It is not at all uncommon that cremated remains need to be transported across the country. Transporting ashes is not a difficult process but there are some things that you will arrange for ahead of time in order to ensure the process goes smoothly.
You should ALWAYS check with your airline to verify specific policies for transporting cremated remains. Policies on transporting ashes do vary by carrier and they can change from time-to-time. As a general rule you can either ship the remains as cargo or carry them on the plane with you. Some carriers will require advance notice to accept remains as cargo and documentation such as the death certificate may be required. Depending on whether you are traveling domestically or abroad, you may need export paperwork from your embassy. It is important that you check ahead of time, particularly if you are transporting ashes overseas. Your funeral home or crematory can provide you with paperwork such as an Affidavit of Non-contraband that may be required. All of your documentation should be kept with the container of cremated remains.
The Container or Urn
In 2004 the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) implemented special procedures for transporting cremated remains. The TSA has very specific requirements for the type of containers that can be used for transporting ashes. TSA agents are not permitted to open urns and containers to verify they contain cremated remains. That means it is critical that the container must be capable of being X-rayed. Below is an extract from the TSA blog (click here to go to the original document) which addresses the topic:
If carrying on the crematory remains, they are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine. If the X-ray Operator cannot clear the remains, TSA may apply other, non-intrusive means of resolving the alarm. Under no circumstances will an officer open the container, even if the passenger requests this be done. If the officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted and you could be denied boarding.
If you plan to use a permanent urn for the remains once you reach your final destination, check with your funeral home to see if they can provide you with a temporary urn that can be used for air travel. There are also special urns for sale that meet TSA requirements so that they can pass through security.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is the only agency authorized to ship cremated remains in the US. FedEx, UPS, and DHL do not ship cremated remains. Fortunately, the USPS has well established guidelines for just exactly what you need to do. Instructions are available on the USPS website (click here) or you can download their publication #139, How to Pack and Ship Cremated Remains, for detailed information.
- Cremated remains must be shipped by Priority Mail Express.
- USPS requires that your package have padding and both an inner and outer container. The inner container must be siftproof. The outer container must also be siftproof. You should use ample padding so that there is no movement between the inner and outer container.
- Both the sender name and address and the addressee’s name and address should be included inside the box in case the outer shipping label becomes damaged in transit.
- The USPS recommends that you use a Priority Mail Express box with the identity of the contents on the address side of the label. The USPS has a special label (Label 139) for this purpose. These labels are available at your local post office.
The USPS will also ship cremated remains internationally unless the country you are shipping to prohibits cremated remains. You should verify this with the Post Office or by consulting the International Mailing Manual. The package should be sent via First-Class Package international services using Registered Mail service. In addition to packing your remains as you would for domestic mailing, you will need to complete the proper customs declaration form.