Don’t Lose your Booze! What You Need to Know When Making Airport Connections

January 12, 2009

in Airlines, Airports, Drink, Europe, Information, Packing, Shopping, Travel, USA, Web Tips

Some friends of mine made an unhappy discovery when departing the Czech Republic with a long-sought bottle of wine (or two):  their duty-free purchase was confiscated when making a connection in another EU airport.

As much as I complain about the security theater Americans abbreviate TSA, there is one upside to the system:  once you’re in (and don’t connect in a stupid airport [ahem, JFK] where you have to exit and reenter secured areas when changing flights), you and your liquids are in.  Put that chapstick back in your pocket, enjoy a long swig from your refilled water bottle — no one will bug you about those items again.

Unfortunately, if you are connecting onward through a European airport, you will be subject to repeated searches – necessitating the return of your chapstick to your 1L ziploc, the dumping of your secure-area beverages and, for the unlucky, the confisciation of your duty-free liquids, creams and gels.

How do you avoid this expensive dilemma?  Find out after the jump.

If you have purchased native wines, perfumes or other liquids disallowed in carry-on luggage due to their size, place these items in your checked luggage.  Wrap up in a plastic bag or three and cushion with every dirty sock and pair of underwear you’re carrying — or consider specialized packing tools to avoid breakage.

If, like my friends, you discover a must-have item in the duty-free and your flight originates in the EU, it must be:

  • sealed shut in a clear duty-free bag
  • clearly displaying a receipt that the items were purchased on the day of flight

Most duty-free shops should know and comply with these rules.  This is (as evidenced above) not always the case.  If the duty-free shop does not follow these simple guidelines, your purchases may be confiscated at your next EU transfer point.   If they cannot follow these guidelines, do not make the purchase!

If you are flying to and transferring within the U.S., you must place these items in your checked luggage when reclaimed for customs inspection or it may then be confiscated by TSA.

A quick example to illustrate:  Gallant flies Northwest from Berlin to San Francisco via Amsterdam and Minneapolis and purchases a duty-free liqueur in the secured area of the Berlin airport.  If it is sealed properly as noted above, Gallant may carry it through the Amsterdam security checkpoint to Minneapolis.  When luggage is reclaimed in Minneapolis, Gallant repacks the bottle in checked luggage to be flown onward to San Francisco.
>If it is not sealed properly, Goofus’ liqueur can be taken away in Amsterdam.
>If it is not moved to checked luggage in Minneapolis, Goofus’ liqueur can be taken away in Minneapolis.
Got it?

Now, if we reverse the scenario, so Goofus and Gallant are flying from San Francisco to Berlin via Minneapolis and Amsterdam, it looks different.  A duty-free purchase in San Francisco or Minneapolis (or their airplane) will be confiscated without exception when they arrive in Amsterdam.  In the EU, customs is handled at the final destination, so it isn’t possible to restow items in checked luggage.  These liquids are simply not allowed, so don’t waste your hard-earned money!

Have you been burned by these opaque regulations?  Giddily awaiting the day when liquids are allowed on board again?  Share your stories and concerns in the comments.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robert 01.16.09 at 9:56 am

Just came across your blog and found it so informative that I could not resist myself from commenting on it! You are really doing a great job, thanks and keep posting.

2 Kate 01.16.09 at 4:21 pm

Kate here (I’m the one who lost the wine). We actually weren’t in a duty-free shop. We were in a normal shop where you might buy soda or a sandwich–they just happened to also have the wine that we’d been searching for fruitlessly. I don’t know if they even *had* duty free bags, which makes it even more baffling–who buys two bottles of Moravian wine one their way *into* the Czech republic?

Also, I had *never* encountered a second, gate-side security checkpoint…even in Europe. We passed through passport control just fine in Amsterdam. It was the unexpected gate checkpoint that got us.

I hate hate hate air travel.

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