Friday, 21 March 2014

Have Wine, Will Travel

Some time ago, a friend recently back from London called me sounding distraught. Her visit to a wine merchant, where she had picked up several bottles of rare wines, ended in disaster when just a few steps away from the shop her bags broke and the precious cargo ended up in pieces on the unforgiving pavement. A similar story was shared by another friend, who discovered that a trail of liquid at the baggage carousel led to a broken bottle of red wine leaking from his luggage. 

Travelling with wine has never been more fraught with peril, especially since aviation regulations have changed so that there are numerous restrictions on what can be brought on-board. It used to be that if you had a particularly treasured bottle you could hand-carry it to your destination, but no longer. Now it goes into the cargo hold while you keep your fingers crossed that it survives the journey. Of course, you could purchase wine at duty-free shops, but bear in mind that if you are transiting through another airport before your final stop, you may be subject to security screening when boarding your next flight and your bottles confiscated. Australia, India, Japan and Indonesia are countries in particular which enforce this rule. To be safe, if you want to buy duty-free, do so either at your final destination or at the airport immediately prior to that.

Fortunately, there are several ways to help your wines survive the journey in your checked-in luggage. The most convenient method is to wrap the bottle tightly in newspaper, and cover that with a layer of clothing (preferably dark coloured clothes that you wouldn’t mind getting stained). As an extra step, place the bottle in a plastic bag so that even if it does break, hopefully its contents will not leak out. The laundry plastic bags commonly supplied in hotels work well for this purpose.

A more secure way is to use custom-purposed packaging that is designed to prevent breakage. For single bottles, the Air-Paq, distributed by Extra Space, works a treat. Its series of adjoining air tubes have one-way valves, so that even if one tube is punctured, the rest of the tubes stay inflated. It costs only SGD1.80 and can be reused multiple times. A disadvantage of the Air-Paq is that it does take up a lot of space in your luggage. Also, the Air-Paq is not a sealed container, so in the event that the bottle breaks it is possible that its contents will leak out. In my experience this would be highly unlikely as the Air-Paq feels quite durable.

An alternative is the WineSkin, available from Fantastic Find (2 for SGD9.50) or Amazon (2 for USD9.99). Although more expensive than the Air-Paq, its advantages are that it is flat and it also comes with dual seals to prevent leakage. The seals are one-time use only; however you can easily use duct tape for subsequent uses or place the whole thing in a plastic bag. It does feel a little bit more fragile than the Air-Paq, but I haven’t had any bottles break while using either. Both the Air-Paq and WineSkin are designed for standard 750ml bottles only. 

Whichever method you use to protect your wine, it is a good idea to ensure that your luggage is full so that there is less space for the wine to roll around. Sandwiching the bottle between layers of clothes will help minimise the bumps as it goes through the maze of baggage handling systems. With some careful packing, you’ll never again need to worry about wine breaking in your luggage.

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