We don’t choose where we are born, and sadly for most of us, we can’t choose when we leave this world. If your loved one has unfortunately died outside their home state or even abroad, how do you get them home?
Arranging air transportation for a dead body is an expensive and complicated ordeal, with costs that can vary hugely.
The cost of the flight itself will be based on the weight of the deceased’s body and the distance it will travel, but this is just the tip of the ice-berg.
There are many additional expenses and requirements you will have to incur to legally fly a dead body.
Whether you are flying a dead body locally or internationally, one thing is for sure, it could cost you thousands of US dollars. To give you an idea, the estimate of transporting remains internationally can be as much as US$10,000, and to do so domestically can be up to US$5000.
If you are considering transporting a body by air, there are three important things you should know about the costs.
- You cannot arrange to transport a dead body on a plane by yourself.
- By law, you have to hire a funeral home to assist you.
- The actual cost of transportation to fly a dead body will cost you more than a first-class ticket would.
Hiring a funeral home
You will legally have to employ at least one funeral home to assist you in preparing the body, the documents, and any other requirements stated by law, in the country or state where the deceased died. Funeral homes need to be approved to assist you in flying a dead body. They are called ‘known shippers’.
Although you may be able to get away with only having to hire one ‘known shipper’, unfortunately in most cases, two funeral homes are required to ensure a seamless transportation process.
Why you are required to hire two funeral homes.
- A dispatching funeral home or ‘ known shipper’ collects the deceased from their place of death and prepares the remains for a flight. They will handle all the bureaucracy and paperwork for you, and will supervise the body onto the airplane. In almost every country this is the law.
- The additional funeral home is needed to receive the remains once the flight has landed, and will transport the body to a funeral home to await the funeral. (Under special circumstances, you may be able to collect the body yourself.) Generally, the two funeral homes will liaise with each other, to ensure there are no mishaps along the way.
Dealing with funeral homes can be more expensive than actually organizing a funeral yourself. So in order to help you get the best deal, I’ve compiled a list of questions you should be asking the funeral director so that you don’t pay more than you should. Check my article out here: Questions to ask a funeral director for a better deal.
The cost of having two funeral homes
The ship out fee
International ship-out fees generally start at around $3,000 – $4,000, but they can also cost more depending on the country’s procedures. A domestic ship out fee can range from $1000- $3000.
Receiving the ‘remains’ fee
The receiving fee ranges from $800 to $2500 depending.
These fees will depend on the requirement for shipping, what paperwork is required, and whether embalming is required – it generally is.
Embalming and the costs
The purpose of embalming, when you are going to transport a body, is to prevent decomposition and maintain the person’s natural appearance for a funeral.
Some countries and states require that the body be embalmed before leaving, and others require that the body be embalmed to enter.
Additionally, many airlines will also require this. It is of utmost importance therefore, to check and understand all of the requirements on the airline, with the country or state the body is departing and with the country or state the body will arrive.
What if I can’t embalm a body?
- Some religions prohibit embalming. Although there are some countries and states who allow unembalmed bodies to travel, almost all airlines will require you to embalm. Speak to your religious leaders about this if it is an issue.
- When a body is infected, and in cases where there is a danger of infection from a body, embalming cannot be performed, and thus, you will not be permitted to fly the body home.
The cost of embalming
The cost of embalming in the USA is around US$400- US$700, and internationally it is about US$725. This does depend, however, on whether the body has had any injuries. If a body is severely injured it could cost as much as US$945.
For more general information on embalming and when it is necessary to do it in all circumstances, please refer to my other article here.
Preparing the body for a flight
The funeral home will prepare the body for you and ensure they are ready to fly. The process of preparing the body for a flight is relatively simple. The body is double-wrapped in plastic and then packed into an air-tray, generally, a wood-bottom tray with a lid made of cardboard, filled with cooling gel packs.
Additional funeral home fees
Other possible fees a funeral home could charge for include:
- Any fees to the funeral home(s) for the coordination of the shipping.
