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What if Mom dies in San Francisco but Dad is buried in Vermont?

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)

Continental Airlines

Delta Airlines

Frontier Airlines

Southwest Airlines (here and here)

United Airlines

US Airways

by: Helen Kao

Comments

Anonymous said…
Helen, That was very very informative, thanks for researching it and sharing it with us.
drw05 said…
Dr. Kao,
Thank you for posting the relevant information on airline options for transportation of human remains. I noticed you singled out “palliative care social workers.” Please know that most hospital chaplains are helpful, as well, with this information.
JGH said…
1977--My father died in California on a trip and his burial space next to my mother was in South Carolina. His body was being "shipped" to SC by air. I told my only brother that I wanted to be at the airport when Dad's body arrived. My brother said "No", that he had seen too many bodies being shipped like cargo when he was in Vietnam with the Army. He said the people handling the body would just be baggage handlers and not funeral directors. My brother went with me to watch my father's body be removed from the cargo hold. The cargo people were aware we were there and treated his body with respect. I love my brother for being there with me even though it was extremely difficult for him.---- Thank you for writing the article---Thought my personal experience may help someone.---Christian Blessings!
Janmar Delicana said…
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It’s a great pleasure to read your blog. I find your post very informative. Thank you for sharing.
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