If you’ve lost a loved one, you might be wondering about travel arrangements, in particular flying with cremated remains. As you might expect, flying with cremated remains has specific rules and restrictions. Not only do these rules help keep everyone safe, but they also protect the ashes of your loved one while going from place to place.
It’s up to you to stay informed to ensure everything goes smoothly when traveling. Unfortunately, there have been stories of people losing their loved one’s ashes or having them spilled while flying. This would be a horrible tragedy, so make sure you understand not only the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s policy for cremated remains but also the airline’s policy.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- American Airlines’ Current Policy for Flying With Human or Pet Ashes
- TSA Guidelines for Transporting Ashes
- Other Tips for Flying With Cremated Remains
Luckily, the guidelines for flying with cremated remains are relatively straightforward. In this guide, we’ll explain American Airlines’ policy for flying with cremated remains as well as everything else you need to know.
It’s recommended to take a temporary container or what’s known as a travel urn. These are typically TSA-approved, and they’re designed specifically for travel. Once you arrive at your destination, you can move the ashes to a permanent cremation urn.
American Airlines’ Current Policy for Flying With Human or Pet Ashes
Many people think the final decision falls upon TSA to determine if a package is or isn’t allowed to travel. In reality, it’s determined by both TSA and the specific airline. Each airline in the United States has its own rules and regulations about flying with human or pet ashes.
American Airlines classifies human or pet ashes as “special items.” American Airlines allows you to bring your cremated remains within a carry-on bag. They don’t require any special documentation as long as you’re flying domestically, though it’s still a good idea to bring documentation in case it’s requested by TSA.
With American Airlines, you are not allowed to pack cremated remains in your checked baggage. This airline directs travelers to the TSA’s guidelines to understand the best types of urns to take through security and how to secure their cremated remains within their carry-on bags.
If you’re traveling after a loss, be sure to check with American Airlines’ bereavement fare policy. Many airlines, including American Airlines, take extra steps to ease the challenges travelers face after losing a loved one. This can be a stressful time, so don’t let complicated travel restrictions complicate things further.
TSA Guidelines for Transporting Ashes
First, you’ll need to know TSA’s guidelines. All bags flying in the United States first must be approved by TSA. Once they’ve received TSA approval, they continue on to the airline who then handles baggage for the remainder of the trip.
According to the TSA, cremated remains can be carried onto the flight in hand luggage or secured in a checked bag. Because it’s not always possible for TSA and the airline to ensure the security of each checked bag, they highly recommend travelers bring their loved ones remains in their carry on.
To travel with cremated ashes, you’ll need to bring one or more of the following:
- Death certificate
- Certificate of cremation
- Document from the funeral home stating that ashes are in the urn
- Proof of your relationship to the deceased (obituary, birth certificate, ID, etc.)
You’ll also need to use a TSA-approved urn. When being screened by the agent, the ashes need to be in a lightweight material like wood or plastic. If it generates an opaque image, they can’t verify what’s inside. TSA agents are not permitted to open a container even if requested by a traveler.
Other Tips for Flying With Cremated Remains
If you’re flying with cremated remains, it’s understandably intimidating. Flying in general can be stressful. How are you supposed to navigate security, airline regulations, and crowded airports with your loved one’s ashes?
The good news is that people travel with cremated remains every day. Though it might seem complicated, it’s a relatively straightforward process. With a bit of pre-planning, you can travel with confidence knowing your loved one’s remains are secure and close. Keep these tips in mind to ensure the process runs smoothly.
Don’t check your bag
While it’s true that American Airlines doesn’t allow cremated remains in checked bags, other airlines do. Either way, it’s important to keep these ashes with you. There are simply too many sad stories that feature urns that have spilled in checked luggage.
When you carry the ashes with you, there’s no worry about any baggage handlers going through your things or your bag shifting unnecessarily. The ashes stay with you the entire time, and this means you can personally keep an eye on them.
Use a temporary travel urn
While traditional urns can be costly, travel urns that are TSA-approved are the opposite. These lightweight urns are designed specifically with X-ray machines in mind. Whether you check your bag or carry it on, TSA runs each bag through a scanner.
A temporary travel urn is also usually more secure. These urns are labeled “flight ready,” which means they meet TSA’s standards. Most biodegradable urns are already flight ready, but it’s still a good idea to check no matter the material you choose.
Tip: If you're looking for something very unique to hold a loved one's ashes after you transport them, you can custom order an urn from a store like Foreverence. You submit a design idea or sketch, then the company designs and 3D prints your urn, so you get a 100% unique container.
Ask your funeral home for documentation
All urns must go through an X-ray machine no matter what. Documentation alone isn’t sufficient to prove its contents, but it’s still required. The best place to get documentation is through your funeral home. They can provide any of the TSA-approved documentation like the death certificate.
Also, be sure to have the funeral home’s contact information. Include this with your documentation for verification purposes. Remember, TSA agents will not open any cremation urns out of respect for the dead.
Research before traveling internationally
TSA and airline rules are more than enough for domestic travel. However, you’ll want to do additional research if you’re traveling with these remains outside of the country. Each country has its own laws about carrying cremated remains across borders.
Your funeral home is a great resource about traveling abroad with remains. In addition, you can contact the country’s embassy to learn more about what you need to travel with these ashes. Many countries require specific forms and authorization, so you don’t want to be caught off guard.
Consider mailing the ashes
Last but not least, consider simply mailing the ashes with USPS. With so many things to worry about after losing a loved one, you might want to just mail the ashes rather than deal with the hassle of flying. When you mail the ashes, there’s no need to worry about these specific rules, regulations, and requirements.
While you should secure the ashes within the urn, you can ship ashes in any type of urn. If they’re being sent within the United States, they need to be sent via Priority Express Mail. Otherwise, you should contact the embassy to learn how to send ashes overseas.
Flying American Airlines with Your Cremated Remains
Traveling after a loved one is hard enough without needing to worry about how to carry your loved one’s ashes safely and securely. Luckily, both TSA and American Airlines are clear about how to ensure the ashes make it through the security screening.
If you’re planning to travel with a loved one’s ashes, pay close attention to these tips and guidelines above. From choosing the right travel urn to bringing the correct documentation, it’s important to be prepared for anything. Your cremation ceremony is a chance to say your final goodbyes, so feel confident bringing these ashes wherever they need to go.
Once you transport the cremated remains, you may even consider having a memorial diamond created from some of the ashes. Some companies, like Eterneva, create lab-grown diamonds and allow you to pick from several cuts and colors for your gemstone.
1. “Cremated Remains.” Transportation Security Administration. TSA.gov.
2. “Special Items and Sports Equipment.” American Airlines: Baggage. AA.com.