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Traveling With Ashes: Tips and Guidelines for Flying

The loss of someone we love is a profoundly complex emotional experience, and when we lose a loved one who is far away but has chosen cremation, the added stress of attempting to fly back home with their cremated remains can have a profound effect on your already emotional state. 

While it is legal to transport cremated remains across the United States and internationally, unfortunately, every airline has different rules and regulations regarding transporting cremated ashes. 

In this article, we will do our best to inform you what you need to know about TSA regulations and airline regulations for transporting the ashes of a loved one domestically and internationally and provide you with helpful links for further information. 

TSA Regulations and Guidelines

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) regulations and guidelines apply to domestic and international travel. However, it is essential to always check with the airline you will be flying on, and for international travel, you need to be familiar with the country's embassy to which you will be traveling. Each airline and each country has a different set of regulations for transporting cremated ashes that passengers must know and adhere to. 
Here are the most important things you must know. 

  1. Transport ashes in carry-on bags or checked bags. 
    TSA will allow passengers to transport cremated ashes in carry-on or checked baggage. However, some airlines will not allow cremated ashes in checked bags; only carry-ons are allowed. You must check with the airline before traveling to ensure which is permitted.

  2. Ensure you have documentation to be checked by an agent.
    The TSA recommends having either one or all of these:

    • Death certificate or a certificate of cremation. 
    • A document from the funeral home stated that the urn contained the cremated ashes of the deceased.
    • Proof of relationship to the deceased, such as a birth certificate or copy of an obituary. 

    Airlines may have additional documentation guidelines, so it is imperative to avoid any added stress or heartbreak to check with the airline regarding any documentation needed. 

  3. Travel Urns or permanent cremation urns are highly recommended.
    Cremated ashes that can be transported via carry-on bags must pass through security screening. A TSA agent should be able to determine what is inside the container to clear it for travel. Travel urns are budget-friendly and meet all TSA guidelines, which can ensure a quicker, more straightforward screening process for you.

  4. What happens if TSA cannot identify the container's contents?
    If the TSA agent cannot determine what is in the container holding ashes, they may ask that the passenger remove the ashes from the urn and send the urn, with ashes outside of the container, through X-ray machines. At no point in time with TSA agents should they tamper with or open a container carrying cremated ashes—whether asked by the passenger or not. It is illegal for airport personnel to open any container that holds cremated ashes.

  5. What happens if all measures do not clear the ashes?
    If the TSA agent has exhausted all secondary measures, the ashes will unfortunately not be allowed through security or on the aircraft. 

Domestic Regulations and Guidelines Preparations

We highly encourage you, or a family member or friend, to ensure you preplan and prepare to save you from emotional distress at the airport. 

  1. Call the airline. 
    Most airlines will have clear guidelines on how to transport cremated ashes. You may encounter airlines that allow you to carry them in carry-ons with only advance notice that a passenger is transporting them; others may not allow carry-ones, require more documents, etc. 

    Before calling, make sure to have pen and paper close by so that you can write down what the airline requires, from documentation to container types to which bags you are allowed to place the ashes in.

  2. Arrive early.
    Airlines within the U.S. typically require all passengers to check in with the airline before heading to security screening. For those who travel via airlines across the U.S., you are undoubtedly aware that this can take a few minutes to hours, depending on the flight. Arrive earlier than you need to be to allow time for agents to go over any of your paperwork, to clarify any questions and concerns ahead of time for a smooth screening, and not to be late for your flight. 

Urn requirements for security means the container must be scannable. Scannable materials are: 

  • Cardboard
  • Fiberboard
  • MDF
  • Cloth
  • Plastic
  • Transparent Glass
  • Wood

Materials that cannot be scanned, and therefore, will probably result in the agent requesting you to remove the ashes to have them scanned separately are: 

  • Metal
  • Stone
  • Ceramic

We hope this can prevent you from undue duress during this tender time. Should you have any other questions, here are some helpful links for you: 

  1. TSA Official blog post on ways to travel with cremated remains
  2. Use the official U.S. Embassy web page to contact a country you will be traveling to if flying internationally.
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