Losing a loved one is always difficult, and having to fly across the country to retrieve or deliver that person’s ashes can be a challenge on a completely different level. Before you start your trip, it’s important to understand the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules for flying with ashes and cremated remains. We’ve put together 9 tips for traveling with ashes that can make your trip easier and avoid any unexpected surprises.
1. When traveling with ashes, carry the cremains in an urn that can pass through an X-ray machine.
All luggage, both carry-on and checked, will go through an X-ray machine or a special CT scanner that works in a similar way. Some materials, particularly thick, dense ones, do not let X-rays pass through them, typically showing up as solid shapes. According to the TSA, ashes and cremated remains must travel through the X-ray machine just like all other baggage. If the machine or a TSA screener can’t see what’s in the urn, they won’t let it on the plane.
2. Keep the urn in your carry-on bag.
The TSA allows cremation urns to be checked or carried on, so there’s no strict rule that says that you have to carry the urn with you when traveling with cremated remains. However, not every airline allows cremains to be carried in checked luggage, so it’s important to check with your carrier before going to the airport. In addition, there is always the risk that your luggage could be lost or damaged during your trip, putting the urn at risk. If you plan to keep the urn in your carry-on bag, it’s one less thing to worry about.
3. Give yourself extra time to get through security.
It’s always a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to pass through the security checkpoint, but it’s even more important when flying with ashes, since they are so precious. The extra time means that, if the TSA screener does not allow the urn to pass through the security checkpoint for some reason, you can take it back to your car or look into alternative ways to transport the cremains.
4. Check to see if your urn is labeled as “flight ready.”
One of the easiest ways to know that your cremation urn will be able to pass through the security checkpoint is to choose an urn that’s clearly labeled as meeting TSA standards. Many biodegradable urns, for example, have a “flight ready” label. You can also call our helpful customer service team at 1-800-979-8767 to learn more about which urns are approved for air travel.
5. Consider using a temporary urn during your travels.
Of course, you may have chosen a beautiful metal urn or one made of glass or ceramic that, even if it can pass through an X-ray machine, could be damaged during your travels. Instead of risking carrying that cremation urn through security or in your checked bag, you can use a temporary or travel urn instead. Many funeral homes will provide a simple cardboard box to carry the cremains in temporarily, or you can purchase an inexpensive temporary cremation urn package. Many travel urns include an optional engraved identification plate in case the urn is misplaced.
6. Always keep the urn closed and sealed, if possible.
TSA screeners will never open a cremation urn out of respect for the deceased, even if you ask them to, so there is no reason to not seal the urn. By keeping the urn closed and sealed, you significantly reduce the chances of spillage or a similar accident when flying with cremated remains.
7. Carry official documentation from the funeral home.
While documentation from a funeral home is not sufficient to allow the urn to travel on the plane without first passing through an X-ray machine, it could come in handy when flying with ashes if there are any questions from TSA screeners or airline employees. There may also be local laws requiring this documentation at your destination. Examples of documentation that you may want to carry include the Death Certificate and Certificate of Cremation.
8. Talk to a licensed funeral director before traveling internationally with cremains.
Every country has its own laws about traveling with cremated remains and whether or not a funeral director or cemetery is required to be involved. Ask the funeral home you worked with if they have experience with transporting cremains out of the United States or if they can direct you to someone who does. In addition, you should call the embassy of the country you’re traveling to in order to learn about the specific legal requirements for transporting human cremains. You may need to fill out special forms or get additional authorization for your travel, so leave yourself at least two weeks for the paperwork and approvals.
9. Skip the airport – Mail the cremains instead.
During a difficult time of loss, trying to understand all of the rules and regulations around flying with cremated remains is one more stress added to your life. You may want to avoid the issue completely by mailing the cremation urn instead. In the United States, the US Postal Service is the only legal way to ship cremated ashes domestically or internationally.
One of the benefits of shipping instead of flying with ashes is that you can use whatever type of urn you want. The cremation urn that you choose should be sealed, however, and you may want to use a relatively durable container. It’s also a good idea to put the urn inside a sealed plastic bag, just in case. The urn will need to be carefully padded and placed inside a shipping box. Always include your name, address, and other contact information on a sheet of paper inside the shipping box.
You must send the cremains via Priority Express Mail if they are being delivered inside the United States and Priority Express Mail International if they are being sent internationally. As with flying with cremated remains overseas, you should contact the embassy or consulate of the country where the package is to be delivered to find out if the cremains can be legally sent and what regulations you must follow. It’s always a good idea to use the Cremated Remains label from the Post Office to clearly mark your box so that postal employees know to treat it with care, but this is not required.
For complete instructions on how to package and ship cremated remains, please read Publication 139 from the US Postal Service.
Visit the TSA’s website for more information: TSA (Transportation Security Administration).
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