Flying with Cremated Remains: What You Should Know
Families who have lost someone overseas or have loved ones who want their ashes spread internationally or domestically often face confusion surrounding international and domestic shipping regulations and rules. If you’re traveling with ashes internationally or are responsible for transporting human ashes internationally, there are a few steps you’ll need to take before mailing a package or flying with the ashes.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that while flying with cremated remains is a completely viable travel option, you do have the option of mailing the ashes. This can be useful for those who aren’t comfortable taking cremated remains on a plane and prefer to have them mailed.
Flying with cremated remains
Before taking cremated remains on a plane, you’ll need to ensure that both your airline and the country you’re flying to permit the transportation of ashes. Some airlines do not permit passengers to fly with cremated remains, even if they’re stored in checked luggage.
Traveling with ashes internationally
The international rules vary depending on the country you’re flying to. Some countries do not allow cremated remains to be flown in (or mailed in) without very specific documentation (that changes depending on the country), so you’ll need to make sure you check with the relevant embassy or consulate for further information before flying.
You will also need to check with your chosen airline to determine what their rules and regulations are when flying with ashes.
Traveling with ashes domestically
The rules and regulations for domestic flights depends on the airline you’re flying with. When flying domestically, you’re allowed to bring ashes as a carry-on with many airlines. Some airlines require that you have documentation (such as a death certificate) while others do not, so it’s important to check with your airline of choice regarding their regulations.
Packaging the ashes before flying
If you’re flying domestically, you do not need to worry about purchasing TSA approved urns, you can store the ashes in a sealable container or ordinary urn. In general, you want to make sure you’re storing the cremains in a sealed bag, inside a container that will pass through the TSA x-ray.
Some important things to note when flying with ashes:
- Ask your funeral director or cremation company if there’s anything you should know or be aware of before transporting the remains on a plane.
- It’s a good idea to take the cremains on the plane with you in a carry-on bag instead of placing them in a checked bag.
- Instead of placing the cremated remains in the urn you intend to store the ashes in permanently, consider traveling with the cremains in the temporary container provided by the funeral home or cremation company.
- Before flying, ensure the cremains are in a sealed bag inside of the container, to prevent them from spilling.
- If you’re uncomfortable traveling with cremated remains stored in your carry-on, check with your airline before you check the cremains in a bag. Certain airlines may require you bring cremated remains with you on a carry-on.
TSA Approved Urns
TSA does not provide a list of approved urns on their website and only state that the urns need to be able to pass through the security checkpoint and x-ray machine. Urns that can usually pass through the x-ray machine usually include urns made of plastic, biodegradable material, wood, or urns without lead in them. Your funeral director or cremation company should have knowledge about this so be sure to ask for tips and general guidance on traveling with cremation ashes.
If you’re storing the cremains in a temporary urn provided by the cremation company or funeral home, be sure to ask if it’s TSA approved or if it’ll be able to pass through the TSA checkpoint.
For more guidance on TSA’s guidelines for traveling with cremated remains, head here.
Airline-specific information for traveling with cremated remains
Below you’ll find information on the regulations and rules of popular airlines when it comes to transporting human remains. These rules are applicable to those flying domestically (including those who are transporting ashes to Hawaii).
Flying with cremated remains on Alaska Airlines
In order to fly on Alaska Airlines with cremated remains, you’ll need to do the following:
- Have a death certificate that was signed by a healthcare officer or physician or have a transit permit or burial removal permit
- Secure the cremains in a “tightly closed, leak proof container”
- Package the container housing the ashes in another container that’s made of either wood, canvas, paperboard construction, metal, or plastic to protect the inner container from being damaged.
Alaska Airlines passengers have the option of bringing cremated remains onboard with them in a carry-on bag. Additionally, Alaska Airlines recommends that passengers consult with their funeral home or medical institution handling the deceased for all official documentation and paperwork needed to fly with human remains.
You can find more information on Alaska Airlines’ policies, here.
Flying with ashes on American Airlines
American Airlines specifically states that cremated remains will be treated as a carry-on bag. They do not require any specific documentation if traveling domestically. When traveling internationally, they recommend contacting your funeral home or local consulate for information on required documentation.
While TSA does not require you to use a “TSA approved urn”, American Airlines does caution that certain urns will not be able to pass through TSA’s security checkpoint. They recommend checking with your funeral home or urn manufacturer to see if the urn will be able to get through TSA checkpoints.
For more information on American Airlines’ regulations, check here.
Flying with cremated remains on United Airlines
United Airlines recommends that you transport cremated remains in your carry-on bag. They also recommend that, even if traveling domestically, you bring official documentation (such as a death certificate).
Additionally, United Airlines recommends checking with the TSA to determine if the urn you’re traveling with is acceptable by their standards.
For more information on United Airlines’ regulations, check here.
Check with your airline or the airport
If you're still unsure what to do, it's a good idea to just call the airport or airline and ask them for information on how to make sure you're doing what you need to in order to fly with cremated remains. Try not to do this on the day of the flight and call in advance just to give yourself enough time to make alternative preparations if necessary!
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