Cremation is increasingly popular in the United States, accounting for 41 percent of all death services in 2011, according to the Neptune Society. Mary Beth Barnett at acremation.com says summer and fall typically bring on questions from families planning distant memorial celebrations, requiring travel with remains. These celebrations may involve bringing the remains to a place loved in life such as a favorite vacation destination.
If you plan to move cremated remains to a distant location, mailing and transporting on board a plane are both viable options. Before you set out to the post office or airport, make sure you have a handle on necessary documentation and packing requirements.
Carrying Cremains On Board an Airplane
Does the image of an overbearing TSA officer sifting through your loved one’s ashes keep you awake nights as you contemplate long distance travel? It shouldn’t.
“Under no circumstances will an officer open the container,” the TSA says on its blog, “even if the passenger requests this be done.”
What is important for carry-on travel is the container in which the remains are placed. If you have an urn for final disposition, it may not be suitable for bringing remains through airport security. For ease of scanning, TSA recommends using urns made of wood, plastic or non-lead lined ceramic. If screeners cannot obtain a clear image, they will not allow the urn into the passenger cabin. An urn denied carry-on will be allowed to fly in checked baggage, as long as it passes a test for explosive devices, TSA says.
Funeral Ethics Organization notes comfort levels differ when it comes to repackaging remains. Some families may prefer seeking assistance from clergy or local funeral homes (the latter typically do not charge for such assistance, FEO says) if remains are being moved from one container to another for travel.
Beyond TSA requirements, it’s important to check airline-specific requirements. By calling Jet Blue, I learned I would need to show a certified death certificate and a letter from the crematorium indicating their performance of the cremation when checking in, whether the remains were in checked or carry-on luggage.
Carry-on provides control over the handling of remains and ensures they don’t end up in one of the 26.04 million bags mishandled by the aviation industry annually. While 98 percent of lost bags are eventually reunited with their owners, according to Corporate Travel Safety blog, the stress of losing a loved one’s irreplaceable remains, even temporarily, makes carry-on a safer bet. Carry-on also minimizes the risk of your urn full of ashes becoming an unlikely damage statistic.
Shipping Cremated Remains
If flying with cremated remains seems like a hassle, it is possible to send them ahead via the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS publishes detailed instructions for mailing cremains. Double-packaging is required, with an inner sift-proof container designed to keep ashes from leaking out during shipping, and an outer shipping box that is strong and sift-proof, with padding in-between to prevent breakage. The shipper is required to attach paperwork disclosing the shipping of remains and to use specific service types depending on the destination.
Delivery services such as UPS, Fed Ex, and DHL do not handle cremated remains.