- The fee for the transport from the place of death to the funeral home.
- The fee for forwarding remains to another funeral home US$1400-US$3000.
- The fee for receiving remains from another funeral home US$1000- US$2500.
- The fee for keeping the body at the funeral home (per day) US$100- US$300.
- The fee for the funeral director to collate the paperwork to transport the body. This could also include securing any necessary permits or copies of the death certificate, cancellation of the passport at the respective embassy or consulate, cancellation of the work visa at the Immigration Department, obtaining a release letter from the police, hospital confirmation that infectious disease is absent, and the embalming certificate.
- The fee for any translation needed for the required documentation, into English. Including any copies that may be required.
The airline’s fees
Generally, this cost will depend on the body’s weight, the location of death, and the distance the body will be flown.
The additional fees you will pay for.
- A secure casket (An approved metal container or combination unit)
- An air-tray made of wood, particleboard, corrugated fiberboard, plastic, or other water repellent material.
- A mortuary cargo fee, which can be anywhere between US$2000- US$6000, depending on where the final destination is.
- Airport tax, which can vary.
Flying a dead body is a very expensive and complicated ordeal, and you cannot even try to cut out any of the costs, as they are all legal requirements. However, if you cannot or don’t want to incur the expense, there are alternatives you could consider.
- Shipping by land.
- Ashes on a plane.
- Ashes by post
Shipping by car
The cheapest way to transport a dead body is to drive it. Of course, this is only an option if your loved-one died within the same country, rather than internationally.
If you hire a funeral home to do it they will charge by the mile if the distance exceeds 25 miles, but it may be possible for you to drive yourself if you follow the rules closely.
Most states will, however, require a body that passes over state lines to be embalmed, and so you will still need the help of a funeral home to assist with preparing the body.
Ask them what the requirements are for travel if you opted to transport the body yourself. You will also have to ensure you have all of the documentation. Note that in some states, a transporter’s license is necessary to transport a body, which would mean that only a funeral director can transport the body. Please refer to the state funeral laws here.
Shipping by train
Shipping a body by train is pretty cost-effective. You will, however, most probably need a funeral director at both the ends of the journey, because regulations can be tricky to work out.
When one carries a dead body through train transport, the body is carried in the luggage van attached to the train, and that is not air-conditioned. Therefore embalming is important, or else the body might start to decay and smell.
The body should be delivered to the station at least two hours before departure of the desired train so that you can fill in any additional paperwork that is required.
Ashes on a plane
Depending on the country cremation can cost just US$1000. You will need to check your airline with regards to their specific rules as these can differ, but you will find transporting ashes is nowhere near as complicated as transporting a body.
You will need to put the remains in an urn and generally, you can choose to either carry them on with you or put them into cargo. Cremated remains can be transported as luggage.
Make sure your urn can pass through the x-ray machines and it needs to follow the guidelines of the Transport Security Administration ( TSA). It should be made of wood, plastic, and non -lead ceramics ( as these can’t go through the x-ray machines.)
You will need to carry the death certificate with you and if you plan to put the ashes into cargo you need to inform the airline beforehand. There may be other documentation required too, especially if you are traveling internationally. All of the documents should be kept with the cremated remains.
On the day of your flight, arrive at least two hours beforehand and three for an international flight to ensure you will clear security.
Ashes by post
Cremated remains can be transported by the U.S. Postal Service so long as they are correctly packaged. The cost of posting cremated remains will be much cheaper than transporting a body. Ensure that:
- The package consists of sealed inner and outer containers
- There must be sufficient padding around the inner container to prevent movement
You cannot use UPS, DHL, and FedEx to post any human ashes. If you do your parcel may be stopped.
Write clearly on the package, double-check the address, and add a return address – just in case.
If you are shipping overseas remember to fill in the customs form and indicate on the form that the package contains human remains. Fill out the required customs form if you are shipping it to an international destination.
