1. Ensure the dress is stored well.
Stuff white (never colored, acid-free) tissue paper in the sleeves, purchase a thick, heavy-duty, waterproof garment bag, and always be mindful of keeping liquids far away from your dress.
2. Call the airline.
Each circumstance is unique, so the best way to be clear on the rules is to speak with a representative of your airline. Check if they allow one personal item in addition to your carry-on; and if they do, ask if a garment bag can fly as one. Also check if your airplane will have a front closet, or a special carry-on section for this type of request. Not all do, but flight attendants will generally be excited for you and try to help in any way possible, including storing your dress if they have the room. Just call the airline to be in-the-know before you go.
3. Get your dress a seat.
Certainly a more extravagant option, some brides consider peace-of-mind to be priceless and will purchase an extra ticket just for the dress. If you’re booking a great deal and don’t want any headaches, this may be something to consider. Otherwise, if the plane doesn’t book full, you may be able to rest it on an empty seat for no extra charge. Hoping for this is a bit of a risky gamble, though, so be sure to have a back-up option in mind (like that front closet).
4. Be early.
Security, not to mention customs, may want to take an extra close look in the garment bag you’re carrying on, and we all know these things take time. Arrive early, and board as early as possible; if purchasing early boarding is an option, you may want to consider it. As one of the first on board, you’ll be one of the first to chat with your flight attendants about options for your dress.
5. Always, always keep your dress with you.
This fairy-tale will not begin with a horror story about an airline that Once Upon a Time lost your dress between here and Scotland. We’re not going to let that happen. No matter what, your dress is your carry-on, even if you have to resort to boxing it up and putting it in a suitcase in the overhead bin. Don’t fret. There are great ways to do this that won’t turn your dress into a wrinkled napkin; if necessary, consult your designer about a box that will best fit the dress and still fit in a carry-on. Keep in mind that international planes can have smaller carry-on dimensions than those in the U.S., so check the airline’s website if you’re going abroad. Just as important: get a hard suitcase. This is like purchasing an insurance policy against other people’s baggage, which has been known to leak in the overheads and seep into innocent soft cases. When you’re folding your dress to put it in the box, use something rolled, such as more tissue paper or another cylindrical object, in the folds of the dress to prevent sharp creases. Boxing your dress will also make traveling with it via car or ship easier; otherwise, try to lay the garment bag as flat as possible on top of other luggage.
6. Have a plan in place to get your gown back into shape upon arrival.
Your hotel or planner may be able to arrange for your dress to be pressed by a professional dry cleaning company when you arrive, but this might not be an option in rural areas. A portable steamer is a great back-up, if you’d like to tote one along, but a quick call ahead to your hotel will save you the hassle if they have one you can use. Be sure to clean the head and cover it with a small towel or sock before taking it near your dress. If a steamer isn’t an option at all, running a very hot shower with the bathroom door and windows closed can do the trick; just take your dress out of its bag, hang it in a safe place away from the floor and condensation, and let it steam for about 20 minutes. After this, a lot of wrinkles and creases will fall naturally out of most fabrics.
7. Repeat the process on the way home, or skip it and ship it.
Shipping your dress to your wedding destination isn’t widely recommended because of everything that can go wrong, but if you want to ship it home and avoid the hassle of carrying it around on your honeymoon, there’s no reason you can’t. Pack it well, following the same tips, and send it with tracking and insurance. If you’re going to be away for a while, you might send it to someone who can remove it from the box and hang it up for you, since prolonged storage will make some mean creases.
Hailey Amber is a fine art wedding photographer based in Madison, WI. She loves nothing more than to capture weddings, anniversaries, engagements, and vow renewals for hopelessly-in-love couples with hearts for adventure – both at home in the Midwest and destinations abroad.