Checking Glasses On A Plane: Mission (Not) Accomplished

I returned from Madrid to Los Angeles via London yesterday. As many of you may have guessed, after enjoying the gin & tonic culture in Madrid, Tiffany and I decided to buy some gin & tonic glasses, which we wanted to take back to the US.

We bought a total of 12 glasses, and each box had two glasses in it. Then the Westin Palace Madrid was kind enough to package the smaller boxes in big boxes, so we could easily transport them to the US (or so we thought).

When Tiffany first suggested I fly back with them, I said “there’s no way they’re not breaking.” After talking to the concierge, they apparently decided that the glasses had to be shipped to Madrid somehow to begin with and arrived in one piece, so odds were good we’d be able to get them back to the US in one piece as well.

I wasn’t as convinced. Which is to say that I was 90% sure it wouldn’t work. But I figured it was worth a try. Checking three boxes in Madrid was no easy task due to confusion over my baggage allowance.

Checked-Bags

Combined the three boxes weighed under 7kg, or about 15lbs.

Shipping-Glasses-4

Anyway, I arrived at LAX and waited forever for the boxes to arrive. American in general has to be the absolute worst airline when it comes to delivering checked bags in a timely manner, regardless of whether you’re getting off an international or domestic flight.

After waiting for over 30 minutes, I see two boxes coming down the conveyor which leads to the baggage claim belt. As they “fall” onto the belt I hear a sound which can most closely be described as follows:

I immediately opened one of the boxes.

Shipping-Glasses-1

It wasn’t looking good…

Shipping-Glasses-2

And neither was the other box…

Shipping-Glasses-3

As far as the third box goes, well, it never made it. I waited for all the bags to come out, and it wasn’t there. Rather than filing a lost bag report, I figured I’d cut my losses and call it a day.

As I walked through customs the officer raised his eyebrow and said “what’s in those boxes?”

“When I left Madrid this morning they were gin & tonic glasses. Now it’s just broken glass.”

“Ouch. Have a nice day”

When I got home I opened the boxes fully.

12 glasses were checked, and in the end three made the journey to the US, and they’re even partly chipped.

Bottom line

I have a newfound respect for people who work in glassware shipping logistics!

So, how would you ship something like glassware from Europe to the US? Is it just a lost cause altogether?

Comments

  1. Well of course it’s not a lost cause. After all, one can buy European (and Asian) glassware here, and most of it probably arrives intact. And professional movers move glassware across the country and world all the time.

    The trick is to package it properly. Use LOTS of packaging!

  2. Based on the photos, they were not even close to properly packed. With sufficient bubble wrap, they would have been fine. I’m sure they were originally shipped with bubble wrap. I’ve shipped and checked far more fragile things and they’ve been fine. But you need a ton of bubble wrap and a basic understanding of how physics works to put pressure on various points.

  3. I’ve never shipped glasses from Europe, but it seems reasonable to believe that shipping them from the West Coast to the East Coast would have the same issues.

    Mainly I ship beer pint glasses as I like to procure them from local establishments where I find designs I like. The trick is to stuff an item of clothing on the inside giving it support, then wrap with another item of clothing. Pack them into the middle of the bag. On a recent baseball trip to the West Coast my Dad and I each packed 3 in our checked bag and all made the trip home safely.

  4. Finagle a gift voucher? Seriously? For his own incompetence/laziness in packing?

    I agree with Hans. Just taping up a box and expecting them to come unbroken? Good luck with that sport.

    Credit – It wasn’t United credit. I can vouch for that 100%. 😉

  5. Looking by the way you packed them, it’s no surprise they didn’t make it. They should all be handwrapped in first a newspaper, then bubble plastic and then some foam. You hardly had any protection and looking at how they normally treat suitcases, I’m amazed there were three that did make it.

  6. Are such glasses not available in the USA? Seems like Crate&Barrel has glass of all sorts of shapes and sizes…

  7. If I’m ever bringing glassware, I try to make sure its well-packed (and preferably, in a glass-specific box). Additionally, I always bring it in my carry-on which lessens the chance of it breaking. (But I never bring this many glasses).

  8. who was the person on the bag checking thread who predicted you’d be lucky if 2 out of 3 of the boxes made it to the US? that person nailed it.

    sorry about the glasses. but you *sure* you can’t order these online?

  9. Well, not surprised knowing how “careful” they handle checked baggage and as many people said above you just threw the glasses in the boxes dreaming they would not break. I ship wine bottles and other liquors from Europe to the US in my checked bags and by packing appropriately I never had any issues in having them breaking during the trip.

  10. So let me get this straight. First of all, you were 90% sure it wouldn’t work, but did it anyway? That is… not smart, to put it nicely.

    Then, you decided to send the glasses in their boxes without any padding, wrapping, bubble wrap, etc.? Of course they would break!

    This is one of the worst plans I have ever seen.

