Whether it’s for scattering a loved one’s ashes at their favorite place or simply to take an urn back home, there might come a time when you find yourself traveling with cremated remains.
To help in your time of grief, and to avoid any potential mishaps, we’ve put together a quick guide of what you need to know when traveling with cremated ashes.
Taking Ashes on a Short Trip
Let’s say you’re taking a short road trip to bring the ashes of a loved one back home. Or driving to scatter the ashes in their favorite park.
Here are some tips for transporting an urn on a short car trip:
- Pack and secure the urn depending on the type of urn. For example, threaded lids won’t run the risk of accidentally opening.
- For urns with lift-off or hinged lids, you’ll want to take extra measures to secure the tops to prevent them from accidentally opening during travel. Place the urn into a sealed plastic bag or tape the lid securely into place while traveling.
- Secure the urn properly to prevent it from rolling around. Try having someone hold the urn during the drive. Or pack it tightly into a box or large container, surrounded by a blanket for added protection.
- If you aren’t planning on scattering the ashes, then most urns can be permanently sealed to make transporting the ashes easier.
- Urns made of wood, plastic, or metal are safer when traveling on the road than glass or ceramic urns.
Taking Ashes on a Long Trip
If your trip is over a longer distance and requires flying, there are some other factors to consider. The TSA outlines their policy regarding bringing cremated remains to the airport. Here’s their official stance, according to the TSA website.
“Under no circumstances will a Transportation Security Officer (TSO) open a crematory container. To facilitate screening, we suggest that you purchase a temporary or permanent crematory container made of a lighter weight material, such as wood or plastic. If the container is made of a material that generates an opaque image, the TSO will not be able to clearly determine what is inside the container and the container will not be permitted.”
The TSA also notes that the urn must pass through an X-ray machine. If the urn doesn’t clear the X-ray, the TSA will apply other non-intrusive measures to check the urn. The final decision rests with the TSA officer.
It’s also important to note that each airline has their own policies when it comes to traveling with cremated remains.
Major Airline Policies on Traveling with Cremated Remains
- American Airlines: Allowed. “When you travel with cremated remains, they’ll be treated as carry-on baggage. No special documentation is needed if you’re traveling domestically, but please contact a local consulate or burial advisor if you’re traveling internationally since the rules vary.”
- Delta: Allowed, but death/cremation certificate required. “Cremated remains can be accepted as either carry-on, checked baggage or shipped unaccompanied as cargo. The passenger must have a death or cremation certificate.”
- Frontier: Allowed. “The container must be made of a material such as wood or plastic that can be successfully screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).”
- Southwest: Allowed, but only as a carry-on. “Southwest Airlines will not accept human remains as checked baggage; however, a Customer may take cremated remains onboard a domestic U.S. or international flight as a carry-on item under certain conditions… A Customer or funeral/cremation facility may choose to transport either cremated or uncremated remains via Southwest Airlines Cargo. Advanced arrangements are required for this service. We recommend that you book your Southwest Support shipment at least 24 hours prior to departure. You may book your shipment up to seven (7) days in advance.”
- Spirit: Allowed. “Documentation from the funeral home is not sufficient to carry a crematory container through security and onto a plane without screening. To be transported as checked baggage, the crematory container must be successfully screened during the checked baggage screening process.”
- United: Allowed as a carry-on only and required documentation. “If you’re traveling with cremated human remains, they need to be transported as carry-on baggage. For travel within the U.S., it’s highly recommended that you travel with appropriate documentation (such as a document from the funeral home or a death certificate) to present during TSA screening.
Other Air Travel Tips
Here are some other general tips to keep in mind when traveling by air:
- As when traveling by car, sturdier urns made from plastic, wood, or metal are safer than glass or ceramic urns.
- Make sure to arrive at the airport early to have enough time to clear the TSA lines.
- Call ahead of time to confirm with your airline that you’ll be traveling with cremated remains and to double-check their policy. Make sure to carry necessary documentation.
- If you have any specific questions contact the TSA at 1-866-289-9673.
- Talk to your local funeral director about choosing an urn for travel. They should be able to help assist you in picking out urns that can pass TSA security requirements.
Shipping Remains Through the USPS
Shipping cremated ashes is another option to consider if you’d like to avoid the hassle of air travel. The United States Postal Service is currently the only way to legally ship cremated remains domestically or internationally.
The USPS has specific requirements when preparing to ship cremated remains. To read their full list of requirements for packaging and shipping, download their pamphlet on shipping cremated remains here.