Here we are, the end of 2020, a year that a majority of us wishes simply never occurred. With a new year upon us, and after being trapped indoors for nearly three-quarters of 2020, many of us will begin planning trips far from our places of solitude. For some, this may be a time to take a late relative back home … that is, escorting cremated remains back to a home town for permanent placement.
With the crazy world we live in now, a maze of regulations challenge traveling with cremated remains. In the chance that you are one who is taking the lead in getting Uncle Eddie to his place of rest, let’s explore together how this can be legally achieved.
Most of the time undertakers oversee the organization and preparation of transporting cremated remains from one place to another. The most common, and legal, means of transporting cremated remains in the funeral industry is the good ol’ U.S. Postal Service.
Within the United States, this is a rather streamlined process. The undertaker must use Priority Mail Express, with the cremated remains placed in a leakproof container and the exterior of the package labeled with the contents.
That’s right, there are special labels that clearly proclaim that the package contains human remains. This is a very clear-cut approach to transporting cremains domestically … although undertakers are often stumped with the question of how much insurance should be placed on the package.
International travel is where things start to get a bit more sticky. Most countries will simply ask to have a certified copy of the death certificate and certification of cremation be made available with the urn.
However, others do make it a tad more challenging. For example if cremated remains are to be sent to Italy, it is required that the following be sent well in advance to the Italian Consulate for approval: an original certified copy of the death certificate authenticated and translated in Italian, the most recent passport of the deceased, an original certificate of cremation, a statement of description of the required receptacle housing the cremated remains on letterhead from the funeral home, a small metal plate affixed to a required wooden shipping container and an authorized letter from the family stating (what feels like) everything but what the weather was on the day the person was born! Once all that is in order, a pre-paid envelope must be included as well so that a request for authorization from the proper authorities can be returned.
In all my career, I have never witnessed so much red tape to simply see that a loved one gets to a final place of rest … let alone, cremated remains.
Now, there is always the option of the family flying with the cremated remains. Years ago, the undertaker would simply provide the family with a copy of the death certificate and instructions to inform the TSA representative at check in that they are in fact traveling with cremated remains. Afterward, 99% of the time, TSA would let the individual move through.
Today, it is a little more difficult — and ultimately depends on the airline. Most airlines are going to have a policy when it comes to transporting cremated remains. Generally, airlines require that a copy of the death certificate and the cremation certificate accompany the remains, which must be placed in an urn that can be successfully x-rayed, such as plastic or cardboard. NOTE: TSA will not, and legally cannot, open the urn to view the actual cremated human remains, nor do they desire to do so.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the actual airline you are traveling on and a preemptive phone call is strongly advised. For example: Southwest does not accept cremated remains as checked baggage, they must be brought on as a carry on. Yet, Delta Airlines allows cremated remains to be carried on or checked in, you just need to show a copy of the death certificate. In summary, it doesn’t hurt to put a call into the actual airline prior to travel to be sure you have all prepared before arriving at the airport.
Much like that of international mailing of cremated remains, international air transportation of cremated remains can become complex as well. The starting point for this is to simply contact the embassy of the country that will be accepting the cremated remains. Once you have an understanding of the requirements from the country to which the remains are being transported, you’ll then have to contact the airline(s) to be sure their requirements will be met as well. Or … simply let your undertaker see that they arrive at your international destination.
Years ago this article would have been extremely simple to write. Our complex world today has led to more requirements for this very simple need of escorting a loved one to their final resting place. As you make travel arrangements this new year to leave the four walls we have come to know so well, be sure to put a call into your undertaker to assist in preparing any cremated remains for the trip. They can offer guidance and complete oversight in the process to ensure a relative gets to their final place of rest this year. After all, 2020 was stressful enough.