Can You Fly With Cremains On United Airlines in 2021?


Contributing writer, former long-term care admissions counselor and social worker

The loss of a loved one is a sad reality we have to come to terms with, but there are things related to a death we tend not to give a second thought until they happen. One example is airline rules for flying with cremains.

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Whether you’re flying after a move or returning from a cremation ceremony, it’s wise to know the policy before you take off. Airline policies vary, and United Airlines has its own specific guidelines. Read on to see how you can fly and comply with United and Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

United Airlines’ Policy for Flying With Cremated Remains

United Airlines is understanding of the circumstances where you may need to fly with cremains. They have policies around flying with high-value, fragile, and perishable items. These guidelines include human and pet cremains.

Cremains are permitted on United Airlines planes, with special emphasis that cremains should be brought on-board as a carry-on and should be accompanied by relevant paperwork. Depending on if the cremains are human or pet, the container and size will vary, which they provide guidance on as well. 

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Tips for Flying With Cremated Remains

United Airlines explicitly states its sensitivity to flying with cremains. To ensure you have a safe, successful trip, consider the following tips for flying with cremains. 

Dedicate extra time to getting through airport security

We’ll get into some tips for getting through security with no issues, but you should always give yourself some extra time at the airport in these circumstances. 

Bring cremains onto a flight as a carry-on

United Airlines permits most travelers to bring one full-size carry-on bag and one personal item for free. There are a few exceptions to these carry-ons, which affect economy passengers, United express flights, and fragile items. 

Economy and United Express flights are only allowed one personal item. If an economy passenger brings a carry-on, they will be forced to check the bag and pay a $25.00 handling fee. Additionally, fragile items will need their own ticket to stay with you on the plane.

There are a few exceptions to the one bag limit for these passengers, including: 

  • Economy Passengers traveling across the Atlantic Ocean
  • MileagePlus Premier members or companies traveling on the same reservation
  • Primary cardmembers of qualifying MileagePlus credit cards 

United recommends you bring the cremains on the flight to ensure they are safe from breaking or tipping. After an incident at LAX a few years back, the TSA released a statement about the spilling of cremains in a checked bag. In their statement, they encourage patrons to be transparent and for containers to be properly marked and kept with the customer. 

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Use the correct container 

The security and employees involved in your flying experience are always on high alert for any concerning objects at the airport or brought on the plane. With that said, the more you adhere to guidance the better you off you’ll be.

The TSA recommends you use a container made of lightweight material, like wood or plastic. There are TSA approved urns you can refer to as well. Above all, the TSA must be able to clearly tell what’s inside the container. If they can’t identify the contents, it will not be permitted on the plane. Keep in mind, to respect the deceased, they will not open the container to check even if you ask them to. 

You should also consider using a temporary container for the cremains. You can find a temporary urn for a relatively low price that is TSA approved and will not give you any problem at security. 

Bring documentation with you 

United also advises that you bring relevant documentation. The airline recommends bringing a death certificate or funeral contract to show at security. 

Contact the local consulate if traveling outside the US

Some countries need additional documentation if you’re traveling with cremains internationally. You will need to contact the consulate of your destination country and determine requirements before you fly.  In some cases, this will include a notary and cost a small fee. Refer to this list of foreign embassies and consulates for more information on who to contact. 

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Consider shipping cremains 

It can be stressful and overwhelming managing the logistics of flying and being responsible for such an important, fragile thing at the same time. Especially in the midst of grieving. If you would rather ship the cremains, United Airlines offers TrustUA, which is a service designed to assist with transporting human remains. 

TrustUA takes the stress out of the situation, providing a way to ship cremains to cities served by United around the world. They also partner with other airlines, allowing for shipment anywhere. You can book these services through the TrustUA specialized handling desk

Take advice from funeral directors across the country 

If you need further advice on the best way to travel with cremains, you can always get in touch with a local funeral director. With their experience, they will be able to direct to you the best option for getting cremains from one place to another. Here are a few excerpts from funeral directors around the country on flying with cremains:

“The TSA may require a form to be completed, but not always. The certificate of cremation is required, and it is always a good idea to carry a copy of the certified death certificate when traveling.” —Jessica Watts, Funeral Director in Jacksonville, FL

“If you are planning to bring cremated remains on an international flight, you must first verify with the destination country what the requirements are for bringing in cremated remains. Different countries have different requirements; you must contact the Consulate before you travel. Some countries require you have special documents with the Apostille from the Secretary of State. You may also need a notarized letter from the Funeral Director, a letter from the health department stating that there is no threat from a contagious disease, a cremation certificate, and sometimes you may need to have documents translated. The costs vary, approximately $10-25 per document.” —Noel Hanna, Funeral Director in San Francisco, CA 

Call the airline for final questions 

The best thing you can do is double check your research and assumptions with the airline or TSA directly via phone call. Call ahead of time and explain you’ll be traveling with cremated remains, and if you have more specific questions, call the TSA at 1-866-289-9673.

Come Prepared and You’ll Be Okay

While it sounds like a tricky process, airlines deal with this often. It’s been done many times before, and as long as you follow the guidelines and come prepared you shouldn’t have any issues. United Airlines also goes a step further in assisting you during your time of loss with bereavement fare. This last-minute booking helps to get a discount on the flight due to a death.

Take full advantage of what the airline can do for you in your time of grief to have a smooth, successful, and safe trip. 


  1. Carry-On Baggage, United, 
  2. Contact Info for Foreign Embassy’s and Consulates, Travel State Gov, 
  3. Contact Us, United Cargo,  
  4. High-Value, Perishable and Fragile Items. United,
  5. Ways to Travel with Cremated Remains, TSA, 

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