There may come a time in your life when you need to bring a family member or friend’s cremains with you on a plane. Maybe you’ve been planning a scattering ashes ceremony, and you need to bring the cremains to the spot you’ve chosen for the ceremony.
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Perhaps a loved one died far from your home, and now you want to return with their cremains so you can keep them in your house or apartment. Maybe you’re transporting cremains for a memorial service far from where the cremation actually took place.
Regardless, if you ever find yourself in this situation, it’s important to be familiar with the rules about TSA-approved urns. Don’t assume you can bring any urn on a plane easily. That’s not always the case.
This brief overview will clarify the issue to help you better understand the TSA’s requirements for traveling with urns, as well as what types of urns may be more likely to get through security.
What Are the Requirements for TSA-Approved Urns?
No one wants to imagine bringing a loved one’s cremains with them to the airport, only to find the TSA has to search the urn or prohibit them from traveling with it. However, the TSA is responsible for ensuring the safety of all passengers. That’s why the TSA requires urns for ashes to meet certain criteria before allowing them on planes.
Sadly, sometimes TSA officials end up searching through urns and disrupting cremains because the x-ray screening equipment can’t help them determine what the urn’s contents actually are.
For an urn to pass through TSA screening smoothly, its material needs to allow the x-ray equipment to clearly “see” inside of it. If the x-ray can’t generate a transparent image, the TSA will either search the urn or forbid you from taking it on the plane.
That said, you have two basic options to consider when deciding exactly how you plan on getting any urn on a plane:
You may choose to store an urn in a checked bag if you’re not confident it will pass through the x-ray screening successfully. The TSA points out this is an easy way to address this issue if you’re not certain yours is a TSA-approved urn.
However, the TSA also points out that items in checked bags may be more likely to jostle around than those in carry-on luggage. While you can avoid the stress of worrying whether you’re traveling with a TSA-approved urn if you store it in a checked bag, you also need to accept the possibility that the urn could sustain damage in transit.
It’s also a good idea to research the specific policies of a given airline before deciding to store an urn in a checked bag. Although the TSA generally allows travelers to keep urns in their checked bags, some individual airlines still prohibit doing so.
Packing your urn in a carry on bag naturally limits the risk of damage. That said, if you don’t prepare accordingly, it could also increase the risk of a TSA official deciding to search the urn if they can’t see inside of it via x-ray, which won’t be a pleasant experience.
You want to be certain that won’t happen. Thus, while this guide should help you better understand what qualifies as a TSA-approved urn, you might want to try contacting the TSA directly if you’re still unsure whether yours will pass their screening.
Read our guide on traveling or flying with cremated remains for more.
Tip: Consult with a funeral director
Again, from transporting cremains for use in a cremation art project to bringing them to family or friends who can’t travel themselves, there are numerous reasons people bring cremains on airplanes.
Sometimes cost is the determining factor. If a family knows they will need to transport a loved one’s body after their death, and they know their loved one wouldn’t object to cremation, they may decide to cremate them simply because transporting cremains via air is usually much less expensive than transporting a casket or coffin.
However, when people do choose to transport coffins on planes, it’s not uncommon for them to coordinate with the funeral director. They’ll typically have the expertise required to make the proper arrangements.
You could do the same if you’re going to be flying with cremains. If you’re working with an experienced funeral director, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to help you take all the necessary steps if you want to avoid problems with the TSA. At the very least, it’s worth asking your funeral director if they have any advice on this subject. Many of their previous customers may have been in situations just like yours. They might even be able to provide you with a TSA-approved urn directly.
Different Types of TSA-Approved Urns
The following are some of the more common types of TSA-approved urns. Keep in mind, this is just a general guide. It’s still a good idea to conduct more research if you want to be completely sure you’ve chosen an urn you can bring on a plane.
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.
1. Plastic urns
Plastic urns often qualify as TSA-approved urns. Plastic doesn’t conceal what’s inside an urn from an x-ray as thoroughly as other materials.
Additionally, the TSA recommends keeping cremains in a transparent plastic container rather than an urn if you’re not confident your choice of a plastic urn will get the TSA’s approval. This may be your best option if you’re comfortable with temporarily storing cremains outside an urn until you reach your destination.
2. ‘Wrap’ urns
A quick Google search reveals that numerous companies sell urns which consist of embroidered fabric that wraps over an interior container. They specifically state these meet the standards for TSA-approved urns.
Look into these products if you need to transport cremains via air. Find a product that has numerous positive reviews from customers on a reputable platform. Although a company may claim its product adheres to the TSA’s guidelines, you can’t be entirely certain the company is representing its product honestly. Checking reviews will help you better determine if a particular wrap urn actually delivers on the manufacturer’s promises.
Although not everyone will have this opportunity, if a loved one is nearing the end of their life, and you expect you’ll need to transport their cremains on a plane in the near future, you might even want to buy one of these products ahead of time and see if you can take it on a plane with other items inside. Again, you might not have the chance to do so, but if you can test a product in a low-pressure situation first, you’ll be much more relaxed when you finally need to use it to transport cremains.
3. Wooden urns
There’s no guarantee any specific wooden urn will get TSA approval. That said, such urns often do. This is particularly true when they’re also biodegradable.
4. Temporary polypropylene urns
This isn’t the type of urn you’ll likely store cremains in permanently, but it’s another option to consider if you’re taking cremains on a plane. Just as some companies make wrap fabric urns for air travel, others make temporary polypropylene urns that TSA x-rays can scan.
Again, if you’re thinking about using this type of urn, you simply need to do some research first to ensure you’re buying a product that actually works the way it’s supposed to.
5. Biodegradable urns
Some people choose to store the cremains of a loved one in a biodegradable urn to limit their environmental impact. Fortunately, many biodegradable urns also qualify as TSA-approved urns. Specifically, those made with such materials as wood, paper, bamboo, and similar plant materials often meet the TSA’s criteria, because the TSA’s x-rays can usually provide a clear image of their contents.
You might consider this option even if you don’t plan on keeping your loved one’s cremains in a biodegradable urn permanently. You can always transfer them to another urn after your flight.
TSA-Approved Urns: Avoid an Unwanted Experience
There are many reasons you may find yourself flying with cremated remains one day. Although this may already be a difficult situation depending on the circumstances, you can at least prevent it from becoming even more uncomfortable by choosing the right TSA-approved urn.
Once you transport the cremated remains, you can scatter them, transfer them to a different urn for display, or even have 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.
- “Cremated Remains.” Transportation Security Administration, www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/cremated-remains
- “Ways to Travel with Cremated Remains.” Transportation Security Administration, 10 July 2018, www.tsa.gov/blog/2018/07/10/ways-travel-cremated-remains