Shipping Human Remains

Shipping Cremains

National Shipping

Shipping Human  Remains – Nationally

Since many families are geographically separated, it is not uncommon to ship either a loved one’s cremains (ashes) or transport their entire body (remains) to another location, either Nationally or Internationally.

It is not a difficult task; it is a matter of proper preparation and having the appropriate legal paperwork.  This section will deal with traveling with cremains, shipping cremains, and shipping full-body remains across the United States.

Family Traveling with Cremains (Ashes)

Taking cremains via plane within the United States is best to carry them as part of your hand luggage.  This is our recommended way, as checked items do, on occasion, get lost by airlines.

When cremains are carried on the plane, the urn must be X-rayable. The standard plastic container the crematory or funeral home supplies suits this and complies with TSA guidelines. So that you know, the urn will never be opened by security personnel – even when asked to do so to verify contents.

Cremation Container for Shipping Cremains

The urn must be taken as check luggage if it cannot be X-Rayed. If this is the case, it will be tested for explosive residue and carried in the plane’s luggage compartment.

You should have the following documentation in either of the cases above.

  • Certificate of cremation from the crematory
  • Certified copy of the death certificate
  • Disposition or Transit permit from the funeral home


Shipping Cremated Human Remains

In the case of shipping cremains (mailing), all that is required is the disposition/transit permit.

The urn should be placed in a special cardboard shipping box designed primarily to ship the standard plastic urn or a cremains shipping box provided by the post office. The post office boxes may be ordered from the post office at no charge.

Box for Mailing Cremains

Shipping Human Remains – Full Body Transport

Whether you are repatriating a loved one’s remains or transporting them for a funeral or memorial service, understanding the procedures involved is crucial.

Choosing the Appropriate Transportation Method

There are two primary methods for national transport of human remains: air transportation and ground transportation. The choice depends on distance, destination, and personal preferences.

Air Transportation: Air transport is used for long-distance and national shipments. Airlines usually have specific protocols and regulations in place. Your funeral home will contact the airline about their requirements, including packaging, documentation, and associated costs. The funeral home must have “known shipper” status with that specific airline to transport a deceased via air. The funeral home has to apply for this status through the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) has authorized this designation.

Ground Transportation: Ground transportation can be a viable option for shorter distances within a few hundred miles. This may involve utilizing funeral service providers, specialized mortuary shipping services, or private transport companies. Please make sure compliance with local regulations and obtain any necessary permits.

Air Transportation Method

When transporting human remains, funeral homes are responsible for ensuring a dignified and respectful process. In specific circumstances, funeral homes use a combo unit or air tray, also known as air shipping containers, to meet the stringent regulations and guidelines set by airlines. Understanding when and why funeral homes utilize combo units or air trays sheds light on their significance in maintaining the integrity and dignity of the deceased during air travel. This section will explore the situations that warrant using these devices and the reasons behind their selection.

combo unit or air tray

These units are constructed from durable, leak-proof materials, preventing the potential leakage of bodily fluids or other substances during transportation. This containment feature adheres to stringent hygiene and safety standards, safeguarding airline staff and passengers from biohazardous materials. Funeral homes prioritize using combo units to ensure a safe and clean travel experience.

In the case of shipping human remains (total body shipping), the funeral home will need a standard permit if shipping within the state and a transit permit if the deceased is leaving the state. There are a few options to consider such as the weight of the deceased and if the deceased is going to be embalmed.  Embalming may not be required, but if not the deceased is preserved using ice (probably dry ice). A Zeigler case may be necessary – a steel case that can be hermetically sealed.

Shipping Human Remains – Combo-Unit

Most of the time, the deceased is placed in a “combo unit.” It has a wooden base and a heavy cardboard enclosure. The deceased is almost always embalmed and fastened to the wooden tray, and the cardboard enclosure is attached.

The deceased is usually not dressed. At least not dressed in the clothes they will be wearing for the funeral. They are often wrapped in a sheet or hospital gown and placed in a standard body bag.

Shipping Human Remains – AirTray

The funeral home must use an air tray if the deceased is heavier or a casket is being shipped. It is similar to a combo unit but designed to hold more weight.  The deceased is almost always embalmed and placed in the casket.

The deceased is usually not dressed. At least not dressed in the clothes they will be wearing for the funeral. They are often wrapped in a sheet or hospital gown and placed in a standard body bag.

Shipping Human Remains – Conclusion

 Shipping human remains for national transport requires careful attention to detail and adherence to legal and cultural requirements.

By familiarizing yourself with the legal considerations, selecting the appropriate transportation method, ensuring proper packaging, and collaborating with experienced funeral homes, you can provide a respectful and smooth journey for your loved one’s remains, whether transferring human remains to the next city or across the country.

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