We live in a world where people travel for work and leisure, both nationally and internationally. Work visas and passports can take you to exotic locations, but a full tank of gas can get you across state lines.
So what are your options when the unexpected happens, and you need to bring a loved one home?
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As it turns out, the only legal courier service for shipping human or pet cremated remains inside the United States is the USPS via Priority Mail Express or Priority Mail Express International. So, what do you do with cremated remains when the USPS is unavailable? See below.
UPS’s Policy For Shipping Cremated Remains
Specifically, the UPS policy states that cremated remains are a “prohibited item” and will not ship them. This, the policy says, is “without any prejudice.”
And don’t take a chance trying to slip something by them, because their policy also states that all packages are subject to inspection. If they figure it out, you’ll pay a mandatory $150, as well as any additional costs and fees associated with returning the urn.
How You Can Ship Cremated Remains Without UPS
In that case, you’ve got to figure out a different way to ship cremated remains. Options are limited to air and automobile travel. As it turns out, most airlines have a favorable response to transporting loved ones. Plus, it’s a lot less complicated than you may think.
10 airline travel tips for flying with cremation ashes and urns
Flying with cremated remains is relatively straightforward if you know what to expect. With a few exceptions, the funeral home can complete most of the preparations, helping you get through the process smoothly. Let’s take a look at the necessary documents and some questions you may run into.
- Certified Death Certificate: The death certificate is a legal document that has been signed by a medical practitioner. Some of the data included are date, time, location, and cause of death. Make a copy of it as it’s not necessary to have the original at this time.
- Cremation Permit: The cremation permit is what allows the funeral to be able to cremate deceased individuals. Often, the county health department issues it. Ask the funeral home to make a copy for your flight.
- Funeral Home Letter: You’ll need a written statement from the funeral home stating that the cremation took place. It should be on business letterhead with dates and times included.
- Personal Documents: You’ve got your ID, and that should be sufficient, but some websites recommend that you carry a copy of the obituary notice as well. While this may seem unusual, being prepared can save you from unnecessary stress and headaches.
- Checked Baggage or Carry-on? Some airline policies require you to check cremation urns. Still, most professional funeral directors wouldn’t recommend that option because baggage handlers have received a fitting moniker—tossers. Avoid the worry and carry it with you on the plane.
- Scanning the Urn: As with shoes, laptops, and general baggage, you’ll place the urn inside a plastic tub on the moving conveyor belt. If it’s in the tub, you can avoid anything potentially unpleasant if it falls over, causing seal breakage.
- TSA X-Ray: Anything going through TSA checkpoints must produce a reliable image or radiograph to determine packages' contents. With that, TSA agents will not open the urn to verify your statement, even at your request. This, they say, is out of respect.
- Recommended Urn: Ask your licensed funeral director for their best recommendations for temporary and unbreakable urns for ashes. Agents can x-ray wood and plastic, but metal won’t produce an image for them.
- Plan for Extra Time to Get Through TSA: Don’t be alarmed if the TSA agents pull you aside. They probably have some written protocols to follow, and it’s all about safety.
- Questions and Answers: It’s not uncommon for an agent to ask you about the relationship you have with the decedent or your destination. It’s also not likely their ambition to provide you or anyone with more grief than necessary. Even so, once you’re through the TSA check, you should be all set for your flight.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) blog offers information about carrying urns on its website. There’s also an email address and telephone number to contact with any additional questions you may have.
If you grow impatient with call or response wait times, your licensed funeral director will have most, if not all, of the answers you’ll need for a hassle-free flight as this is not an uncommon way to transport the cremated remains of a loved one back home.
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Airline policies for flying with cremated remains
Don’t get caught unprepared! Not all airlines have the same policies, which means you’ll need to read through the guidelines listed on their website before getting to the airport. Read on for some examples from a few US and International airline policies. Take note of the differences in each approach.
- AER Lingus: A death certificate and cremation certificate is required. Plus, they say, “We allow our guests to carry ashes contained in an urn as either checked or cabin baggage.”
