Airline Cremation Urn Mishaps (and How to Avoid Them)

Temporary Cremation Urn

Following the death of 69-year-old Pauline Corthell, her daughter, Noel Nightingale, thought long and hard about what to do with the plastic urn that contained her mother’s cremains. Ultimately, Noel decided to honor Pauline’s memory by burying her ashes in the family’s cemetery plot in Laramie, Wyoming.

On March 28, Noel and her husband boarded an Alaska Airlines flight for Denver at Sea-Tac Airport. Before their flight, Noel reviewed the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) guidelines for transporting the deceased. She packed the urn containing her mother’s ashes in a box and placed the box in her luggage, which she checked at the airport, confident she was complying with all regulations.

Temporary Cremation Urn Package

Temporary Cremation Urn Package

A shocking discovery
Upon landing in Denver, Noel and her husband drove to Laramie for the burial service. The ground had been opened to receive Pauline’s cremains and a headstone was in place, but when Noel’s husband opened the suitcase and removed the urn, it felt much lighter than it had when they packed it. They discovered a note from the TSA, informing them that their luggage had been inspected; when they opened the urn, Pauline’s ashes were missing. The note did not mention what happened to the cremains.

At first Nicole blamed herself, thinking she must have done something wrong, but she had not. The TSA’s website warns that if a passenger wishes to bring a cremation urn onboard the plane in their carry-on luggage, inspectors must be able to view the urn’s contents through the x-ray machine. But Noel checked the suitcase containing the urn rather than carrying it on, and the TSA’s website clearly states:

Out of respect to the deceased and their family and friends, under no circumstances will a screener open the container even if the passenger requests this be done.

The TSA is now attempting to identify the screener who inspected Noel’s luggage and find out what was removed and why.

More guidelines for transporting cremated remains
The TSA’s website offers some additional guidelines for flying with a cremation urn:

  • Cremation papers or documentation from the funeral home or crematory alone are not sufficient to allow an urn to pass through the airport security checkpoint. Inspectors must be able to view the urn’s contents on the x-ray.
  • Passengers should check with the airline they will be flying, as some airlines do not allow cremated remains in checked baggage.
  • Because cremation urns are made of different materials and thicknesses, passengers are encouraged to purchase an urn made of a lighter weight material that can be successfully X-rayed.

Lost luggage is a fairly common problem, and passengers can gain peace of mind by purchasing an urn that’s certain to pass inspection for carry-on. The Temporary Cremation Urn Package includes an airplane-safe black plastic temporary urn with a top-opening snap lid, a shipping box, and a plastic liner bag and twist-tie. An optional identification plate can be engraved with identifying information, reducing the risk of loss. Again, be sure to ask your airline about their policy regarding transportation of cremated remains.

Comments (1)

bronwen nightingaleMay 15th, 2010 at 3:41 am

Airline/ are hiring thugs with no sensitivity, intelligence or judgement. I find this situation
to be a total outrage. I will never fly on an airline, as long as I can possibly help it.
Airlines many years ago treated there passengers with respect. Noel Nightingale is
my cousin. She is an attorney. Airlines treat all their customers like common criminals
and let the real terrorists board the plane.

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