For more information on how to successfully scatter ashes (it’s actually quite a skill) once they have arrived, please read my in-depth article here.
What paperwork do you need?
You will need the following documents to transport a dead body by air. All these documents need to be in English (for the USA). Additionally, you will need about 6 sets of photocopies of all these documents.
1. Death certificate from the respective hospital or medical authority.
2. Original passport of the deceased person or photocopy of the canceled passport.
3. Original embalming and packaging certificate that should include the deceased’s full name, age, place of death issued by the Embassy.
4. NOC ( no objections certificate, to move the body), from local police where death has occurred (a police stamp is mandatory)
5. Post-mortem Report.
6. The flight number of the co-passenger.
7. Coffin certificate.
8. 1 passport size photo of the deceased (while alive).
Airline policies for transporting a dead body
The TLC specialist desk at American Airlines Cargo will help you with the transportation of human remains, as they work directly with the funeral to ship human remains.
Uncremated remains require a doctor’s or health officer’s certificate or a burial transit permit. You should contact the state or country officials both at the origin and destination for details on all the regulations and requirements.
The remains must be in a hermetically sealed casket, (which is an approved metal container), or a combination unit in an outer container or airtray made of wood, canvas, plastic, or paperboard. Containers should be clearly labeled with the flight number, name of the deceased, and the destination, with an address.
Cremated remains must be contained in a five-millimeter polyurethane bag within cardboard outer packaging, and a metal container, or an urn as inner packaging. Containers should be clearly labeled with a flight number, the name of the deceased, and the final destination. See the American airlines cargo website
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines Cargo offers its Delta Cares unit to help customers transport human remains. The carrier accepts a variety of cases and is very flexible. Remains may be embalmed or unembalmed.
Cremated remains can be accepted as either carry-on, checked baggage, or they can be shipped unaccompanied as cargo, However, the passenger must have a death or cremation certificate. See the Delta Cargo website
United Airlines Cargo uses its TrustUA team to handle the transportation of human remains. The team can arrange transport immediately with funeral shipments given special priority.
Reservations must be made in advance, however, 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. You will need to have a death certificate, a burial permit, a burial removal permits, and/or other documentation required by local, state, federal, and international regulations.
All documentation must accompany the remains. trust can also handle reservations for cremated remains. Please refer to the TrustUA website.
How long after death can a body be transported?
This depends on how fast the paperwork can be completed and compiled, however, this usually takes about 5 working days.
Can a barometric, or oversize deceased body, be transported?
If you need to transport an oversize body, you will require a larger size vehicle, special lifting equipment, wider doors, and a stronger chassis. Most airlines will have a cut off weight at 500 pounds. If the dead body weighs more this may be an issue and will become even more expensive.
What is an air-tray?
An airtray is a container for a dead body to be placed inside for shipment on an airplane. International law states that all dead bodies that are transported on a plane have to have one.
It is specially designed to be robust and protect the deceased during the freight, but it also is designed for health and safety purposes, as it is air-tight to prevent any leakages or smells.
What happens if you die on holiday?
A local medical representative will be called, along with the local authorities and you will quickly be shuffled off to the local mortuary for safekeeping.
If you have travel insurance, then things should run smoothly from there ( this is why you should always carry a copy of your passport when traveling).
Your embassy will be called, who will contact your local government authority, who will contact your family. Your family will then be responsible for you and your remains.
Where do coffins go on planes?
Every dead body transported by plane needs to travel in a secured casket and then encased in an air tray. They are placed in the cargo hold of the airplane.
What happens if someone dies on a plane?
If someone dies on a plane, the deceased passenger must remain in his or her seat. They will be covered up, and strapped in their seat to ensure they won’t move or fall out of their seat during the remainder of the flight.
If there are enough seats, they may also be laid down across three or more seats and buckled in. If someone is sitting next to them and is uncomfortable, they will be moved to an alternate seat if there are any available.