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Shipping human and cremated remains has always been fairly straightforward. Funeral directors have relied on the United States Postal Service’s registered mail to move cremated remains and the commercial airlines to handle human remains. But are these the only options available to the industry? While these methods are certainly the most cost effective they are not always the most convenient or compassionate. Situations have occurred when the traditional shipping methods have not been fast enough or offered enough privacy or compassion. This article explores other possibilities for shipping both cremated and human remains when the traditional methods will not work. The methods discussed are not offered as ways to save money but to be another resource available to the funeral director when the situations above occur.


As the number of cremations continues to steadily increase so does the need to ship cremated remains. It is important to know the rules of shipping cremated remains as well as your viable options. Funeral directors, crematories and scattering services often provide incorrect information to family members when it comes to shipping cremated remains, putting themselves and the family at risk. In addition most funeral directors are not always aware of other available options and therefore miss an opportunity to serve the family’s need for speed or compassion. When we need to ship a regular package, especially with speed, we have several air express delivery companies at our disposal. Brown, red or yellow they all have the ability to move packages fast.

While this holds true for shipping a box of Christmas presents to your relatives in California, this is not the case for cremated remains. Every major air express company strictly prohibits human remains from being shipped on their network, including cremated remains. By reviewing the company’s terms and conditions you will quickly discover a list of prohibited items. You will also discover a clause that states, “Failure to comply with any of the terms and conditions will result in a denial of loss or damage claim.” While most express package companies do a fantastic job of delivering boxes and small envelopes, loss and damage does occur. Their systems are not designed for packages that are irreplaceable, hence their unwillingness to accept cremated remains. Explaining to a family that their loved one’s remains have been lost or damaged is every funeral director’s nightmare. If you are currently using one of the major air express carriers to ship cremated remains, cease immediately! You are putting you and your firm at serious risk of a lawsuit, publicity nightmare and at worse, a tarnished image in the community. IF you continue to use this option and a loss or damage or loss occurs, you have no action of recourse. Make it clear; shipping cremated remains through the traditional air express companies is not an option! A vast majority of cremated remains are shipped via the United States Postal Service (USPS) registered mail.

Cremated remains cannot be sent by overnight express mail, regular mail or certified mail. USPS Publication 52 section 462.2 states, “Human ashes are permitted to be mailed provided they are packaged as required in 463b. The identity of the contents should be marked on the address side. Mail pieces must be sent registered mail with return receipt service.” Section 463B discusses how the remains should be packed; “Dry materials that could cause damage, discomfort, destruction or soiling upon escape (i.e. leakeage) must be packed in sift proof containers or other containers that are sealed in durable sift proof outer containers.” While this method is both reliable and economical, it is not very fast nor compassionate or convenient. Funeral directors must take time out of their busy schedule to drive to the post office, stand in line to complete the necessary paperwork, and keep their fingers crossed the package doesn’t make a wrong turn in Iowa. Family members sometimes dislike the lack of compassion
associated with the postal service and are often embarrassed when they have to go to the post office to recover a box labeled “Human Remains.” While it is a very practical method of moving cremated remains, it is somewhat limited by its speed, convenience and compassion. It’s not always the best option for the shipper of the receiver. Another option available to cremated remains shippers is the commercial airlines. This can be either in the passenger cabin or the cargo hold area. If a passenger with a paid far wishes to bring the cremated remains onboard the aircraft, it is critical that the remains are packed in a box that can be easily x- rayed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

If the container is constructed from a material that prevents the security screener from being able to identify the contents, the package will not be permitted past the security checkpoint. Even if the family is willing to allow further inspection by opening the package, the security screener will not comply and the package and the passenger will be denied entry. If the package is denied the passenger may check the remains onboard as cargo and the package will be placed in the cargo hold area of the aircraft. It is critical that the contents are appropriately packed to handle the cargo loading and unloading process. If the remains are packed as if they would be placed in the overhead bin but end up being denied access and have to go as cargo, it is advisable to find another way to transport. If remains need to be shipped with extreme speed and there is no family member available to accompany the remains on the aircraft, funeral directors can still utilize not only commercial airlines, but other time-critical airlines as well. Companies such as AirNet Express or Columbus, Ohio specialize in shipping sensitive materials and offer door-to-door pick-up and delivery of cremated remains. By combining their exclusive fleet of over 140 airplanes with all major commercial airlines they are able to move the remains in less than 14 hours, door-to-door 24/7/365. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations mandate that companies such as AirNet conduct a physical site inspection at your place of business before allowing you to ship on commercial aircraft if you are not already a known shipper. While this site audit is not required to ship on AirNet’s aircraft it is recommended that one be performed if your firm is not already a known shipper with the TSA. While this service is more expensive than the USPS, it provides super expedited speed, convenience by providing door-to-door pick-up and delivery, extreme reliability and privacy for the family. It is important to note that commercial airlines require that remains be accompanied by a signed certificate of death or a burial/burial removal permit, as required by law.


