A recent lawsuit tells the sad tale of mishandled remains of a loved one while traveling. The individual sought an action against the Transportation Security Administration for “emotional distress and mental anguish” after the Plaintiff alleged certain, unnamed TSA agents mishandled his mother’s remains (her ashes) while inspecting an urn in his checked baggage.

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Shannon Thomas of Cleveland claims he packed a sealed, screw-top urn in his checked suitcase for a flight from Cleveland to Puerto Rico to complete her wishes to spread her ashes at sea (the legality of which is not discussed here). He claims he “applied force to the already securely closed urn and repeatedly tested it to ensure it was sealed…and carefully padded the urn with his clothing to attempt to protect it.”

Upon retrieving the bag at the destination, he claims the ashes were scattered throughout the suitcase alongside a TSA inspection notice. The lawsuit says the discovery caused Thomas “severe and persistent emotional distress and mental anguish.”

Mr. Thomas claims the TSA “negligently, carelessly, and recklessly replaced the lid of the urn, placed a bag inspection notice in the plaintiff’s suitcase and sent the bag on its way. This action caused the urn to open and spilled the remains of the plaintiff’s mother on the inside of the plaintiff’s suitcase and on the plaintiff’s personal effects.” The lawsuit is seeking $750,000 in damages.

The alleged facts would appear to be against the TSA policy, at least when taking an urn through screening as a carry-on item. The policy states:

If carrying on the crematory remains, they are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine. Under no circumstances will an officer open the container, even if the passenger requests this be done.

Additional TSA Statements On Cremated Remains
TSA Partners With Funeral Homes To Safely Transport Cremated Remains (September 7, 2004)
Traveling with Crematory Remains (January 21, 2013)

Air Travel With Cremated Remains
Traveling with a carry-on or checked bag containing cremated remains (human or otherwise) is possible, but requires special precautions and knowing the airlines’ rules.

  • Urn Materials – Avoid easily breakable materials, regardless of their decorative value, such as glass or ceramic. Better options for travel may include an urn or container made of cardboard, cloth, plastic, or even wood. The urn will likely need to be x-rayed and may be rejected if it cannot be examined by x-ray, as TSA agents should not open the urn as an alternative inspection method. So avoid any lead-lined containers.
  • Urn Container – Smaller is better, especially for a carry-on transfer. See a sample TSA Approved urn below. If the urn is not scannable, it may not be cleared for flight, even with supporting documentation of its contents.
  • Consider Shipping – Shipping cremated is possible through the U.S. Postal Service. See the USPS publication on How to Package and Ship Cremated Remains. Specific shipping methods and packaging is required. UPS and FedEx will not knowingly accept cremated remains for shipment.
cremated remains

Traveling with cremated remains is allowed, but plan ahead and know the rules.

Airline Rules For Transporting Cremated Remains
Here are some links to various airline policies. Always ask your specific airline again before booking and allow extra time at the airport should they need to review your documentation, which you should accompany the urn package and you.

American AirlinesAllowed
DeltaAllowed (with death or cremation certificate)
JetBlueAllowed (with certified copy death certificate and funeral director/crematorium letter)
SouthwestAllowed (in carry-on only)
UnitedAllowed (with “certificate from crematorium” per @United)
US AirwaysAllowed


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