Transporting Cremated Remains
by Kristal Borjas February 26, 2021 7 min read
Unfortunately for many, dealing with the passing of a loved one is hard, if not impossible, to prepare for. It’s difficult to know what the process entails until we find ourselves in a position of having lost a loved one and needing to make decisions and final arrangements. Especially when the passing is sudden, it can be overwhelming trying to find the resources to do what needs to be done. Sometimes, that includes getting the cremated ashes from point a to point b, and it isn’t as simple as it seems.
Finding the right way to transport cremated remains can present a family with a whole new set of challenges to solve. There are a number of strict rules and regulations that need to be met in order to have the cremated remains make it to the final destination. When it comes to traveling by airplane with a loved one’s remains or sending them via the mail, here’s a guide to ensure you go about it the right way.
Traveling in an Airplane with Cremated Remains
Perhaps you have a loved one who passed away in another state and needs to be returned to their home area. Perhaps a departed family member wanted to have their cremated ashes spread in a special location abroad. Whatever the reason, you cannot simply travel with the cremated remains placed in your luggage or up in the overhead bin.
When it comes to air travel, there are two options, which are the same as any normal traveling: check-in luggage and carry-on luggage.
Transporting Cremated Remains as Check-In Luggage
In the United States, TSA will typically allow one to travel with the cremated remains of a loved one in their checked-in bags. Although it is a sensitive and personal area, and you’re likely to be feeling emotional, the airlines will have to stick to certain policies. Some important considerations for flying with ashes in your check-in luggage include:
- Airline Restrictions: The challenge with transporting cremation remains in your check-in luggage includes restrictions with individual airlines. Of all the major airlines, two of the biggest carriers that do not allow cremated remains in check-in luggage include United Airlines and American Airlines. Those flying must keep cremation ashes in their carry-on. Additionally, some airlines allow customers to keep ashes in their check-in, but only if they also provide a death certificate or funeral certificate.
- Damage: When you place your cremation urn in your check-in luggage, it becomes more vulnerable to sustaining damage as it is moved along the conveyor belts and packed into the airplane. Even with careful packing, many choose not to take the risk of having damage to the cremated ashes.
- Search or Inspection: In the event you fly with an airliner that does not have regulations on placing cremated ashes or cremation urns into your checked luggage, the luggage still becomes open to being inspected by TSA. If it looks questionable or there is an issue with the packing, TSA would have to remove the ashes so they cannot be transported. TSA will never open or inspect a container out of respect for the deceased.
- Documentation: Many airliners will require some form of proof for the ashes. This is to ensure the safety of all those flying and to maintain the integrity of traveling with ashes. It's important to understand that this may feel invasive or offensive to be asked to prove that your loved one has passed, but it is all in the interest of safety. This might require a death certificate, a funeral certificate, or the Proof of Cremation document.
If you decide that transporting the remains in your check-in luggage is the best option for you, start by calling the airline to make sure they allow you to transport the ashes in your check-in. You will want to make sure you have any necessary documentation if they require a death certificate or proof of funeral or anything else.
They will also likely request the container be scannable, which means a temporary cremation urn will be your best choice. Many families have spent time picking out the perfect metal cremation urn that will forever house their loved one. If you have to transport this metal cremation urn along with the ashes, it’s best to pack them separately. It’s best to have the metal urn empty with the lid unattached and carefully packed in your luggage. When the TSA picks up the metal in their scanners, they may need to inspect. Since they cannot open any cremation urns, if your urn is open and they can inspect the interior, you are more likely to not have issues.
Often, when you receive ashes from the crematorium, they provide a temporary cardboard urn along with the ashes inside that urn in a clear, plastic bag. You should keep the ashes in this bag, rather than emptying them into the urn, whether temporary or permanent. Additionally, inquire to the crematorium about the durability of the temporary urn to find out if you will need to purchase additional protection before placing the ashes into your check-in luggage.
