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How to Take Beer on a Plane

We all love a good beer vacation. But what about bringing home some of your favorite beers that are not available in your home state?

How to Take Beer on a Plane

If you’re traveling by air within the U.S., there are several options for packing your beer for safe travel. Read on to explore all of the options for taking beer on a plane after traveling to a notable beer destination.

Send Beer to Yourself

The not-so-legal route – and more expensive – is to ship yourself the beer in a package by the usual carrier services. Although many give a nod and a wink to this particular law without repercussion, it is illegal to ship alcohol via the U.S. Postal Service without a license. That’s why people rely on UPS or FedEx, where it’s merely against the company policy to ship alcoholic beverages without a license. (Don’t ask and don’t tell.)

The biggest drawbacks of this method are the cost and treatment packages can get, making it more likely bottles or even cans could be damaged despite efforts to protect the contents during packing. The best rule of thumb is to use the same Styrofoam inserts used by those who ship wine. Otherwise, given company policies, imagine making an insurance inquiry about those rare 750-milliliter bottles of barrel-aged sour beer that failed to make the journey…

Taking Beer Home at the Airport

The legal, cheapest and best option to bring your favorite brews home is packing beer in your checked luggage. (We should pause here to acknowledge sometimes people like to take beer from home to their destination. We know of at least one craft brewer who lives on the East Coast who packed a couple of cases of his own canned beer for a family vacation to Hawaii – because the beer on the islands is relatively expensive and his own brand wasn’t available.)

Wine lovers have been flying with bottles for years, which has spawned a variety of special luggage made expressly for carrying up to 12 bottles in a checked bag. Manufacturer of hard-sided luggage generally create padded foam inserts, such as the VinGarde Valise, or pre-established compartments such as WineCruzer. There are makers of soft-sided roller bags with special inserts to protect the contents such as Lazenne.

But do you really need special luggage for bottles? Maybe so, if you’re intent on bringing back shelf whales in bomber bottles. A more practical method is to ship your favorite beer in cans inside your regular luggage. Of all the advantages that cans bring to craft beer, the portability on airplanes may be the least appreciated.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and restrictions for U.S. flights limit booze in checked baggage between 24 percent and 70 percent ABV (48 to 140 proof) to five liters. Beer doesn’t fall into this range, so the only limit is the 50-pound maximum on weight per passenger and that the beer is still in unopened retail packaging – and even that is negotiable if you’re willing to pay an additional fee. Not only are cans manageable, aluminum is lighter than glass.

How to Pack Beer in Special Luggage

How to Pack Beer in Special Luggage

There’s risk in all things air travel and cans are no exception. While luggage compartments are generally pressurized, they undergo some pressure changes during flights. Those who pack cans in regular luggage report some crinkling around the top of the cans. Wrapping cans to protect other contents in the luggage in case of a leak is a bit impractical, since the idea is generally to bring as many cans as possible. There are some semi-reliable methods such as plastic wrap or cardboard.

Can leaks result from poor seams where the top is affixed during the canning process. A poorly seamed can is far more likely to leak during air travel. But most craft brewers or companies that offer portable canning lines now use tiny cameras to check the overlapping aluminum to be sure the seals are proper to prevent the loss of carbonation during distribution. (If buying directly from a brewer, you may want to inquire about how the seams are checked during canning.)

When it comes to bottles, homebrewers are the pioneers of shipping either via checked luggage or by the package delivery method. In either case, they always advise plenty of cushioning and padding in plastic in case of breakage. The product known as The Jet Bag is the most reliable method to prevent leaks or breakage. It can absorb up to 750 milliliters of liquid without spilling and may be re-used for at least 12 months before the zipper function might begin to wane.

Because it is hard-sided and potentially modular, the VinGarde Valise is very reliable and useful, if relatively expensive at more than $200. We know of one frequent beer traveler who uses his to transport various containers of beer by re-arranging the foam inserts – traveling with different bottle sizes and 16-ounce cans. Bear in mind, too, that this bag is easily divided into sections for clothing as well as beer.

Packing Booze in Regular Luggage

While those products certainly aid travelers looking to bring liquor, beer bottles or bottles of wine to their home country, these products can come back with no damage in a regular suitcase as well. 

First off, if you, truly want to be safe, purchase a roll of bubble wrap and fully encase any bottles of beer or local beer with it. If you don't want to shell out for bubble wrap, obtain some plastic bags or Ziploc bags and place the cans or bottles inside if they'll fit or simply wrap them around the bottles.

If you don't have plastic bags of any kind on hand (which are definitely recommended if you can't get bubble wrap), your next step is to place the alcohol in the center of your suitcase and use your clothing around it to act as padding. Any clothing will do, though thicker options such as sweaters, sweatshirts, shirts, pants and jeans are best for this purpose.

One word of caution, whether transporting bottles or cans in checked luggage. The law allows the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to check the contents of any luggage before it is put on a plane. It is not unusual for checked bags with bottles or cans to be inspected. As long as they are in the original packaging, beer is not a problem. But if you are unsettled by those TSA notices that your bag was opened and looked through, then perhaps it’s best to try another method. (A traveler we know once found a TSA notice among his packed cans and some peanuts irreverently tossed into his bag as well…)

International Travel with Beer

What about bottles in checked luggage when returning from a foreign country? The packing methods still apply and the rules are only slightly different when bringing back beer from other countries to the U.S. The maximum amount of alcohol in checked bags is the same for any FAA flight. After landing, the customary response from U.S. Customs is to allow up to a case of wine, i.e. 12 bottles, for personal use – hence the usual capacity of specially manufactured luggage. This rule of thumb for duty free alcohol also applies to beer, i.e. up to 12 bottles. Regular travelers to Europe report good results at Customs with the special luggage designed to hold 12 bottles.

Sending beer home from Europe in packaging sold by brewers is also an option. In Brussels, for example, Cantillon sells a shipping container that holds three bottles. It can be dropped off at a nearby postal station and beer lovers report excellent results according to one of our friends in the beer tour business.

Whatever your chosen method, do not attempt be bring a packaged beer on board a plane in carry-on luggage. You’re most likely to lose it during pre-boarding inspection. If you are amazingly clever and lucky enough to get it on board, flight personnel are the only ones allowed to open and pour an alcoholic beverage by FAA regulations. Given recent events with airplane security personnel, it’s highly advisable to put that beloved beer in checked luggage so both you and your favorite beverage arrive safely!


When it comes to safely packing beer for air travel within the U.S., there are a few options to consider. Shipping beer to yourself using carrier services like UPS or FedEx is a not-so-legal and expensive choice, while packing beer in your checked luggage is the legal, cheapest and most practical option. Special luggage designed for carrying bottles is a splashier choice that is sure to be extremely effective. 

Though regular luggage with proper padding can be used to transport beer, it's important to be mindful of the packaging and potential risks associated with air travel, such as leaks or breakage. Additionally, international travelers should familiarize themselves with the specific rules and regulations regarding bringing beer back to the U.S. 

Overall, to ensure a safe and hassle-free journey, it's recommended to place beer in checked luggage and comply with FAA and TSA regulations.