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How to Take Beer on a Plane

We all love a good beer vacation. But what about flying home with some of your favorite beer that are unavailable in your state? Understand the legal and practical aspects of flying with beer and alcohol so that your return journey does end in confiscated contraband at Customs.

How to Take Beer on a Plane

Traveling home from vacation with awesome craft beer you can't get locally is a rewarding experience for beer enthusiasts. However, it's essential to understand in advance the legal and practical aspects of flying with beer and alcohol so that return journey does end in confiscated contraband at Customs. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about taking beer and alcohol on a plane, including laws, regulations and practical packing tips.

Beer vacations, such as visiting Belgium or London, are eminently enjoyable trips for beer connoisseurs, but the idea of taking beer and alcohol on a plane can be daunting if you aren't fully prepared. Put your tray table up and relax on your flight as you hit cruising altitude, since you know your precious bottles and cans of beer are safely ensconced in your checked luggage below after exploring this in-depth primer. Happy trails!


Laws on Traveling with Beer or Alcohol

Traveling with alcohol or beer, whether domestically or internationally, typically falls under the jurisdiction of both federal and state laws in the United States. Here are some key points regarding federal laws on traveling with beer or alcohol.


Transportation

When transporting alcohol within the United States, federal law generally allows individuals to transport alcoholic beverages across state lines for personal use. However, state laws regarding the transportation and possession of alcohol may vary, so it's essential to be aware of the specific regulations in both the departing and destination states. 

Be sure to always check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines before traveling to stay up to date on the newest laws and regulations regarding traveling with alcohol on an airplane.


Quantity Limits

While there are no federal limits in specific cases on the amount of alcohol or beer an individual can transport for personal use, excessive quantities may raise suspicion and could potentially lead to further scrutiny by authorities. Here are the guidelines from the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) for air travel with alcohol:

  • For those with less than 24% alcohol (48 Proof): One person can carry, aged 21 or above, one quart-sized bag with containers of 3.4-oz or less. However, there is no limit on the amount in checked baggage.
     
  • For those with an Alcohol range of 24% - 70% (48-140 Proof): The same rule implies here with a carry-on; you have the opportunity to carry containers with 3.4-oz or less in a quart-size bag. If using checked bags, you can only carry 5 liters (Equal to 1.3 gallons) of alcohol as long as it remains in its unopened retail packaging.
     
  • For those with above 70% alcohol (Above 140 Proof): You can’t carry alcohol of this percentage, either on carry-ones or in checked baggage.

Prohibited Items

Certain types of alcohol, such as absinthe containing more than 10 parts per million of thujone, are prohibited for importation into the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additionally, federal law prohibits the importation of counterfeit or illegally labeled alcohol.


Customs Declaration

When traveling internationally, individuals are required to declare any alcohol they are bringing into the country to customs officials. Failure to declare alcohol or providing false information on customs forms can result in fines or other penalties.


wine bottles in special suitcase made for traveling with bottles of alcohol

Possible Ways to Take Beer Home in the United States

Now that you have a clear knowledge of the federal laws regarding the transportation of alcohol, you can explore options to bring your favorite beer home. In this case, you can apply two methods: First, you can send beer to yourself through mail carriers. The second option is bringing it home yourself while traveling on an airline. Let’s go into details about both options.


Send Beer to Yourself

The not-so-legal route – and more expensive – is to ship yourself the beer in a package by a mail carrier service. 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 that 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 beer 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. Manufacturers 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 to five liters as mentioned earlier. 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 take beer on a plane 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 begins 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…)


broken bottle of Perrin Brewing No Rules next to TSA notice

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 the 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!


Frequently Asked Questions


Can you take beer cans on a plane?

Yes, you can bring beer cans on a plane. Ensure they meet TSA regulations, such as being under 24% ABV and in containers of 3.4 ounces or less for carry-on. Larger quantities should go in checked baggage.


Is it safe to pack beer in checked luggage?

It can be safe to pack beer in checked luggage, but there are factors to consider. Ensure bottles are well-padded to prevent breakage, stay within the airline weight limit and check both federal and airline regulations regarding transporting alcohol.


