Last Updated: February 11, 2020

Packing Fragile Items For A Flight: Everything You Need To Know

Packing is a tedious task on its own, but it gets about a thousand times worse when you have to pack something extremely fragile. Maybe you bought a pair of wine glasses or an adorable little glass bauble, and now you’re dreading the flight home?

Don’t stress – there’s a lot of things you can do to ensure your fragile souvenirs come home with you in one piece. I’ve shared all of my tips and tricks below, so scroll down to see the best ways of packing fragile items!

Forget About Fragile Stickers

Fragile

Sure, it can’t hurt to put a ‘fragile’ sticker on your luggage, but it’s very likely that no one will even notice it. Baggage handlers are used to loading luggage quickly and efficiently, which means that they don’t really have time to inspect each suitcase to see if it has that sticker.

In addition to that, loading luggage quickly means pretty much just throwing suitcases into the cargo area, regardless of any stickers on them. Therefore, if you really want to protect your fragile items, forget about relying on stickers – they can’t hurt, but they don’t do anything on their own. After you’ve carefully wrapped every item, placed gently in the middle of your luggage and ensured that it doesn’t touch any side of the suitcase directly, placing that fragile sticker is just a finishing touch.

Bubble Wrap Is Your New Best Friend

Bubble Wrap

Bubble wrap is the absolute champion in protecting fragile items. There’s a reason anything you order online will come wrapped in bubble wrap – it helps absorb any impact, and protects the items from breaking in transit. And if a lightbulb can travel from China to the States in one piece due to bubble wrap, there’s no reason why your new glasses can’t survive a trip home in your suitcase.

Get your hands on a bunch of bubble wrap, and use it for everything that you think could break.

However, bubble wrap can’t really help you with every single item. Wine glasses are a good example of that – they’re hollow, and you need to protect them both their insides and outsides. Yes, it’s a good idea to wrap them in bubble wrap, but if you don’t put something inside the actual glass, there’s a good chance it could break.

Bubble Wrap Alternatives

You’re in a rush to pack and don’t have access to any bubble wrap? That’s fine, there are plenty of items already in your luggage that you can use to protect any fragile items you’re packing.

Socks, towels, hoodies and virtually any clothing you have does a great job at cushioning the impact. Mini liquor bottles are easiest to pack – just put one inside a sock, and wrap it all around.

Make use of your dirty laundry – instead of just shoving everything in a plastic bag, wrap your fragile items in dirty socks, t-shirts, towels etc. And if we’re talking about smaller items like nips or shot glasses, you can just place them inside the bag with your dirty laundry. All the clothes will provide the breakables with a lot of cushioning, and you don’t actually have to touch your dirty socks. Which is something a lot of you might feel icky about.

Pack Everything Individually

Wrapping up 4-5 liquor bottles together is a great way of saving space in your luggage, but it’s also a recipe for disaster.

To really ensure your fragile items travel with you intact, you should wrap every single thing individually. That way, even if one of them breaks, the other ones will stay intact.

Think about it – if you wrap 5 liquor bottles together and one of them breaks, the bubble wrap will come loose, and the bottles are more likely to fall out.

In addition to that, I always suggest to people that they wrap top and bottom of the bottles as well. This is something not everyone thinks of – while it’s theoretically enough to just wrap the sides of a wine bottle, wrapping its top and bottom will help limit the damage in worst case scenario. It will keep all the glass in one place, and stop the liquids from spreading all over your luggage.

Choose Your Luggage Carefully

Luggage

You could take all the necessary precautions in the world, and still find your fragile items shattered inside of your luggage. Why does that happen, and how can you prevent it?

The hard truth is that the type of your luggage is even more important than the amount of bubble wrap you use. If you’re planning to buy something fragile but really expensive, you want a suitcase that can pretty much stop a bullet – that’s the best way to ensure your breakables get home with you in one piece.

For checked baggage, I’ve always recommended hardshell bags, and I always will. Aluminum suitcases are particularly sturdy and durable, but they tend to cost an arm and a leg.

The best alternative to classic aluminum luggage is polycarbonate – the material is incredibly durable, sturdy and will bend upon impact. It’s much safer to place your new expensive wine glasses in a pure polycarbonate suitcase, than in a flimsy polyester duffel bag.

The Extra Step For Glasses And Mugs

Wine Glass

When packing fragile items that are hollow, you want to stuff their interior as well as their exterior. This helps ensure that the item doesn’t break upon really hard impact, and it’s also a cool packing trip that helps you utilize the space in your luggage more efficiently.

Put a pair of dirty socks or undies inside the wine glasses and mugs. And wrap those in newspapers or plastic bags before you put them inside the glass, if you feel icky about putting dirty laundry inside something that you’ll drink from.

Be Careful Where You Put The Fragile Items

It’s common sense not to put a fragile bottle in the external pocket of your softside suitcase. So, always assume the worst – assume that your suitcase will get thrown around even if you write FRAGILE all over its exterior in neon yellow letters. And when that happens, you know the bag can land on either its sides or its corners.