Transporting Cremated Remains in Carry-On Luggage
Most families will elect to transport the cremated remains of a loved one in their carry-on luggage. It gives peace of mind since you can keep the urn on your person and in your own protection. You know where it is, and you don't have to stress about what happens when it's placed outside your reach. Ultimately, as long as TSA is able to scan the remains in the x-ray machine, you will be able to take them on the plane with you.
Here are some steps to take to ensure the safe transportation of cremated ashes in your carry-on luggage:
- When you receive the ashes from the crematorium, keep them in the plastic bag, even if you have the final urn already. This clear plastic bag will provide added protection while traveling.
- Place the bag with cremation ashes inside a temporary cremation urn or one made of a material that is durable, but that can be scanned. Ideal materials will include wood cremation urns, plastic, or cardboard. Natural, biodegradable cremation urns are another option as well. As long as the TSA x-ray machine can scan through the container, there likely won't be an issue transporting the ashes. Often, the temporary cremation box that the crematorium delivers the ashes in will work well.
- Make sure the container is durable and able to be secured shut so that once you’re on the plane, you can store it safely in the overhead luggage bin. In the event of mild turbulence, you don’t want to deal with a container popping open and scattering the ashes.
- Keep the Certificate of Cremation on you so you can share the document with TSA or the airline attendants. You can receive this official document from the crematorium.
- Reach out directly to the airliner in advance to check on any specific requirements they may have for traveling with cremation ashes.
These are standard practices for travel within the United States. Different regulations will apply for those traveling with ashes outside of the US, so it is important to contact the airline carrier directly to find out their regulations for international travel with cremation ashes.
Shipping Cremated Remains in the Mail
Some families aren’t able to travel with ashes on an airplane and may need to ship those ashes in the mail. This might be because you need to send them to other family members or have another address to send the ashes to. Either way, there are certain steps to take to make sure that the ashes arrive safely at their destination.
The United States Postal Service has a specific process for shipping cremated remains in the mail so that your loved one makes it to their final destination safely and securely. Some of the most important things to know about shipping cremation remains includes:
- Shipping: The cremation ashes must be shipped with either Priority Mail Express or Priority Mail Express International. They must be shipped as a priority because the quicker they arrive and the fewer issues they run into, and the better care they receive in transport.
- Container: The actual container for the ashes has to be durable as well as secure. It needs to be sift-proof, thoroughly sealed, and strong enough to keep the ashes protected in transit. For international shipping, the container must be the actual funeral urn that is sealed and durable. This includes wooden and metal urns that might be purchased for your loved one.
- Packing: The container must then be provided with cushioning packaging to further protect the container by limiting movement and preventing breakage in transit. The shipping package itself must be sift-proof so that no loose powder or ashes can escape. The USPS is also able to provide special boxes for the purpose of transporting cremated remains that are labeled as "Cremated Remains" to make it easier. Labels are attached directly to these boxes with both return and final addresses.
Additionally, we never want to experience the pain that comes with possibly losing remains. Properly packing and labeling cremated remains helps to ensure that the package doesn’t get lost in transit and that all the care in the world is given to it. Here are some tips to protect your cremated ashes, so they make it safely:
- Properly label the box. USPS has stickers that boldly identify a box as “Cremated Remains” to prioritize the package.
- Pay for the priority shipping so that your package has a greater chance of arriving on time and without issue.
- Keep the tracking information so you can see updates on where your package is at each step of the way.
- Write clearly on the box, with both the return address and final destination, so there are no issues. Cover these labels with clear tape for added protection so that if water were to spill, the writing is still legible.
- Buy proper packaging, like bubble wrap, to secure the urn in your box.
- Keep the ashes in the bag they were delivered in from the crematorium until after they make it to their final destination.
Although it can be stressful and overwhelming to deal with the loss of a family member, it can add to the stress if you need to find out how to transport the remains. Carefully follow the guidelines provided to give yourself peace of mind that your loved one makes it safely to their destination.
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