Are you flying with ashes, and unsure of what to do? Like most people, you’ve probably never boarded a plane with cremated remains before, you will naturally have several questions that you need answers to:
- Can I really take my loved one’s ashes on a plane flight with me?
- Which airlines will allow me to do so? Which won’t?
- What documents do I need, if any?
- Does the TSA require that I travel with a certain type of urn or container?
- What do I need to know about flying internationally with cremated remains?
- Would it be easier to just ship the cremated remains to their destination? How do I do that?
Today we’re going to answer these questions and more, as thoroughly and expediently as possible, because you’ve got somewhere to be with quite the precious cargo.
Please note that all of the guidelines you read here are for information purposes only. We can’t stress it enough: be sure to double-check with your airline their exact protocol before arrival.
Can You Take Ashes on a Plane?
In short, the answer is yes, you can take ashes on a plane. It’s not illegal by any means.
Under the guidelines of most airlines, cremated remains can be either checked or carry-on. However, just as with all checked or carry-on baggage, there is certain protocol that needs to be followed.
How Do I Take Ashes on an Airplane?
1. Your urn must be able to pass through x-ray screening
Out of respect for the decedent, under no circumstances, even at your request, will the cremation container be opened.
Thus, the container must be x-rayed. The plastic or cardboard temporary urns provided by most funeral homes will pass through screening, as will wood urns and our lovely, lightweight yet durable fabric urns. Avoid metal.
2. Checked baggage or carry-on: check with your airline
You may transport an urn with you as a carry-on once it has passed through the screening process. Some airlines will not allow cremation urns as checked baggage, so it is best to check with the air carrier to determine the best method beforehand.
However, to ensure the safety of the contents, we would recommend that you travel with the urn as a carry-on.
3. Carry a Certificate of Cremation and/or Death
There are some airlines that require a certificate of cremation to properly identify the remains. Not all do, but if you have the certificate of cremation and a copy of the death certificate, it can help speed up the process.
4. Make sure the urn meets carry on or checked bag requirements
Most airlines allow a maximum size of 22” x 14” x 9” for carry-ons. Checked baggage sizes will vary, but most cremation urns will be under the requirements for checked bags.
5. Other restrictions: check with your airline
While asking about checked vs. carry-on, be sure to inquire about any other restrictions your air carrier may have concerning the transportation of cremated remains.
Flying with Ashes
Airplane travel can be overwhelming by itself, but flying with the ashes of your loved one can be an especially daunting, emotional task. So here are 7 pieces of advice we want to offer you right off the bat to help you better prepare for your flight:
- Before your flight, make sure that the urn is TSA compliant. Generally, fabric urns are acceptable at most checkpoints, as are wood cremation urns and the temporary plastic/cardboard containers you may receive from the funeral home.
- Understand that at the airport, TSA officers, out of respect for the remains, will not open the urn to inspect it (even if you ask them to). Instead, the urn must go through X-ray screening.
- Prepare the paperwork you need to travel with cremated remains. Depending on the airline, these may include your loved one’s death certificate, certificate of cremation, or burial transit permit.
- Get to the airport early to ensure that you have plenty of time to go through security. In the unlikely event that the urn doesn’t pass the initial checkpoint and requires additional screening, or if you run into any other obstacles, you don’t want to be rushing around last-minute trying to figure out what to do.
- If you have any questions or concerns prior to your flight, you can always call or email TSA Customer Service. Or you can chat via Twitter or Facebook Messenger with a live representative through their online communication platform, Ask TSA.
- You can also contact your local funeral home. The funeral director will be happy to answer any questions you may have, or direct you to the appropriate resource that can.
- Bear in mind that this flight is going to be an emotional one. You are traveling with the remains of your loved one, after all, on what may be your final journey together.
Which Airlines Allow Cremated Remains?
As of this writing, the following are the top 5 U.S. airlines that allow for the transport of human ashes:
- American Airlines. The largest airline in the country, American Airlines allows for the transport of cremated remains. They do ask that you adhere to specific guidelines. They also employ “TLC specialists” who work directly with funeral professionals, if necessary, in advance of travel.
- Delta Air Lines. Requires either a death certificate or certificate of cremation for air travel. Cremated remains may be carry-on, checked, or even shipped cargo if they will be unaccompanied.
- Southwest Airlines. Recommends ashes intended for carry-on be in a temporary plastic or cardboard container (like the one you may have received from the funeral home).
- United Airlines. United Airlines offers their QuickPak service for transporting cremated remains, same day service with no pre-booking requirements.
- Alaska Airlines. Remains traveling as cargo will need either a death certificate or a burial transit permit, among other minimum requirements. They do permit carry-on.
