Air Travel

How to Travel with a Wedding Dress, According to the Experts

We spoke with a destination wedding planner and the manager of onboard services at Icelandair to find out how to score precious on-board closet space, and more.
The bride and groom hold hands on the roof of the Gorazda fort behind them a view of the Bay of Kotor.
Nad Tochiy/Getty

Traveling with your dress (or suit) probably doesn’t make many people’s “Things That Are Really Stressing Me Out” list at the beginning of planning a destination wedding. But wait until 24 hours before you leave for the airport and it’ll sink in. Do you have the right garment bag? Where is that steamer you bought three years ago during that Nordstrom sale? Carry-on or checked bag? Unfortunately, no amount of Googling will give you the peace of mind you need—there just isn’t much information out there tackling airline restrictions and guidelines around traveling with important outfits.

A quick online search will surface many tales of unsuccessful attempts to transport dresses and suits from Point A to Point B. Don’t get discouraged. To help you avoid even more stress on your big trip, we spoke with two people who have worked with couples around the world looking to celebrate their love in a place known for its destination weddings: Iceland. Even better news, their advice translates just about wherever you're headed. 

Ahead, Íris Anna Groeneweg, the manager of onboard services and procurement at Icelandair, and Birna Bjornsdottir, an event planner and co-owner of Pink Iceland based in Reykjavik, weigh in with their tips for making your flight (and outfits) as smooth as possible.

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Whatever you do, don’t pack your outfit into a checked bag

“Take everything you need for your wedding day in your carry-on, from shoes to hair accessories and everything in between,” says Bjornsdottir. “A couple arrived this morning without their checked luggage. But they had everything they needed for the wedding (happening the day after they arrived) and will have the delayed luggage delivered to their Airbnb.” Groeneweg agrees: “We recommend that passengers take important items as carry-on luggage, as check-in luggage can never be 100 percent guaranteed.”

Don’t just throw your stuff into your carry-on—bring some strategy to the task. Bjornsdottir suggests organizing all of the items into small bags and laying them out the night before to avoid any day-of anxiety.

Reach out to the dress or suit designer for packing advice

Before you even think about how to carry-on your dress or suit, think about how you’re going to prepare it for the trip. “Nobody can advise you better than the designer,” says Bjornsdottir. “They definitely have an opinion and expertise on how to hang, roll, fold, and store your dress or suit and accessories.”

Garment bags are a must

There’s no getting around this one. The best way to make sure your clothing doesn’t fall prey to another traveler’s spilled coffee, or get run over by a rampant suitcase, is to pack it in a garment bag. You’ll still want to follow Bjornsdottir’s suggestion about getting the designer’s advice, as each garment will have its own quirks to consider, even when hanging. “Think about getting a garment bag with a hanger for better transport in the airport. This enables you to hang on strollers and even some suitcases while walking through the airport,” says Groeneweg. “Something that is easy to fold is also great in case you have to use the overhead compartment. And make sure it has a zipper, just in case customs or security will need to have a look in the bag.”

The world of garment bags can be overwhelming, so check with your designer for specific recommendations. If you bought something off the rack, there are a few reliable elements of a good garment bag: water-resistant material, zipper access, and a built-in hanger (or space to use a hanger). If it has a few pockets, even better. Consider how large your outfit is; the space will fill up quickly when you’ve got a dress packed with tulle. If the latter is what you’re working with, opt for something like the Simply Essential Dress Storage Bag from Bed Bath & Beyond. Not only is it great for security thanks to its see-through design, but you’ll be able to keep an eye on it to ensure the dress isn’t bunching up. If you have a smaller dress with a fabric that can be rolled or folded, consider something more compact like this convertible garment bag from Modoker that doubles as a duffel and has a convenient shoulder strap.

Some suitcase brands even have garment bags made specifically for their own designs, like Away; those who own the Bigger Carry-On have the option to add a centerfold garment sleeve. An option like this is best for outfits that have already been pressed or can be folded, as you will only have so much room to work with.

Contact the airline prior to travel

Don’t wait until you’re at the airport to let the airline know you’re traveling with precious (fashion) cargo. If possible, ask for an extra carry-on allowance well in advance to avoid any issues at the check-in desk or in security. “Make sure it will be registered in the booking,” Groeneweg says. “And mentioning the reason is good too.” And cover all of your bases: “It’s always beneficial to contact the airline prior to travel,” she continues. “For example, Icelandair would contact the crew and inform them about passengers traveling with garment bags. Speak to the employee at the check-in desk when arriving at the airport to get confirmation prior to going through security.”

Like with any travel plan, make sure to flag any prior communication around extra carry-on allowances in your email inbox so it’s easy to reference when checking your bags.

Make sure you’ll have access to a steamer at your destination

It may sound like a given, but it’s easy to leave off of the packing list when you’re preparing for such a big trip. “I can’t tell you how many steamers Pink Iceland has had over the years. We feel it’s an essential thing for a wedding planner to have as not all accommodations have steamers—in some cases you cannot iron the outfit,” says Bjornsdottir. “If you’re having a destination wedding and don’t have a local on the ground, I would recommend a powerful travel steamer, or check with the place you are staying the night before your wedding to see if they have one.” But that’s not all: avoid last-minute scrambles by checking the voltage and type of plug before you leave. The last thing you want is to give away precious suitcase space to a tool you can't even use.

If you plan on bringing your own steamer, find something with a bit of power. Black+Decker’s Handheld Garment Steamer is a great option. This one has an eight-foot cord (perfect for hotel bathrooms with weird outlet situations) and warms up in less than a minute.

Notify gate personnel and board early

Set yourself up for success and share your situation with another important group: gate personnel. Oftentimes, you may be able to board early to improve your odds at getting closet space or at least alert the crew to your situation. “When boarding starts, it is important to board early, before all passengers are on board,” says Groeneweg. “It’s not good to be the last one to board and leave storage space up to chance.”

Remember: not all airplanes have closet storage

The most suggested move you’ll see people sharing is to ask the airline crew to hang garment bags for the flight. And while that may be fine in some cases, it’s not possible for some routes. “If there is a coat room or wardrobe on the aircraft, the dress would most likely be stored there,” Groeneweg says. “But at Icelandair, we only have these in half of the fleet—specifically not in our 737s.” But all is not lost—and definitely don’t lose your cool if it’s not available to you. There’s always an alternative. “If they are flying on a 737, a crew member will help place the dress in the overhead compartment,” Groeneweg continues. Yet another reason to board early because that space is full. 

Don’t let the excitement of finding the perfect outfit be shadowed by a long-haul flight. Take these tips for traveling with a wedding dress, integrate them into your planning, and make sure and be extra-nice to the flight attendant helping you store your garment bag.