Will unopened soda explode in checked luggage? 

Unopened soda will typically not explode in checked luggage due to the pressurized cabin environment. However, there's a small risk of carbonation expansion at high altitudes. To be safe, it's best to pack soda cans in sealed plastic bags to contain any potential leaks.


What is not allowed to be packed in checked luggage? 

Items not allowed in checked luggage typically include flammable materials, explosives, firearms and certain chemicals. Additionally, perishable items like fresh produce or fragile items may not be suitable for checked luggage due to temperature and handling concerns.


Why are drinks not allowed on planes?

Drinks are not allowed only at the time of takeoff and landing primarily for safety reasons. Spilled liquids could create slippery surfaces or interfere with evacuation procedures in an emergency. However, passengers are typically served drinks during flight once the aircraft reaches cruising altitude.


Can you pack tin cans in checked luggage? 

Yes, you can pack tin cans in checked luggage. Ensure that the cans are securely packed to prevent damage during handling and transport. Be mindful of weight limits imposed by the airline and consider any regulations regarding the contents of the cans.


How do you fly with a six-pack of beer?

Flying with a six-pack of beer can be done by packing it securely in your checked luggage. Wrap each bottle or can in bubble wrap or clothing to prevent breakage.


What size cans can you bring on a plane?

The size of cans you can bring on a plane depends on airline and TSA regulations. Generally, cans of 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less are allowed in carry-on luggage if they comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Larger cans can be packed in checked luggage but should comply with airline weight limits.


Can you pack alcohol in checked luggage internationally? 

Yes, you can typically consider packing alcohol in checked luggage when traveling internationally. However, it's crucial to check the alcohol import regulations of both the departure and destination countries.


Can you put bourbon in your checked luggage? 

Yes, you can typically pack bourbon in your checked luggage when traveling domestically. However, consider checking your state laws to avoid any inconvenience or legality issues.


Can you take a carton of beer on a plane? 

It's generally not recommended to bring a carton of beer on a plane in your carry-on luggage due to space limitations and weight restrictions. However, you can pack beer in your checked luggage following airline and TSA guidelines, ensuring it's securely wrapped to prevent breakage.


Can you bring unopened drinks through airport security? 

Yes, you can bring unopened drinks through airport security in your carry-on luggage, subject to the 3-1-1 liquids rule.

How do I ship beer across the country?


Shipping beer across the country may be subject to various legal restrictions and regulations, including alcohol shipping laws and carrier policies. It's advisable to use a licensed alcohol shipping company or consult with the carrier to ensure compliance with all regulations and packaging requirements.


Can I bring a can of soda in my checked luggage? 

Yes, you can bring a can of soda in your checked luggage. However, make sure that you pack the soda cans securely to prevent damage during handling.


How many 3-oz bottles can I take on a plane?

You can typically take multiple 3-oz bottles on a plane in your carry-on luggage, as long as they comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule. 


What is the 3-1-1 liquid rule?

This means each container must be 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less, and all containers must fit in a single quart-sized, clear plastic bag.


person holding mug of beer while working at airport with airplane in background

Be Careful When Packing Beer For Air Travel

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, which you can check out here: Transportation Security Administration guidelines.


Our Take On Safely Packing and Traveling with Beer

Going on beer vacations is one of the joys of being a beer connoisseur. There are thousands of beers around the world that are worth trying, and when you go to a new country that you've never visited, odds are you'll be tempted to sample some of their brews and then bring them back with you to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.

While traveling all over the world and sampling beers along the way, I've found that sticking a few bottles or cans in your luggage is an easy and simple method to bring beer back safely and securely, so long as you follow the laws, rules and regulations regarding such a venture.

Of course, damage can occur, and leaks and spills in luggage is a sticky and anger-inducing issue. However, that is usually a rare problem. Just make sure your beers are safely ensconced in your luggage, wrapped in dirty clothes or, even better, bubble wrap, and you'll be sipping a delectable foreign or out-of-state beer in the comfort of your own home before you know it.

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