tragedy no one industry has felt the sting of changes in commercial aviation Since the September 11 th more than the funeral industry. The financial distress caused by this act has caused a significant reduction in the number of cities served, the size of the aircraft and its cargo capacity, the number of direct flights from major cities, and the increased possibility that a major carrier will face closure. Cities such as Green Bay, Wis., Charleston, W.Va., and Cheyenne, Wyo, were once served by aircraft that had the capability to move human remains. Now funeral directors in these cities must recover from larger cities with drives up to eight hours. This problem will only worsen with time as commercial airlines replace existing aircraft with regional jets or cancel routes all together. It is also important to note that the newer “low fare” airlines coming into the market have been unwilling to accept human remains further complicating matters. Another option to consider when time is of the essence and the commercial airlines are not available is to charter an aircraft. Chartered aircraft, albeit significantly more costly than using a commercial aircraft, can be flown anywhere, anytime. Usually the airplane can be on location within two hours of the call and unlike commercial airlines, will land to the closet recovery airport (providing there is appropriate runway length). When families want their loved one’s remains home immediately, especially if death is a result of a tragedy, a charter may be viable option. As mentioned earlier companies such as AirNet can accommodate an on-demand charter. No matter where the remains are coming from or going to,

AirNet will find the most cost effective aircraft for the mission, make all ground arrangements, and complete all necessary paperwork. This service can be most useful to a family who wants to recover their loved one’s remains as soon as possible (especially from remote locations) do not want their loved one’s remains to ride in the baggage compartment or in situations where privacy is of the utmost important. In addition to the human remains on most private aircraft one passenger is permitted to accompany the remains during flight. Charter pricing is based on the origin and destination, the size of the shipping container (combo unit vs. airtray), and availability of aircraft. Prices range from $2500 to over $20,000. Examples of pst missions have included flying remains from the east coast to the west coast in less than six hours to accommodate an early morning funeral, flying remains to Central America, and recovering remains from a remote location out west and delivering to grieving family in the Midwest. Chartering an aircraft may not always be to simply recover the remains from the point of death and fly it home. In one instance where a plane was chartered a man’s family wished to have multiple viewings in multiple cities. The man had owned businesses in several locations on the east coast and rather than ask the employees to come to one central location to pay their last respects, they chartered an aircraft and the remains were flown to four different cities in two days. In another example a wife wanted to memorialize her husband who had a deep admiration for aviation by chartering a private plane to fly his remains over the Pacific Ocean. As funeral directors move to event planning, a charter might be a unique option for a family to celebrate a loved one’s life. A private charter is not for everyone, but don’t make the mistake of dismissing it as an option. As the commercial airlines continue to struggle, it can be a useful option in time of need. A private charter can be dispatched day or night and has very few restrictions associated with the commercial airlines.
The recovering funeral home can recover directly from the aircraft, which is important when privacy is important. If you depend on a mortuary shipper to assist in shipping cremated or human remains you should ask them about charter options if commercial airlines are not meeting your customer’s demands. Chances are they have used a charter in the past and can assist you in contacting a company that specialized in charters.


While a vast majority of the time traditional mortuary shipping works, it is important to know there are other options available that may be useful. A grieving family needs to be presented with all options when traditional methods break down. While cost may be prohibitive the decision needs to be made by the family not the funeral director. And most importantly it is important that you do not suggest an option that is not viable such as shipping cremated remains through the traditional air express companies. Know the rules, but more importantly know your options. It may come in handy the next time the traditional mortuary shipping methods break down.

Remember, Funeral Services Provider is here to help you all day, every day with your funeral and cremation needs. We’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To contact us, simply call 1-877-989-9090. At any time of day or night, you will be able to speak with one of our trained, sympathetic and understanding representatives.


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  3. Poppy says:

    My family member’s cremated remains are being held by a third party caretaker and have been for several years. Since we will not be working with the funeral home any longer, could you please let me know how I may go about having them legally mailed to me? This situation has taken a long time and the why’s are irrelevant at this point. I would appreciate your advice. Thank you.

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