Published November 25, 2019

Recently I went to Italy with my partner, where we picked up three cases of wine that had been shipped there by The Wine Society in the UK, so that we could take it back with us to the US, where we live. Prior to departure we had carefully checked with the airlines that we were using, confirming that it was OK for me to transport wine which was suitably packaged for air transport.

Our return flight was on Alitalia, flying from Naples airport. When we came to check-in at the Alitalia desk the check-in agent asked us what was in the three boxes that we presented for check-in. When we told her that it was wine (professionally packed by The Wine Society in cartons designed specifically for international wine transportation), after a short pause she told us that the three cases exceeded Alitalia's allowed limit of of 5L (litres) per person.

On the 'Restricted Items' page of Alitalia's own website the section relating to Alcoholic Beverages is as follows:
Note the phrase "more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol by volume". In other words, the 5L per person limit applies to spirits, and not to table wine, which is typically not more than 14% alcohol by volume (ABV). None of the wine we were transporting was more than 14% ABV.

We pointed out to the Alitalia check-in agent that she was using the wrong information, but she did not care, and insisted that we could not take the wine with us, just repeating that it exceeded the allowable 5L limit. We kept on trying to expain that the wine was less than 24% ABV, and thus was not subject to the 5L restriction, but she continued to refuse. She declined to escalate the matter to her superior, and just said that we had 30 minutes left to go through security and get our plane.

Eventually we had no choice but to abandon the wine, sending it back in a taxi to the hotel where we had been staying, and board our flight. Not knowing anyone in Italy who could do it for us, our only hope was that when they realized their mistake, Alitalia would acknowledge their mistake, and take responsibility for picking up the wine and transporting it to the US.

When we got back to the US we took up the matter with Alitalia's Customer Relations, providing them with all the relevant information. After two weeks of deferrals we finally got an email from them, saying that the Alitalia agent had refused to check-in the wine because "the packaging of the items was fragile", and that the matter was now closed.

At no time did the Alitalia check-in agent ever say anything about fragility - she never even inspected the three boxes. Had she done so, she would have seen that the wine was professionally packed, and perfectly prepared for internatinal transportation by air.

The entire email transcript can be seen below.

So the truth of the matter is as follows:
- The Alitalia check-in agent did not know the rules relating to the transportation of alcohol
- She ignored us when we tried to show her Alitalia's own published guidelines
- She would not seek assistance from a superior
- Alitalia's Customer Relations lied to us about the reason for the wine being refused

So now, as a result of the incompetence and lack of care of the Alitalia check-in staff, and the subsequent decision by Alitalia's Customer Relations to lie to try and hide this failing, we have now almost certainly lost three cases of valuable wine, collected carefully over the course of many years.


Transcript of email conversation with Alitalia's Customer Relations
October 22nd, from Stephen Collins Yesterday, October 21st, myself and my partner flew from Naples airport to Milan on Alitalia flight 1278, en route back to the US where we live. Prior to arriving at the airport we had confirmed that it was OK to bring cases of wine as checked luggage. As per the Alitalia website ( there is a limit of 5L per person for alcohol with “more than 24% but not more than 70% alcohol by volume”. Table wine is less than 24%, so is not subject to the limit of 5L per person. We had with us three cases (36 bottles) of table wine, with every bottle less than 15% alcohol. When we tried to check in, however, the woman at the Alitalia desk would not allow us to check-in the cases of wine, telling us that there is a 5L per person limit. We tried to explain that this limit only applies to alcohol of more than 24%, but she would not listen. We could not afford to miss our flight, and so we had to send the three cases back to the hotel where we had been staying in a taxi, and board our flight to Milan. The three cases of wine are still there at the hotel, and I am trying to work out how to have the wine transported to the US.
Why did the check-in person tell us that we could not bring the wine as checked luggage? How can we get the three cases of wine from Naples to the US? This is a very serious mistake on the part of the check-in agent, and Alitalia. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to explain what happened, and to help me work out how to have our wine shipped back to the US.
October 23rd, from Alitalia's Customer Relations We will be able to provide you needed information through our Customer Center services.
We kindly ask you to contact the number: +39 06 65649 or +1 800 223 5730 to be properly assisted.
October 26th, from Stephen Collins When I called the number below, and explained about the mistake made by the Alitalia check-in agent, I was told that the issue would be investigated, and that I would be contacted within 2 days. I have heard nothing from you. The three boxes of wine are still sitting in the hotel in Naples where I was forced to leave them because of the mistake made, and the hotel are close to disposing of them. Please respond to me at your earliest convenience.
October 26th, from Alitalia's Customer Relations Thank you for your email of October 26, 2019. Alitalia sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience while traveling on flight AZ1278 on October 21, 2019.
Your complaint is under review and has been assigned assigned file number 6003389512.
We will make every effort to ensure you receive a reply within 30 days.
Thank you for your patience, we will reach out to you as soon as possible.
October 26th, from Stephen Collins Within 30 days? Did you read my email? As I explained, as a result of the mistake by the check-in agent, my three cases of wines are sitting in a hotel in Naples. The hotel agreed to look after the wine for a few days, but I cannot expect them to wait indefinitely. I certainly cannot ask them to day for up to 30 days. Please escalate this issue as soon as possible, to avoid me losing the wine completely.
October 29th, from Stephen Collins With reference to this issue, because of the error made by the Alitalia check-in agent at Napoli airport, I am now close to losing thousands of dollars' worth of wine. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to advise on what I can do to avoid losing my wine, which had to be sent back to the Hotel in Napoli where I was staying.
November 4th, from Stephen Collins I've heard nothing back from you on this urgent matter, so I am forced to escape this as a formal complaint with the US Dept of Transportation. The mistake made by your agent in Naples has almost certainly meant that I have now lost nearly $1,000 of wine.
November 18th, from Stephen Collins When I am going to hear back from you about this issue? It’s been over 2 weeks since I sent the email below.
If the error made by your check-in agent means that I lose the wine that I should—according to Alitalia’s own published shipping information—have been allowed to transport as checked luggage, I will have lost wine worth thousands of US dollars. Even if I do not lose the wine, and I can find some way to transport the wine back to the UK, the transportation costs to do so will be at least US$300. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to let me know the status of this issue.
November 23rd, from Alitalia's Customer Relations Dear Mr. Collins,
In reply to your latest correspondence of November 18, 2019 we reiterate our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience you experienced when traveling on Alitalia from Naples to Rome on flight AZ1278 on October 21, 2019.
We can certainly understand your disappointment and we appreciate you taking the time to write to us about your experience. Alitalia is committed to continuously work on improving our services. We value your feedback as it helps us to identify areas where we can do better.
Please know that Alitalia is very concerned that our standards of service are upheld at all times and we take your comments very seriously. From further investigations with Naples International Airport, they confirm the packaging of the items was fragile.
Please allow us to explain that especially for fragile objects it is requited the respect of specific packaging requirement. If these are not met, as per General Conditions of Transport, Alitalia has the right to refuse the carriage as Baggage, or refuse to continue the carriage, of any object that is unsuitable for carriage on the aircraft due to its dimensions, shape, weight, content, peculiar characteristics, fragility, perishability, for security or operative reasons, or because it may cause inconvenience or disturb to other passengers.
For further information we kindly ask you to visit our website at the below link:
Although we understand your disappointment, and regret any inconvenience this caused, we must respectfully deny reimbursement.
We greatly appreciate your business Mr. Collins and we hope that as our valued customer, you will provide us with another opportunity to restore your confidence on a future Alitalia flight.