Tales of Airport Insecurity and Wine Packing

¡Gracias a Dios we didn’t go to Mexico last week!

I thought it would be a fun thing to do while visiting my family in San Clemente, California after reading about the Guadalupe Valley wine country east of Ensenada. I was intrigued by news of the heavy reds and zinfandel grown there and spent more than a bit of time researching the wineries. Drug crime notwithstanding, I wanted to go, but for various reasons, we changed our plan to a whale watching cruise in which we saw only dolphins. Then, after the boat ride, Friday the 24th, we got the awful news of a new flu coming from, of all places, Mexico. Ay Caramba!

I was already paranoid about catching germs. In the Vancouver Airport gangway, I asked a carelessly sneezing kid to please cover his mouth. On the flight down I sat with a crowd of coughers who made me think I was stuck in a TB unit. Those people made me sick, but only figuratively.

By Tuesday, the swine flu body counts were rising, and the news showed a cluster of cases in Southern California, with eight orange dots in nearby San Diego County. Yet, I had to come home. That meant surviving the vast LAX international terminal, then a 2.5 hour ride on a small jet, and finally, the Vancouver Customs and Immigration terminal. I contemplated buying a surgical mask, but my daughter convinced me that it wouldn’t matter.

So, I loaded up the few bottles I’d grabbed – including a Pinot called Irony and a Zaca Mesa Syrah – and headed off to my imagined doom. When I arrived at the airport, the security stations were practically empty, but not nearly as dead as the Mexicana terminal. I managed to get through the La Brea Bakery without being coughed on and stayed at the back of the line during boarding. I took the window seat next to a cute guy and for a minute I thought, score, but my fantasies were shot when I heard him speaking Spanish to his wife and daughter across the aisle. When that child sneezed I put on my headphones to avoid conversing with the Kyle McLaughlin next to me.

In Vancouver, there must have been 15 other flightfulls of people crowding into the Customs hall. I looked up at the big arrivals sign on the wall, saw the listing of a flight from Mexico City, and thought, am I going to die here? Then, just as I’m starting to shvitz in my camisa, an airport employee pointed me to the newest innovation in flying: Customs Control in a kiosk. No joke! It’s just like the automated machine used for check-in. You slide your perfectly smooth Customs Declarations card into a slot, scan your permanent residence card or Canadian passport, and the thing checks your background in a minute. Who needs a Customs Officer? My machine didn’t read my scribble, was forced to ask if I was bringing firearms and in response, it printed a neat red check in the “No” box. Then, I was directed down a separate aisle to the Immigration Officer who was not sitting in an intimidating glass booth, but standing right there in the lane. He examined my passport the way airline stewards check boarding passes – quick. Bing, bang, boom, and I was able to trot off to my patiently waiting suitcase and skip out the door within twenty minutes. Kinda’ like Nexus without the background check.

Three days later, I still have no symptoms, so it appears I’m going to live.

But that is not the only upside to my story. The important thing – and the only relevant connection to a wine blog – is that all my wine survived the flight! In addition to my virus paranoia, I was more than just a little nervous about how I packed the bottles into my suitcase. Lacking my favorite medium, bubble-wrap, I rubber-banded plastic bags of packing styrofoam as well as my new shoes around and against each bottle, and hoped for the best. It worked! The wine arrived safely.

Back in the good old days of flying – pre shoe bomber – it was possible to bring wine on board in carrier boxes. Suddenly, we were forced to check all wine as luggage, preferably using styrofoam-lined boxes. Then, when the airlines started charging for every checked bag, wine sluts like me were forced to pack wine in our suitcases where it rubs bottlenecks with our clothes. Yet, I’m haunted by the stories of people who rolled bottles in their shirts only to be greeted by a bag full of wet purple clothes upon arrival. How to avoid this disaster? What I have found is that if each bottle is individually wrapped and bound in a padding material – best thing, bubble wrap – they won’t swim among the clothes and bonk against each other amid rough baggage handling. Here is a photo of my technique.

The other option is to check the wine in a proper shipping container and mail the clothes home.

And if you are sick to death about your bottles arriving safely, just know that it s’wine flu.

Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.