If you're a wine lover like me who refuses to drink those 4-ounce bottles of Sutter Home or whatever swill they're serving on airlines these days, keep this tip to yourself. Please.
The six-hour flight from Seattle to New York City can get mighty annoying and boring if you're enduring cranky toddlers, insipid in-flight movies, and seatmates hypnotized by laptops or headphones. Guess what? For the first time since 9-11, you can carry on, open, and sip your own excellent bottle of wine to make the long flight more pleasurable. No one is going to tell you this, or encourage it. But it's legal according to the Transportation Safety Administration, if not the airlines themselves.
I used to do it all the time, bringing good vino and sharing it with companionable seatmates. Of course, we had to watch out for the flight attendants, who were under orders to confiscate passengers' contraband booze. But that was easy.
Then came 9-11. After that, security rules banned any type of corkscrews, then outlawed bottles of liquid. No more wine tastings at 30,000 feet. It was Sutter Home or nothing.
I've been an unhappy, wine-deprived flier for the past seven years. But, joyfully, that changed on a recent flight from Sea-Tac to JFK. My wife and I sipped a tart, cherry-tasting 2007 Italian Barbera, called Briccotondondo, which cost us $19, while the people around us had to pay $7 for a two-ounce bottle of vodka to go with V-8 juice.
What's changed is that Sea-Tac and at least 10 other airports around the county now have wine bars.
Vino Volo, which has outlets inside security at eight airports including JFK, Dulles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Sacramento, with a new one to open soon in Newark, is located in the central concourse at Sea-Tac. It offers an excellent and reasonably priced selection of Pacific Northwest, California, and international wines. Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas also have airport wine bars inside security.
Vino Volo sells bottles to go, and you can carry them right onto the flight, in your purse or book bag, with no one checking. Here's the catch. The Vino Volo staff won't uncork the bottle for you because, according to the staff, they don't want to get in trouble with the airlines.
That's where new TSA rules come in handy. Corkscrews without foil-cutting blades are now allowed through security, according to Dwayne Baird, a TSA spokesman in Salt Lake City. "A corkscrew won't be a very effective implement for any real harm to anyone," he explained to me.
Indeed, on our recent trip from Sea-Tac to JFK, both my wife and I carried bladeless corkscrews through security. I also had the foresight to score a couple of free Starbuck's coffee cups, which hide the gorgeous red juice from the censorious eyes of flight attendants. To avoid alerting them with the telltale popping sound, we opened the Barbera in the concourse before boarding the flight.
Alternatively, at Vino Volo — which also sells glasses of wine and well-chosen flights of three short pours, hence the Italian name "Volo" meaning flight — you can buy several quality wines from Australia and New Zealand in screwtop bottles. That eliminates the need to carry on a corkscrew.
Not surprisingly, I'm not the first person to think of this. One Vino Volo staffer, asked about customers buying wine to drink on flights, said, "It's my understanding that it's illegal and frowned on, but people do it. That's why people come in and buy screwcaps."
But I warn you: Be cool, sly, and moderate in your in-flight wine drinking or you'll ruin it for all of us. Then it's back to Sutter Home.