Traveling with Cremated Remains

When traveling with cremated remains aka “ashes” there are strict guidelines to follow. Cremated remains can be carried on or checked in baggage on most airlines if the rules are strictly adhered to.

traveling with cremated remains 1

Traveling by Air within the U.S.

Many airlines will allow you to transport cremated remains, but not all. Check with your airline beforehand for their rules regarding transporting human cremains. The airlines that allow you to bring the cremated remains with you will designate whether they allow carrying them as air cargo, checked luggage or as carry-on.

The following rules apply for all transport of cremains:

  • Go to your airline’s website and search for “cremated remains”. To date, Southwest, American and Delta airlines all have “cremation friendly” policies.
  • Don’t wait until the day of travel to investigate the airline’s policies. Some airlines require seven days advance notice before shipping as air cargo and have the right to refuse if you do not comply.
  • Review the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements which mandate that the container or urn be able to be scanned. The TSA will not permit a container which returns an “opaque image” through security under any circumstances.
  • Even after complying with all regulations, it is important to arrive earlier than usual to allow enough time for security clearance or you could miss your flight.
  • When going through security, in addition to your airline documents and personal ID, show the Death Certificate, Certificate of Cremation, other funeral related documentation and attach a copy to the container or urn.
  • Take the time to check with a licensed funeral director both at your origin of travel and your destination to determine if there are local regulations that you must consider.

Transporting Cremains Internationally

Traveling internationally is a lot more complicated and will take some research on your part. Every country has different policies regarding the transport of cremains.

Germany requires that cremated remains can only be sent to a licensed cemetery and only a licensed funeral director can send them, so you would have to follow that regulation strictly.

Here’s some helpful advice to start your research:
  • Your first step is to contact the embassy for the country you are taking cremated remains to or from. Ask about their specific rules and legal requirements. Don’t rely on a website. Policies can change with world conditions.
  • Ask the embassy contact if the country you will be entering has additional authorizations that are required. If so, ask if the embassy can provide you with the forms or if you will have to contact a licensed funeral director or an attorney to comply with the country’s laws.
  • When completing this process, allow at least two weeks or more. You are complying with international laws and this will take more time than working with U.S. laws.

Transportation Security Guidelines

The TSA staff will never open an urn or container containing cremated remains, even if you give them permission to. If the TSA cannot properly scan the container that the cremains are stored in, they will not allow you to transport them by air and you will have to ship them by USPS registered mail.

Some Helpful Suggestions:

  • Store the ashes in a temporary container that can be scanned while traveling and then transfer the cremains into an urn or other container of your choice after reaching your destination.
  • Urns that can be scanned include cardboard, cloth, fiberboard, and most wooden urns, plastic and transparent glass. Ask your funeral director for suggestions. Scan-able urns are certified as airport travel safe.
  • Urns that cannot be scanned are those made of stone, granite, some ceramics and metal as these materials cannot be scanned by airport security.

If transporting a urn that cannot be scanned, consider putting the cremains in a plastic bag within the urn so that the items can be properly scanned and meet TSA requirements.