- Air France: You’ll need a certificate from the crematorium and, “The urn must be sealed and packed in a container that does not allow other passengers to identify it as such.”
- American Airlines: Domestic travel does not need additional documentation, and “When you travel with cremated remains, they’ll be treated as your carry-on bag.”
- Delta Airlines: A death or cremation certificate is required, and “Cremated remains are accepted, as long as they are in a crematory urn or funeral urn that is sufficiently protected and packaged.”
- Qatar Airways: A copy of the death certificate and double packaging is required, and “Cremated human remains shall be accepted for carriage as checked baggage, provided that the passenger is in possession of all necessary documentation.”
- United Airlines: No information is provided regarding paperwork, but the TSA website is referenced, and “If you’re traveling with cremated pet remains, we recommend you transport them as a carry-on bag.”
The alternative option to carry-on
There’s at least one more option if you’re stuck. Some airlines partner with affiliated brokers or agencies you can hire to act on your behalf. While most funeral homes in the United States readily deliver remains to a nearby airport, International situations might differ.
In that case, call the airline for advice on preferred partners. Through them, you should be able to arrange for all necessary travel requirements to bring your loved one home.
3 trip tips for short automobile travel
Going to a nearby beach, mountain trail, or other favorite location to scatter ashes only takes a few precautions. Here’s a look at “3 Short Trip Tips” to ensure safe travel when traveling short distances to help carry out your loved one’s wishes without issue.
- Urn Types: Temporary urns don’t have to be expensive. But in today’s sustainable landscape, choosing a biodegradable one is the better option. Examples of materials used are untreated wood, cloth, leaves, compressed paper, seagrass, salt, or bamboo.
- Sealed Urns: Before you leave on your trip, check the urn’s seal to avoid any unsettling mishaps along the way.
- Secure the Urn: If you’re traveling alone, place the urn inside a box with padding on the car’s floor. That way, any quick stops won’t send the urn tumbling around the vehicle. Otherwise, ask one of your passengers to hold onto it.
Extra trip tips for extended automobile travel
Long-distance travel with a loved one’s ashes adds a few precautions to the short trip. Here’s a closer look at those tips:
- Securing the Urn: In this case, you may be transporting a ceramic or breakable urn. So, to better secure the urn for extended travel, wrap it in a blanket and place it in a sturdy cardboard box. FYI, wine boxes tend to be the strongest ones out there.
- Sealing the Urn: Adequately seal the urn, even if you’re scattering them. Fortunately, sealing urns is a common practice and funeral homes today can usually do this for you—just mention this to your licensed funeral director for any additional precautions.
How to Bring a Loved One Home
Whether it’s a loved one or a beloved pet, traveling with remains can put up a few roadblocks. Fortunately, most airlines are accommodating to your needs. Plus, there’s also the option of car travel when flying is not an option.
As a frequent traveler, it’s smart to make pre-arrangements to help your family understand your wishes if something unthinkable happens when you’re away. Create a Free End of Life Plan today.
- Airline Information. (n.d.). National Funeral Directors Association. nfda.org/resources/operations-management/shipping-remains/airline-information
- Can I carry an urn? - FAQ. (n.d.). Aire France. www.airfrance.com/BH/en/common/faq/preparing-for-your-trip/can-i-carry-an-urn.htm
- High-value, fragile and perishable items. (n.d.) United. www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/baggage/fragile.html
- In the event of death, what is the repatriation procedure for human remains? (n.d.). Qatar Airways. qatarairways.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/219623387-In-the-event-of-death-what-is-the-repatriation-procedure-for-human-remains-
- List of Prohibited Articles for Shipping. (n.d.). UPS. www.ups.com/us/en/help-center/shipping-support/prohibited-items.page
- Special Items. (n.d.). Aer Lingus. www.aerlingus.com/travel-information/baggage-information/special-items/
- Special items and sports equipment. (n.d.). American Airlines. www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/baggage/specialty-and-sports.jsp
- Ways to Travel with Cremated Remains. (2018, July 10). TSA. www.tsa.gov/blog/2018/07/10/ways-travel-cremated-remains