How to Transport Cremains

Dear Angel,

My grandmother, who lives in California, indicated in her Advance Medical Directive that when she dies, she wants to be cremated and scattered with my grandfather at their favorite spot in Virginia. Is it possible to fly with cremated remains or send them in the mail?

Thanks,
Flynn W. Ashes

Dear Flynn,

With more and more people choosing cremation, it is possible to fly or mail cremated remains (or cremains).

Flying with Cremains

Below are the current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules about carrying cremated remains through security:

  • Passengers may transport cremains as part of their carry-on luggage or, depending on the airline, as checked baggage. Check with your airline prior to heading to the airport when deciding whether to pack those remains in a checked suitcase.
  • Some airlines require a death certificate or official transit letter from the funeral/cremation provider. As of October 2014, those airlines include Delta, JetBlue and United. Check with your carrier to make sure you know the latest regulations. As of June 2015, Southwest only allows cremains in carry-on luggage.
  • To go through the TSA security checkpoint, the container must be made of material that allows screeners to see clearly what is inside using an X-ray machine. A temporary container made of lightweight plastic or wood or a cardboard box with a heavy plastic bag liner is considered “security friendly.” Avoid any lead-lined containers.
  • Documentation from a funeral home is not sufficient to allow a cremation container through a security checkpoint if the urn contents cannot be viewed by X-ray. If a TSA officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted through the checkpoint.

TSA says their officers are not allowed to open a container that the x-ray machine cannot see through, even if a passenger requests the container be opened. The funeral home or cremation service can advise you on the type of container to select when claiming remains from the crematorium, so that you can fly with them safely.

Mailing Cremains

Cremains can be legally shipped by the U.S. Postal Service, using USPS Priority Mail Express® Service only. FedEx won’t do it, nor will the United Parcel Service.

These are few tips to be aware of before you head to the Post Office:

  • You’ll need to pack the remains in two containers – an inner container and an outer container (i.e. a box) with padding between the two.
  • The inner container must be strong and durable. It must be properly sealed so that it will not leak.
  • While not a requirement, it’s recommended that the inner container be placed in a sealed plastic bag.
  • For international shipments, the inner container must be a funeral urn.
  • Use padding around the inner container, such as bubble wrap or foam peanuts, to prevent breakage during transportation.
  • The outer container is a cardboard shipping box. You might want to line it with plastic, just in case there’s leakage from the inner container.
  • Make sure there is no movement of the contents within the shipping box.
  • Before closing and sealing the shipping box, place a slip of paper with both the sender’s and addressee’s address and contact information inside the box. That way, if the label on the outside is obscured, postal employees can still find out where it’s to go by looking inside the box.
  • Clearly identify the contents as cremated remains! The post office provides a handy free label to put on the outer container.

You can get more directions from the US Postal Service.

Hope this is helpful!

Many purrs,

Angel

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