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Eww, That Smell

Andrea Sachs

Sailing around the Caribbean is an adventure unto itself, yet on a recent vacation to the British Virgin Islands, our family had some added intrigue: Who stole the milk?

Here's the back story: In an effort to save money and time, my new brother-in-law packed some provisions in his checked luggage. In one bag, he stuffed a cooler full of frozen meat, cheese and salty, snacky treats. That was his smart move. In another duffel, which was filled with his clothes, he threw in a random box of milk. That was his, er, not so intelligent move.

Somewhere between New York City and San Juan, his bag went amissing. It finally arrived nearly three days later via commuter ferry to Bitter End, Virgin Gorda. We greeted his bag like an old war buddy, grateful that Andrew could finally change his pants. However, the duffel emitted a noxious smell that could have wiped out a nation of noses. The culprit: the milk.

No big mystery, right? Hot bag + unrefrigerated milk = colossal stink. However, Part 2 of the story is that, minus the odor, the evidence was gone. No carton, not even a curdle.

Upon our return, I called the Transportation Security Administration to see if they would remove an item and not leave a note saying something like, "Sorry, but your bag smelled like a frat boy's fridge and we had to take action." Spokeswoman Amy Kudwa explained that the TSA only removes items prohibited in checked luggage; milk is not on that list (though it is banned from carry-ons, unless you are with an infant or need it for medical reasons). If TSA does open your bag, the agency will leave a courtesy note inside as well as a sticker on the luggage tag.

The airlines have similar authority to root around your luggage -- if, says American Airlines spokesman Tim Wagner, a bag in the cargo hold was leaking and appeared hazardous to personnel or passengers. If anyone has sniffed spoiled milk, I would say Andrew's dairy qualified. Unlike TSA, however, the airline is not required to alert the passenger of the removal, unless the item is of value or is prohibited.

Which leads me to the point of the story. Now that the mystery is solved, the moral is: Don't pack perishables in your checked luggage. Andew not only lost his milk, he also contaminated his clothes and bag. Even worse, as punishment, the next time he travels with us, he loses his dairy privileges. Only black coffee and dry cereal for him now.

By Andrea Sachs |  May 16, 2007; 10:48 AM ET  | Category:  Andrea Sachs , Tales from the Road
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Andrew would have avoided at least one of his problems by packing a brick of shelf-stable milk.

Posted by: Karen | May 16, 2007 11:20 AM

I agree with Karen. Who keeps fresh milk unrefrigerated??? I recently went on a trip and took several containers of shelf stable milk and had absolutely no problems.

Posted by: Deb | May 16, 2007 12:23 PM

It's hard not to laugh out loud at this lunacy. Who really needs to be told not to pack perishables in their luggage? Probably the same people that need to be told not to retrieve jammed toast with knives.

Posted by: Omar | May 16, 2007 1:03 PM

It sounds like a shelf-stable package of milk leaked all over the clothes, and then the milk curdled.

Posted by: Arlington | May 16, 2007 2:43 PM

Um, was your brother-in-law smoking crack before packing for the trip? I mean, seriously, why would you pack perishable MILK in your luggage? That's just bizarre and, ultimately as this story illustrates, stupid.

Posted by: Ryan | May 16, 2007 3:14 PM

The milk was shelf milk (not perishable) but needless to say it exploded. Lesson learned (the hard way).

Posted by: Lisa | May 16, 2007 5:02 PM

I've been known to bend a few rules for customs in my travels, especially when I was younger but there are good reasons to prohibit the movement of foodstuff across international borders and I've never done it.

Posted by: jeff | May 16, 2007 5:10 PM

How much "money and time" could possibly be saved by bringing your own milk on a vacation? Loosen the purse strings Andy!

Posted by: Reilly | May 17, 2007 1:21 PM

Wow i've heard of cheapskates but your brother in law takes the cake!

Posted by: Mary | May 17, 2007 5:49 PM

Why didn't he pack his sheets, blankets, pillows, toilette paper, etc. as well? Why go on vacation at all.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 18, 2007 12:08 PM

I hear the Coffee-Mate people would like to feature your brother-in-law in an upcoming commercial entitled "Got Stink?"

Posted by: tmcarter | May 22, 2007 8:10 PM

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