I was recently asked by a patient’s family member what they need to prepare for should their loved one pass away and they need to transport the body to their family home. While I have encountered this issue for a patient who died and was cremated (the family carried the urn with them on the flight as a carry-on) I surprised myself in realizing that neither I, nor my informal survey of several geriatric and palliative care colleagues knew the answer. I suspect that, ultimately, most palliative care social workers and, certainly, directors of mortuaries and funeral homes can provide the answer this family member needed. But I decided I needed to learn how to answer this important question myself.
In short, travelling with cremated remains is far easier than travelling with uncremated “human remains” (the term used universally amongst the airline carriers). All remains must be accompanied by the death certificate and, depending on the state of destination, certain legal documents. Shipping containers must, understandably, meet specified regulations (particularly for uncremated human remains). Most funeral homes and airlines can provide these “airtrays” and sealed bags/containers at variable cost. Uncremated human remains travel in the ‘cargo’ section of the plane. Human remains can also be shipped in caskets though this often increases the weight significantly which, for airlines charging by weight, can raise the cost astronomically. As such, the cost of sending human remains via airline cargo can range from ~$150 to > $2000.
Most airlines require ~3day advance arrangement and the delivery/pick-up times for human remains tend to be restricted hours of the day.
Below are links to general information for patients and families. Please note that these links do not in any way indicate my or GeriPal’s endorsement of these specific airline carriers but is simply included here to provide education and a resource for patients and families.
Official statement from the Transportation Security Administration about travelling with cremated remains
American Airlines (here and here)
Southwest Airlines (here and here)
by: Helen Kao