Carrying Cremated Remains? Ask Dear Abby

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A man recently wrote Dear Abby, to see if the advice columnist could answer some questions he had about transporting his wife's cremated remains on a plane.

"Missing My Lady Out West" says his wife died of lung cancer, and asked that her ashes be scattered away from home.

"Is there any federal or airline rule or law that would prevent me from carrying my wife's ashes on a flight to another state?" the man asks.

Dear Abby says she spoke to Greg Soule, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, and she correctly reveals there's a rule that security personnel will never ask you to open an urn containing remains. But if the container is metal or another material that an X-ray machine can't see through, you do have to check the remains rather than do carry-on.

For those who don't want to check their loved one as luggage, "Some funeral homes will transfer ashes to a temporary plastic container. Urns made of ceramic or wood typically don't present a challenge," Abby writes.

Helpful Abby. But there is a little more to the picture, which is why TSA has a whole "Transporting the Deceased" page on its website.

For one thing, the TSA says its officers will not open a container of remains "even if the passenger requests this be done," and adds that "documentation from the funeral home is not sufficient to carry a crematory container through security and onto a plane without screening."

A metal urn sent as checked baggage also has to be successfully screened, the TSA says. "We will screen the urn for explosive materials/devices using a variety of techniques; if cleared, it will be permitted as checked baggage only."

And perhaps the most important point, if you decide you only want to go the metal-urn route, be sure to check with your carrier first. Some airlines do not allow cremated remains as checked baggage.

Southwest Airlines, for one, makes it clear on its website it "will not accept human remains as checked baggage." They are generally okay as carry-on, and remains "cremated or uncremated" can also be shipped as cargo, the carrier says.

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