Airline Policies for Shipping Human Remains

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No one likes to talk about death, and it can be especially difficult for a grieving family to make arrangements for human remains to be transported. The top four U.S. airlines have specialized personnel who handle this delicate topic. Each has similar policies on how passengers can arrange transport for human remains. Take a look at some of those procedures from American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.

American Airlines

The TLC specialist desk at American Airlines Cargo will help you with the transportation of human remains. 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. The remains must be in a hermetically sealed casket, an 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, the 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 an urn as inner packaging. Containers should be clearly labeled with an air waybill number, name of the deceased, and the destination.

Delta Air Lines

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 embalmed or unembalmed, combination, or casketed. Dry ice, gel packs, transfer cases, Ziegler cases, full-size, and irregular size cases are also accepted. 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

United Airlines Cargo uses its TrustUA team to handle the transportation of human remains. The team is 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 remains. Reservations must be made in advance, and the transportation of remains 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 a combination unit. A certificate of death, burial permit, burial removal permit and/or other documentation as required by local, state, federal, and international regulations must accompany the remains. Also, TrustUA can handle reservations for cremated remains.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines' Cargo support service arranges transportation for funeral homes and mortuary services. Reservations must be made in advance via the Southwest Support Customer Care Center between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. and between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Shippers must comply with all local, state, federal, and international regulations. Remains, other than cremated remains, must be adequately secured in a casket or 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.