Of course, if you have any questions about your upcoming journey, it’s always best to contact your particular carrier ahead of time to resolve your concerns.
Keep in mind that the funeral director who handled your loved one’s cremation is also available as a resource.
What Documents Do I Need?
TSA itself does not require documentation to travel with cremated remains, but airlines have their own policies.
So to answer this question, it’s best to contact the airline you will be traveling with to get a definitive answer. In general, however, you can expect to obtain and show proof of any of the following official documents:
- Signed copy of the death certificate. While you should have received a copy or copies of the death certificate from the funeral home, you can also obtain an original copy (usually for a fee) from the registrar or vital records office that filed your loved one’s original death certificate.
- Certificate of cremation. This document is usually provided by the funeral home or crematorium that conducted the cremation.
- Burial transit permit. This document allows for the interstate or intercontinental transit of human remains, and may also be provided by the registrar.
Again, it’s best to double-check with your airline well ahead of time to know exactly which documents you will need.
TSA Approved Urns
It may seem like there are a lot of rules to follow in regards to transporting an urn. But it’s TSA’s job to ensure that no one with ill intentions would use an otherwise unsuspicious urn to hurt others.
One of the ways TSA can ensure safety for all airline passengers is to inspect urns, via non-invasive means, to ensure that nothing dangerous is hiding inside them. This non-invasive means of checking is more often than not carried out via X-ray.
While TSA regulations do not endorse any one type of urn, some urns are more suitable than others when it comes to X-ray screening.
Acceptable Urns for Air Travel
Ceramic urns, so long as they do not contain lead, are also acceptable and should pass screening with no issue.
Metal and lead-lined urns are not recommended.
Per TSA, if X-ray screening is not sufficient, there are other options available for clearing the urn for transport without having to open the container. So even if you do have a metal urn, you may be able to fly with it. Check with the airline first!
Recommended Urns for Air Travel
The fabric urns are simply a plastic urn covered in a beautiful silk fabric in your choice of color. Highly recommended for when going through airport security. Best yet, they are TSA-certified to pass through screening easily, meaning less stress for you.
Flying with Ashes – Carry-On or Checked?
While most airlines allow for either checked or carry-on when it comes to traveling with your loved one’s urn, it’s a good idea to think long and hard about what you think is best.
While it may be an option, keep in mind that checked items are not always handled with gentleness. There are a lot of suitcases and other items that have to be sorted through by workers. There will also be conveyor belts involved and a routine lack of exclusivity that is simply out of your control.
Lastly, there is also the unfortunate possibility that checked items may be lost along the way. It’s happened to all of us one point or another.
If you do choose carry-on, you can keep the urn safe and secure in your bag or suitcase. Other passengers on board your flight don’t even has to know it’s there.
You’ll also have the peace of mind of knowing that it’s you who’s handling your loved one’s remains when boarding and unboarding, as opposed to a stranger who may not provide as much care.
Flying Internationally with Ashes
If you will be departing the United States, TSA does allow cremated remains as carry-on. That said, they do recommend getting in touch with the customs authority in your destination country to confirm their particular policies concerning arrival with the urn.
For flights entering the U.S. with cremated remains, you can expect to go through customs, managed by the Customs and Border Protection. They have their own policies when it comes to human remains entering the country. That said, it’s important to note that if remains have been cremated before entry into the U.S., a death certificate is not required.
Is Shipping Cremated Remains Easier?
It could be! If you do not need to travel to the destination with the cremated remains in your possession, you have the option of shipping them instead.
You can ship the ashes through the US Postal Service, which allows for shipment of cremated remains through Priority Mail Express, and internationally through Priority Mail Express International.
Currently, FedEx, UPS and DHL do not ship cremated remains.
To mail the ashes, all you have to do is visit your local post office, where they will guide you through the packaging and labeling procedures. You can also obtain your own Cremated Remains Kit from USPS, free of charge.
Alternatively, the funeral home that was in charge of your loved one’s cremation may take care of shipment for you.
Flying with Peace of Mind
We hope that you found this article to be informative and helpful as a general guideline for flying with ashes. Remember, this flight is going to be an emotional one, so good for you for researching what to expect ahead of time.
Once you do reach your destination, and find that you are in need of a different or more permanent cremation urn, do yourself a favor and take a look at the many options Urns Northwest has available. Now that you don’t have to limit your selections to just wood, plastic or fabric, you have many other choices to consider:
- Decorative glass urns
- High-quality marble urns
- Metal urns
- Urns for scattering ceremonies
- Eco-friendly urns
- Other specialty urns
- Memorial jewelry
- And more!