Airline Policies for Shipping Human Remains

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No one likes to talk about death, and it can be especially difficult if there is a body that needs to be transported via air travel. The top four U.S. airlines have their own policies on how customers can handle transport for human remains. 

American Airlines Cargo has its TLC Specialist Desk to help with shipments. TLC Specialists work directly with funeral homes and mortuaries to make the arrangements required to ship human remains. Uncremated remains require a doctor's or health officer's certificate or a burial transit permit, and the airline urges customers to contact the state or country officials both at the origin and destination for full details on all regulations and document requirements. They must be in a hermetically sealed casket, approved metal container or a combination unit that is placed in an outer container made of wood, canvas, plastic or paperboard.

Containers should be clearly labeled with an air waybill number, name of the deceased and the destination.

Cremated remains must be contained in a five-millimeter polyurethane bag within cardboard outer packaging, with a metal container or urn as inner packaging. Containers should be clearly labeled with an air waybill number, name of the deceased and the destination.

Delta Air Lines Cargo offers its Delta Cares unit to help customers transport human remains. Professionals work with funeral directors to provide personalized travel assistance and customer support. The carrier accepts a variety of cases and flexible shipping options. Remains may be tendered either embalmed or unembalmed, combination, or casketed. Dry ice, gel packs, transfer cases, Ziegler cases, full-size and irregular size cases are also accepted. For more information, contact Delta Cares at 800-352-2737.

 Cremated remains can be accepted as either carry-on, checked baggage or shipped unaccompanied as cargo, but the passenger must have a death or cremation certificate. Unaccompanied cremated remains must be shipped as cargo by a verified shipper. 

United Airlines Cargo uses its TrustUA team to handle the shipment of human remains. They are trained to address all travel-related issues and can arrange transport immediately, with funeral shipments given special priority. The airline may have bereavement fares for family members or escorts accompanying the shipment. Reservations must be made in advance, and shipments must comply with all local, state, federal and international regulations and paperwork requirements. The remains must be packed in an acceptable casket and air tray or combination unit and a certificate of death, burial permit, burial removal permit and/or other documentation as required by local, state, federal and international regulations must accompany shipments.

TrustUA can also handle reservations for cremated remains.

Southwest Airlines Cargo's Support service provides transportation for funeral homes and mortuary services. Reservations must be made in advance via the Southwest Support Customer Care Center at (888) 922-9525 Monday-Friday between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. (CT) and Saturday-Sunday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (CT). Shippers must comply with all local, state, federal, and international regulations. Remains, other than cremated remains, must be adequately secured in a casket, approved metal container.

If the remains are in a casket, the casket must be enclosed in an outside shipping container of wood, canvas, plastic, or paperboard construction.