I am not one for buying things in airports but recently my wife asked me to get her an alcoholic beverage while flying from the USA to Ireland (JFK-DUB). I made the purchase in JFK and was surprised to be told I had to collect it when departing for my flight as I board the plane. The sales assistant's English wasn't their best so I may have misheard and my Yorkshire twang may have thrown her, but I was somewhat surprised as to why I couldn't carry the bag myself to the plane.

Is there a law that prevents me from carrying my purchase to the plane or is this an added service I was charged, which I was duped into paying?

When boarding the plane there were several others who had to pick up their sealed duty free bags (why sealed?) so it wasn't just me. No explanation was given.

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    Were there domestic flights from the same terminal? DUB has US preclearance so planes from there (and returning to there later in the day) are often at domestic terminals in US airports. Furthermore, in the US it is not uncommon for arriving and departing passengers to mix on the same level (in Europe they are typically level separated). If both of the above were the case where you were, there would be little to stop you buying duty free goods and passing them off to a passenger who will travel or has just traveled domestically and illegally avoid duties.
    – Richard
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 9:54
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    The purchases are sealed so that people who have transit stops can get their booze through security in the next airport, at least in theory.
    – Moyli
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:12
  • I flew last year Newark to London Gatwick and didn't have to do this. I bought a bottle of Rum and it was put into a sealed duty-free bag and I could take it with me around the departure area until I boarded the plane.
    – Dan Brown
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 13:09
  • The "Planet Money" podcast did an episode about the history of duty-free shopping, you might want to listen to that to learn more about it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 15:28
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    @ JonathanReez please unlock my post so I can delete it.
    – user67108
    Commented Aug 31, 2018 at 3:11

3 Answers 3


The laws around duty-free require that you not consume duty free merchandise in the country you're buying them in. If they just handed you the bag, you could then exit the terminal and go home, evading paying duty; people would buy cheap tickets for planes they had no intention of boarding, just to get a shopping discount. By holding the merchandise until you get on the plane, they prevent you from doing that. This isn't specific to the US... I've seen it in various EU countries as well, for duty-free shops located before exit checks.

I have never, ever seen a charge for the "service".

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    You've never seen a charge for the service, but it's definitely calculated into the price. Just like "free shipping".
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:26
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    @Mast So is the cost to light the shop..... I'm not sure what your point is? Wheeling a cart of bags to a gate isn't an inherently expensive thing to do.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 11:28
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    Except duty free is almost never cheaper so no one would ever buy a plane ticket just to shop there :) I've only seen some exceptions for perfume.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 15:28
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    @JonathanReez It depends on the route. You can get some good deals departing the EU, since you benefit from both a duty-free and a VAT-free treatment. IME it's rarely worthwhile when departing from the US.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 19:06
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    From my personal experience, @dda answer hits more home. In the airports I have been here in Europe and Asia, were domestic and international terminals are segregated, they have whatsoever no qualms of giving you the bottle in the store when paying. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 3:08

In some countries, where domestic and international flights are segregated, you buy goods in DF shops and take your purchases with you (yes, indeed, in sealed bags, it's a legal requirement very few people abide to). That's because people have no other place to go than out of the country. So there's no risk of "leakage".

US airports are not segregated. You could be boarding a flight to Dublin, and at the next gate, people are boarding a flight to Chicago or Denver. That won't do. If DF purchases weren't handed over at the gate, an international traveler could pass the purchases to a domestic traveler, circumventing the system. Which is why DF shops have to make sure the goods will leave the country.

There was a related question some time ago, about buying DF good when leaving the US with a transfer within the US. The answer was, of course for the same reason, at the airport where you board the flight leaving the US, and not before.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Aug 30, 2018 at 13:19

When boarding the plane there were several others who had to pick up their sealed duty free bags (why sealed?) so it wasn't just me. No explanation was given.

This is an "Official Security Bag" for duty-free purchases.

From the CATSA (Canadian airport screening authority) webpage on Duty-free Purchases as Carry-on Baggage:

These are sealed clear plastic bags with special security features that hold goods purchased from airline or airport retailers after security screening. They are designed to make it easier for you to carry liquids, aerosols and gels through screening.

Official security bags are used in several—but not all—countries around the world. Wherever you travel, check first to make sure your bag has the security features shown in the image here – typically a checkmark and arrow in a circle as well as a red border - when you make your purchase. If it doesn’t, it will be rejected.

The idea is that if your international flight is not a direct flight to your final destination, some airports/countries may require you to re-clear security prior to boarding your final flight. (For instance, if you had a stopover in Canada, in most cases you would have to re-clear security after the Canadian passport control.)

Normally you aren't allowed to take more than 100 mL of liquid through security and normally duty-free alcohol purchases are in increments of more than 100 mL. In order to facilitate alcohol duty-free sales, airports & airport security have worked together to provide some form of secure exemption to the above rule which results in these security bags.

  • 2
    That explains the bag, but not why it has to be collected immediately before boarding, which was (I think) the OP's question.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 14:48
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    @MadHatter OP asked about both parts. Other answers addressed the other part but not this part. Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 14:50
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    I saw the OP's reference to the bag as incidental, and the question title mentions only the issue of receipt-on-boarding. Nevertheless, if you feel otherwise, that's fair enough: it'll be interesting to see how the voting goes.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Aug 29, 2018 at 14:52

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