Mormon influence was just too strong. Certainly, I didn’t expect to find a local whiskey that I’d just need to bring home with me.

    Well, I stopped for dinner at a gastropub, but I really wanted something other than beer. I asked the bartender what else they had and he produced the fantastic High West Rendezvous Rye, bottled right there in Park City. I’d missed John’s blog entry on it so it came as a complete surprise.

    I fell instantly in love with it and thought longingly of bringing some home with me. But it was late at night, I didn’t know where to find a liquor store that would still be open, and I still had to fly home. After a second glass, I asked the bartender and he told me of a liquor store right down the block–that was still open for another hour! So off I went, and dutifully bought two very affordably-priced bottles.

    I had nothing good to pack them in, but High West comes in a sturdy glass bottle. I just wrapped them up in the traditional dirty clothes and packed them in the middle of my carry-on roller bag. I checked this for my return flight and sweated it out the whole way, imagining the all worst things the baggage handlers could be doing.

    Well, I got to baggage claim after we landed and checked the bag, and both bottles were just fine. So now I have some High West to share with friends!

    I’ve also learned a lesson–even if I go to Riyadh, I’m going to stick a padded wine carrier bag or something in my luggage. With all the new microdistilleries springing up, you just never know anymore where you’re going to stumble across that incredible local brand!

  20. John Hansell says:

    J.D.: Glad to hear you discovered the High West Rendezvous Rye–and that the bottles didn’t break!

    It never hurts to throw in a padded wine carrier, which I have also done on occassion. I’ve also packed bubble wrap with me if I had space, just in case I needed it.

  21. Peter S. says:

    My proffesional work is making those sortation machines that you don’t see behind the screen at airports (and for the likes of UPS/FedEx etc.) They are efficient, and are designed to do their work fast, but not yet gentle!

    What I’m saying is, maybe you should not bother sending your stuff via a parcel company, unless there’s money to save.

    When I travel with bottles myself (almost every time I fly anywhere)
    I bring lots of bubblewrap. last time I wen’t flying the suitcase was filled with bubblewrap on the way out. I brought home 18 bottles in that suitcase, and not one had a scratch (except for a small scratch on the one in the wooden container, but that was nothing)

    Remember when you travel, it’s not the size of the luggage, but the weight that matters, and bubblewrap does the job most times.


  22. John Hansell says:

    Peter, you’re right about that one. I’m bringing plenty of bubble wrap with me to San Francisco. It protects AND it’s light. I use the smaller bubbles–easier to maneuver.

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