Hi Austyn — good to hear from you.
Lufthansa is a good choice for flying on the return – they are a “checked-wine-friendly” airline. I have flown Lufthansa many times before, and checked several boxes of wine at a time and have never had a problem with them. Flying the wine home as checked luggage will be the cheapest way to get your wine home, with the benefit of the wine being there when you arrive in PDX.
Getting the wine home is simple, but there are steps you’ll need to take. Here’s how I would do it. Print this out and take it with you:
- Upon arrival in Italy, find an MBE office (the Italian Mail Boxes Etc chain) and buy one or more 12-bottle shipper boxes and a roll of shipping tape. Boxes cost around 10-15 euro, and the tape is a few euro more.
- You can search for an MBE anywhere in Italy here: http://www.mbe.it/?1004. Note that there’s an MBE in Mestre (the Venice port city) at Via Cà Rossa 8 – here is a link to their info page: http://www.mbe.it/index.php?id=1014&store=ITMBE0741
- Use the wine shipper as you accumulate wine on your trip, it’s the safest way to store it while you’re traveling. You *can* get the boxes towards the end of your trip and just carry the wine around with you in their original boxes until then, but in order to ship the wine on the airline you must buy and use an approved wine shipper. MBE has them, as do a few wineries & wine shops.
- When you’re ready to fly home, box up the wine & tape it well, then write your last name, home airport & phone number on it in several places. I carry a Sharpie pen with me when I travel so it’s easy to do this and very legible — this matters if your wine misses an airline connection or otherwise gets lost. So for you, write something like HOLMES / PDX / +1-503-xxx-xxxx. You don’t need to put your home address on the box.
- Plan to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight leaves. More is better, especially out of Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
- When you check in at the airport, bring the wine box(es) and check in as you normally would. If (when) the Lufthansa agent asks you “what’s in the box?” just tell the agent “vini eccelenti.” 🙂 The agent will place a bag tag on the box and give you the tracking tag – keep this in case your bags/boxes are lost in transit, you’ll need them.
- Depending upon airport rules, they may take your wine box then and there, sending it on its way, or ask you to take it to a special oversized baggage scanner. If they do the latter, they will scan it and send it on its way.
- Once checked, breathe a sigh of relief – your wine is on its way home.
- When you land in San Francisco (or first port of call in the US), you will need to clear Customs and Immigration. You will need to collect your bags and wine box and tell the Immigration/Customs officer that you have wine. They may ask you to pay a duty (about 21 cents/bottle), but it is very unlikely so long as the wine is for your personal consumption. Once you clear Customs, re-check your bag for your last flight to PDX.
- If for some reason your bags or wine get delayed or lost in transit, just go to the airline lost-luggage counter and file a report as you would normally do. Odds are good that the bags/wine just missed a connection, and it will show up at your home in a few days.
- When you get home, open a bottle and toast to memories of your grand Italian adventure!
Let me know how your trip goes — Have a great time, and feel free to ping me if you need help along the way.