  11. Mike from D.C. has it right. Three months ago I brought a bunch of glasses back from Ireland, both beer glasses from a pub (provided gratis by a real friendly bar manager after complementing him on his establishment) and some crystal purchased from Galway Crystal. They were packed exactly as he suggests as checked luggage and made the trip from DUB-LHR-ATL perfectly intact. I’ve also done the same thing with some unusual liquers, wrapping them first tightly in plastic bags, and haven’t lost a one. Don’t give up!

  12. Yeah, those little stickers that say “Muy Fragil” mean absolutely nothing to either the baggage handlers or the automated baggage systems that fling luggage all over the place. You need a lot more than the zero padding that these glasses seem to have been given. Sorry to hear they suffered such traumatic deaths, when they had such a promising life filled with gin!

  13. I’ve brought back a bunch of beer, plates, mugs, glasses, etc in checked baggage before and it’s all about making sure there’s no room for it to move around within the luggage. No glass touching other glass, and a buffer of clothing or crumpled newspapers in every space possible. Also, if you’re using soft sided luggage, the corners of the luggage are some of the strongest areas to utilize. The middle is where things get destroyed as other bags are stacked on top of yours.

  14. You didn’t pack them right Ben. Next time wrap them so that they cannot move within the box (at all) and have chance of impact with another rigid object. I have frequently checked bags with glass, just wrap the glass in clothes at the center of the bag and pack them tight so that they cannot move within the pack. You can do the same thing in boxes with newspaper. Next time buy 2-3 newspapers and repack the glass in the boxes, it will be fine.

  15. Oh it doesn’t have to be from US to Europe to have something made of of glass broken hah..My most recent trip on OS in economy.I even had priority bag tags on my bag that business class and star gold customers get (thanks to an awesome check-in agent who remembers me from a couple of overbookings and couldn’t be more kind to me..).
    So i was very excited to find my bags arriving first..But when i saw the puddle of wine on the conveyor I knew what to expect ..
    Anyway transporting anything fragile must be very well packed ,isolated in layers of bubble wrap and newspapers and more bubble wrap…and ideally in a solid bag made of hard plastic material..Apparently the class one flies in doesn’t matter..
    Rarely something fragile breaks in my checked in bag.. This time i blame the bag , i had to borrow a bag from a friend that was nylon/canvas material..

  16. Am I the only one completely take aback by the amount of Ben and Tiffany’s travel experience that they don’t know how to pack glass baubles from their travels so they don’t break?

  17. If your photo illustrates the way the glasses were packed, it’s no wonder they broke. Would it not have dawned on you or the people at the Westin to ensured each glass was wrapped in tissue or even newspaper and not just kept in the box unpadded. I’ve flown halfway around the world many times with glass wear — primarily those large wine glasses given out at wineries as part of the tasting — and lost not a single one in over 30 years of such travel. I always stuff either crumpled paper or used underwear/socks inside the bowl, then take newspaper and wrap each one individually and thickly around the stem before placing each one in a shipping box, or separate suitcase. More newspaper is used to cushion each bundled glass against the others, and ensure there is nothing loose in that container. Even if these glasses had made it from the factory to the warehouse to the shop, they were delivered in such a way that the larger shipping boxes were not on their own so they provided shock proofing to their contents (though I’m surprised they were factory wrapped in tissue paper before being placed in their sales boxes).

    I’m sure you’ll be claiming your credit card’s insurance for these, but I certainly wouldn’t approve such a claim given the irresponsible way these glasses were packed!

    Nor have I ever lost a bottle of wine, even when shipped in a box with cardboard separators. It’s just imperative to cushion each bottle by wrapping each one in at least newspaper.

  18. I am not sure they could be successfully carried down a flight of stairs in the manner in which they were packed.

  19. 🙁 🙁 🙁

    The packing plan actually called for MUCH more paper and cushioning than what it looks like Ben ended up with, but I think something was lost in translation along the way. Just too many people involved I guess, and we didn’t see the final version before the boxes were taped. Lesson learned, but I’m still a little sad.

  20. @ Lori — Thanks for those links! The ones I’d purchased were 990ml (and less than a third that price), but that’s much closer than we were able to find online otherwise!

  21. Whenever I go places, I generally come back with some sort of alcohol or glasses. I’ve only lost a single glass in the past 4 years because I decided to mail it home rather than packing it in a suitcase.

    I generally take used clothes and stuff them inside glasses, wrap in plastic and roll up with more clothes. That way the bag I packed it in remains full and does not allow for movement. Same thing with wine bottles. I managed to keep 4 wine bottles in a large backpack throughout Europe for 3 weeks before using them and they were in perfect condition. It’s all about how you pack things.

  22. So, to make sure I understand — 2/3ds of the packages you entrusted to Iberia made it to their final destination, and in those two boxes, 3/8ths of the items were not completely destroyed? That is such a staggering success for their airline, I have no doubt that Iberia will include it in their next annual report.

