Can you travel with cremated remains on an airplane?

Whether you want to keep your loved one close in your carry-on, or carefully send them onto the check-in conveyor belt – the answer is, yes, you absolutely can.
Can you travel with cremated remains on an airplane?

Following cremation, there are a plethora of unique ways to immortalise the memory of your loved one using their ashes. This is also an endless list of meaningful places that you may like to sentimentally scatter their cremated remains. Some of these destinations may even require a trip interstate or overseas. The good news is that catching any flights with your special cargo is possible with relatively little hassle.

There are no legislative requirements when it comes to taking cremated remains on an airplane, however most airlines have guidelines and procedures for travelling with human ashes on domestic and international flights. Guidance may vary between airlines – and we will specify these later – but first there are a few general measures we can advise to ensure your important journey is an easy one.

Recommended containers for safely travelling with cremated remains

At Willed, we return ashes in a sealed urn for ashes so that your loved one’s remains can be safely transported. These urns tend to be solid plastic, resistant to breaking, are well-sealed and have details on the container specifying the contents.

Please be mindful that for airplane travel, it is best not to take a metal urn (due to the need for security scanning) or an urn that is made of a fragile material such as glass or crystal. Even though it will be safely secured in your carry-on or check-in luggage, the urn should be able to withstand any knocks, bumps or turbulence along the way. If your loved one’s ashes are being stored in a metal or fragile container, you will need to store them in a more durable temporary urn that can pass through airport scanning devices.

To comply with border force and health department regulations, the container used to hold the ashes also needs to be free from contaminants such as soil, and containers made from wood must be declared to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment on arrival in Australia or before departure. There is no need to declare human ashes on arrival in Australia through the Incoming Passenger Card.

Documentation to prepare

It is advisable to have with you some documentation confirming that the contents of the container are cremated remains, as many airlines also require this statement. Documentation may be obtained from a funeral director or the crematorium prior to your flight. Some countries also require an official Death Certificate, so it doesn’t hurt to have a copy of that on hand.

Having all the relevant documentation required for the journey will reduce the chances of problems arising on your way. You may also wish to print out relevant information from official websites to help streamline the process and place yourself in the best position to clear up any potential misunderstandings. This might include specific incoming requirements for the country you are taking the ashes to, or any restrictions that are in place.

Packing your bags

While urns can most definitely be checked-in with larger luggage, it is worth considering keeping the urn with you as carry-on so that it cannot get lost if your suitcase goes missing. Most airlines require that urns being taken as carry-on be wholly contained inside a bag that conforms to the standard size and weight limits of carry-on baggage. Neither the urn, or this bag, should be opened during the flight.

Out of respect, airlines do not typically open urns during security screening, however they may still ask you to open any outer bags or containers that the urn is stored in.

Airline policies on travelling with human ashes

Here are a few other airline-specific policies to help you prepare for travelling on an airplane with cremains:

Travelling with cremated remains on Jetstar

Jetstar allows ashes from cremation to be carried as checked or carry-on baggage, as long as the following conditions are met:

  • You must have an official document (or certified copy) from a funeral director or crematorium confirming the contents of the container you are carrying.
  • The container holding the ashes must be clean of any soil.
  • The container must be sealed properly to prevent any leaks.
  • If carrying human cremated remains on board, carry-on baggage item, size and weight requirements still apply.
  • The container holding the ashes must stay closed throughout your journey.

Jetstar also advises to check whether there are any additional requirements for your departure and arrival airports, outside the airline’s conditions.

Travelling with cremated remains on Qantas

Qantas provides similar options and requests that passengers adhere to the same rules when travelling with human ashes:

  • Human ashes may be carried as checked or carry-on baggage.
  • Passengers travelling with human ashes require an official document from the crematorium confirming contents.
  • Ensure that the container used to hold the ashes is free from contaminants such as soil.
  • The container must be sealed properly to stop any leakage.
  • The weight of the item cannot exceed 7kg.
  • Ashes can also be carried as freight.

Qantas advises that the container and packaging for the cremated remains may be inspected or examined, and that the container will need to be screened.

Travelling with cremated remains on Virgin Australia

Cremated remains boarding a Virgin Australia flight must be shipped in funeral urns which are effectively cushioned against breakage by suitable packaging. The funeral urn carried in the cabin as carry-on baggage by a guest must also conform to the following conditions before being accepted:

  • The ashes must be enclosed in a sealed container (funeral urn) of such construction that there can be no risk of accidental spillage
  • The guest must have a letter from a funeral director or crematorium identifying the contents as human remains
  • The urn must pass through security screening with the guest
  • Guests are not required to open the urn at security screen, but if the urn is stored in another bag, the outer bag has to be opened to view the actual container that ashes are in
  • The urn is wholly contained inside a suitable carry-on bag which conforms to carry-on baggage size and weight limits.
  • The bag and the urn are to remain closed for the duration of the flight

Travelling with cremated remains on Emirates

If you are transporting ashes overseas, there’s a chance you may be flying with Emirates. Under new directives of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Australian Government’s Department of Home Affairs and the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand, powder-like substances in containers equal to or above 350ml/grams will have to be checked-in and not allowed with carry-on belongings or cabin baggage. Luckily, baby formula, prescription medicines and cremated human remains are exempt from the restrictions. However, you will need to show an appropriate means of verifying the nature of these items as they will be subject to enhanced security screening measures. In addition to this, the container holding the powdered ashes must be:

  • Strong, safe and hermetically sealed (airtight), and must be sufficiently cushioned in a suitable outer box or case to protect against turbulence, shock or damage.
  • Free of contaminants such as soil.
  • Able to be inspected along with its packaging.
  • Accompanied by either the original death certificate or cremation certificate, or original passport of the deceased, if being transported as carry-on luggage.
  • Screen for security purposes, as per standard airport handling procedures.

Wrap up

Cremations are becoming an increasingly popular choice over burials in Australia. The fact that cremated remains are transportable to a final resting place of your choosing makes the option even more appealing. Thankfully, airlines are very understanding of this difficult time, and will work to make the process easy for you. 

Unfortunately the same can not be said for some countries, so it is a good idea to research the local laws at your destination before you depart - you don’t want to do anything illegal, even by accident! For example, Germany forbids the scattering of ashes anywhere: they need to be buried in a cemetery in all cases. In France, you’re not even allowed to keep them in the house! To ensure your loved one’s final journey is as safe, straightforward and respectful as possible, we recommend you get in touch with the relevant consulates before travelling overseas.

If you have specific wishes around your final resting place, it’s best to note them in your Will.

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