Avoid putting any fragile items in those parts of your luggage, and definitely don’t put anything fragile directly next to the body of the bag. Make sure that there’s at least one layer of clothing, bubble wrap or something soft on each side of the fragile item you’re protecting.

I will normally pack a layer of clothes on the bottom of suitcase, and start putting any fragile items in the middle. This protects perfume bottles, makeup and alcohol bottles really well. In addition to that, you want to make sure that you don’t have any fragile items directly next to each other. If something breaks, at least only one item will break and not all of them. Space them out evenly, with at least one rolled up t-shirt between the individual items and the ends of the suitcase.

Put Extremely Fragile Items In Your Carry On

Extremely Fragile

Extremely fragile souvenirs are the bane of my existence – who can resist an adorable I <3 Paris bauble that will look gorgeous on their Christmas tree? And if you’re overpaying for such a cute souvenir, you want to do everything in your power to make sure it comes home with you in one piece.

Items that are made from really thin glass (like baubles) should definitely go in your carry on. It doesn’t take a lot to shatter them, and this is the safest way of transporting them back home. Glass statues, bottles and mugs are usually made from thicker glass or ceramics, so they’re less likely to shatter in your checked luggage.

And this doesn’t apply just to items made from glass and ceramics – maybe it seemed like a good idea to get that copper wire statue, but you realized that it’s not going to be easy to get it back home intact. Use copious amounts of bubble wrap, and put it in your carry on. And make sure that it’s not squished, so it doesn’t lose its shape.

Put Everything In Plastic Bags

After you’ve wrapped your new mug of liquor bottle in bubble wrap, make sure to put it inside a plastic bag. That way, even if it breaks, you can somewhat control just how much damage it does to everything else inside the suitcase.

Do this especially if you’re packing liquor – a wine bottle shattering in your luggage could make you need an entire new wardrobe, so it’s best to take every precaution possible to avoid this.

Shape Of The Bag Matters

Guitar Case

While baggage handlers might not notice stickers on your luggage, they do notice the shape of your bag. And if they see a guitar case or a tripod case, they are more likely to be gentle with it.

So, if you’re travelling with instruments, be sure to put them in a case that makes it obvious that the item inside is a fragile music instrument. You will wind up paying an extra baggage fee, but that’s still a lot more cheaper than buying a brand new Gibson or Martin guitar.

Packing Makeup

Makeup

It’s not the first thing most people think of when you say ‘a fragile item’, but protecting your makeup is just as important as protecting the fancy new wine glasses you bought. There’s nothing worse than opening up your suitcase to discover your foundation bottle has shattered and ruined everything in your makeup bag, or to find your brand new $60 eyeshadow palette ruined.

The rules for packing makeup are the same as for other fragile items – don’t put it in the corners of your suitcase, and wrap it up in something soft. This will help with impact resistance, and keep your brand new highlighter from shattering.

Also, think about the formula of your shadows. Some are are much more fragile than others, and will break more easily. Glitters are particularly fragile, and it doesn’t take much for pressed pigments to break out of the pan. If you want your palettes to be extra safe, wrap them in some bubble wrap for ultimate protection.

Don’t Overpack

I know you probably shopped a bit on your trip, and now it’s hard to fit everything inside your suitcase again. Which is fine if you don’t have anything breakable inside it – sit on the luggage and have someone else help you zip it up.

But if you have fancy new wine glasses in your luggage, it’s definitely not a good idea to sit on your suitcase in order to get it to close. Or to apply any sort of pressure at all – you want to be gentle, which means that your suitcase should be able to zip up effortlessly.

That can easily mean having to pack an extra bag, so plan for that. If you’re planning to buy anything fragile on your upcoming trip, pack an extra bag inside your suitcase for the return trip. It’s better to pay an excesses baggage fee, than to waste money on fragile souvenirs that didn’t make it home in one piece.

To Sum Up…

Too lazy to read all of the above? Well, I’m a little hurt but it’s fine – here’s a quick overview of all the tips and tricks I shared above:

  • Put extremely fragile items (like glass baubles, copper wire statues etc.) in your carry on
  • Use excessive amounts of bubble wrap
  • Wrap every single item individually, and wrap its sides, top and bottom
  • Don’t put fragile items in the corners of your suitcase
  • Hardshell suitcases are much sturdier than softshell bags!
  • Fragile stickers are about as useful as an inflatable dart board
  • Put your instruments in their designated bags, as baggage handlers are more likely to notice the shape of the bag
  • Fill up the inside of glasses and mugs with soft cloth
  • Don’t overpack your suitcase so much that you have to apply pressure to get it to close if you have anything breakable inside

And that’s it. Unless your suitcase gets run over by a car or falls out of an airplane, your fragile items should make it back home with you in one piece!

 

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About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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