  23. I purchase and pack the Harrods coffee mugs (which are fragile and not as sturdy as a Starbucks Coffee Mug) in my luggage – they do a GREAT job in wrapping it with bubble wrap, and when I arrive in GUM, they are ALWAYS in tact. You did not have enough packaging/bubble wrapping around your glasses.

    You learn as you go.

  24. Could you not have put your clothes in the boxes and carried the fragile glasses in your hand luggage?

  25. I always have a rule when someone is packing something.

    “When you are done, toss it over there and let it land on the floor”. Of course, most are not willing to do that, at which point they need to repack it.

  26. I have often purchased Japanese crystal in Tokyo and have shipped to both New York and Florida without incident. I have always had the merchant take care of the packing and shipping. If you smile and are friendly to the clerk, 90% of the time they will throw in the shipping charges for free.

  27. It’s so blindingly obvious I almost feel like I’m missing something here…. Why on Earth didn’t you wrap them in bubble wrap? If you had then they most likely would have all arrived intact!

    It really is basic common sense that at the VERY least the glasses shouldn’t be able to move at all within the box. From what Tiffany says it seems you didn’t get to see how they were packed at all, but the sound just lifting up the box must have made really should have told you they weren’t going to make it!

  28. Ben, I really love your blog and appreciate how much you are willing to share. But on this one I am laughing about how idiotic this is. Can’t believe anyone over the age of 10 who is not under the influence would think that was a realistic way to ship glass. I hope you were under the influence of too many G&Ts. Cause otherwise, you should be embarrassed to post this stuff.

  29. From your photos they looked to be appallingly packed. I am surprised any survived!
    On the bright side, they look like any number of stemmed wine glasses, so you have not lost anything unique.

  30. I think everyone has already nailed it – these glasses were nowhere near packed adequately! I have lived and travelled all over the world and shipped and carried more fragile items than I could count and I think you have had more breakage than I have ever had. Equally, these are just Bohemia glasses so you can find them virtually anywhere I would think as they are not a premium product.

    Sometimes we buy things because of the wonderful experience associated and you guys did that and now you have a whole other travel tale to tell! I’d have a g & t (or six) as soon as possible and move on – cheers!

  31. You’re asking for it.

    Bad wrapping, checked in and not even marked “Fragile”. If you didn’t even do any of that, I won’t even blame American.

    Hope you learnt your lesson!

  32. Ben you really are very very naive. You’re one of those people who have too much money for their brains. Firstly, you can buy these glasses online, even in the US. Secondly, anyone with half a brain would know to package the glass in proper packaging and not just in a small box with no bubble wrap or scrunched up paper inside.

  33. Just go to any of dozens of local hand-blown glass artists and ask for that 33 ounces glass to be made to order. You’ll help the local economy and get to see the fascinating skill and process involved.

  34. The way that GLASSWARE (not glasses) was packed, the results aren’t surprising. Bubble wrap is our friend! Or perhaps your carryon bag could have accommodated this prescious cargo.

  35. if you want to have a remote hope of the glasses arriving the very least you need to do is bubble wrap and those bags of air…filling up all the empty space then you might have a chance

  36. Proper packaging is a must! Lots of tissue, bubble-wrap, and a sturdy box.
    Then a proper shipping company like DHL to handle the fragile goods!

  37. I wrap my glass tightly in tissues, and then surround the inner box with rolls of paper towels (to absorb shocks), and then have an outer box or covering. It’s not an efficient use of space, but I have managed to convey delicate glass objects around the world.

  38. In Istanbul, I bought one of the lamps with several hanging glass globes. The shop packed each globe in bubble wrap. I didn’t trust them in checked luggage so I put them in my carry on. IST security obviously knew what they were on the x-ray, but my bag got a lot of extra attention in MUC. After they cut open the third bubble wrapped piece, they asked me what I had in my bag. After I explained it was a lamp, they understood and let me pass.

  39. I don’t see the problem here, sounds like you have 3 chipped glasses with a great story behind them 😀

  40. As the others have mentioned — these weren’t packed correctly. Additionally, your boxes had the magic words “MUY FRAGIL” on them, which to any ramp rat means “Let’s go play kickball/rugby/football with this box!”

    I’ve packed all sorts of glass objects (sadly, no bongs) over the years and never had an issue. Almost always in my checked luggage, packed well between clothes. Prior to Trader Joe’s opening a few stores in Florida, I always would throw a few bottles of Two (okay, Four) Buck Chuck in my checked bag and they always made it fine. Live & learn.

  41. This is ridiculous, am I missing something or is this April Fool’s. day? Never had anything break that was packed properly packed. Why deal with any of this anyway? You are in a big city, just have the hotel send it over to FedEx or UPS and the job is done.

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