Can I travel with cremated remains on an aircraft or train?
After a loved one has been cremated, their remains -- sometimes called ashes-- are returned to the family. They can be given to one individual or split amongst loved ones. But what happens if the remains need to be transported to them? In Canada, this is not a problem. It is possible to get those ashes where they need to go, either with a passenger who is travelling by air or train or optionally shipped via mail.
What follows is information you need to know to transport ashes and the rules and regulations that must be followed to ensure easy and safe transport.
How heavy and what volume are cremated human remains in an urn?
First, let's look at the weight and dimensions of cremated remains and their containers.
During cremation, all the organic material in a human body is reduced. Since 60% of a body is made up of water, the cremation process evaporates a large part of the body mass. The remaining materials are reduced to mostly bone fragments that are then mechanically reduced to a white or grey powder.
The average amount of ashes left over after the cremation of an adult is about 3 to 3.5 litres or 183 to 213 cubic inches (to visualize it, think three and half large 1L pop bottles). For a child's cremated remains, the volume is 0.8 to 2 litres or 54 to 122 cubic inches, and for a premature baby, it is 0.3 to 0.7 litres or 18 to 43 cubic inches.
A rule of thumb is 1 lb (0.45 kg) of body weight will reduce to one cubic inch of cremated remains. So, as an example, a 200 lb (90.7 kg) human body will be reduced to 200 cubic inches (3,277 cubic cm) of cremated remains.
Adult cremated remains typically weigh between 4 to 6 lbs or 1.8 to 2.7 kg. Cremated remains of a child would weigh about one-tenth of that or less.
For a shipping or transport weight, you will need to add the weight of the ashes to the weight of an urn.
Most metal urns weigh anywhere from 4 to 7 lbs (1.8 to 3.1 kg). Marble and bronze urns will weigh in the range of 15 to 40 lbs (6.8 to 18.1 kg) or more. Ceramic and glass urns weigh 3 to 4 lbs (1.3 to 1.8 kg).
Ask Eirene experts:
If you plan to travel with the cremated remains of a loved one and need advice on an urn or other logistical questions, you can call our hotline 24/7 or email us to get helpful answers. Our online store is at https://store.eirene.ca.
Can I travel with cremated remains?
The transportation of cremated remains is permitted in Canada via both air and train. However, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has outlined provisions that must be followed when doing so.
Remains are allowed to be carried on to an aircraft by a passenger, but they must pass through an X-ray and undergo security screening. This is also true if you are travelling by train.
For the remains to pass through the X-ray machine, they must be in a container made of material that the X-ray can scan through. These include urns made out of plastic, cardboard, cloth, and wood. Containers made out of metal, stone, and ceramic are less likely to be permitted. Some may opt to use temporary containers for travel and transfer remains back into the preferred urn afterward. It is also advised to have death and cremation certificates available during the screening.
During the security screening, screening officers are not permitted to open the container and will not inspect contents if opened by the individual transporting the urn.
If it has gone through the X-ray machine and the contents cannot be determined, it cannot be placed in checked baggage. Additionally, some airlines do not allow cremated remains in checked baggage regardless, so it is important to contact the airline you are travelling with beforehand to determine their policies.
Air Canada says: "Cremated remains may be carried on board, in addition to your carry-on allowance, provided they are stored in a cardboard or wooden box or an urn made of a material that can be security screened (with a tight-fitting lid to ensure no spillage occurs)."
If the container does not pass screening, it can be left with someone who is not traveling and is still at the airport. The passenger can change their booking to a later flight to allow for time to make other arrangements, such as shipping the container via mail. (More information on mailing and shipping cremated remains can be found below.)
In Canada, VIA Rail says you can travel with cremated remains in carry-on baggage on its trains. The company does not permit cremated remains in checked luggage.
To make the transport process easier, passengers should have necessary documentation on hand during the screening. Documentation includes a death certificate, a letter of contents, and a cremation certificate. A medical certificate of death may also be required depending on the country.
More information about flying with cremated remains can found here on the CATSA website.
How much does it cost to travel with cremated ashes?
When traveling by plane, airlines have standardized pricing for luggage depending on type and weight. Cremated remains are not subject to additional costs, so pricing depends on luggage costs (calculated by weight and volume) by the airline. In many cases, you can carry on ashes in a secure container for free.
Rules about transporting cremated remains in checked luggage or air cargo vary by airline, so be sure to call the carrier you will use beforehand to ensure you follow any specific rules they may have. They will also be able to advise on air cargo fees, if applicable.
Flying with cremated remains internationally
When flying, either nationally or internationally, it is essential to have necessary documentation on hand, including a death certificate, letter of contents, and a cremation certificate. A medical certificate of death may also be required depending on the country.
If cremated remains are leaving Canada, the provisions outlined above must be followed. It is also good practice to contact your destination country's embassy to ensure they do not have specific requirements when transporting cremated remains back via carry-on on an airplane. Local funerary services and their funeral directors can often offer assistance regarding requirements.
Rules for shipping cremated remains vary from country to country. Some items are prohibited, meaning that they are not allowed to enter the international destination. While others are restricted, meaning that items must follow specific rules before being released from customs and authorized to enter the destination. More information on shipping internationally can be found on the International Destination Listing. For help, it's useful to contact local funeral services at the destination for further assistance.
Can I mail cremated remains and what does it cost?
Cremated human remains (and cremated animal remains) can be transported via mail using Canada Post's parcel service. See our full article on mailing cremated remains in Canada or internationally.
Like flying, cremated remains are not subject to additional costs, so rates will depend on the size and weight of the parcel.
When shipping parcels, Canada Post offers four options: Priority, Xpresspost, Flat Rate Boxes, and Regular Parcel. Priority, Xpresspost, and Flat Rate Boxes are quicker and more expensive, with rates starting at $10 and costing more than $30 depending on the size of the box. Regular parcels take longer to deliver both locally and nationally, but rates start under $10.
Generally speaking, larger and heavier parcels will cost more money to ship. The weight of a package containing cremated remains can vary based on factors such as the quantity of ashes, size of the container, material, and so on. For example, an urn containing all the cremated remains of an adult is likely to weigh more and cost more to ship than a smaller keepsake urn.
In some cases, you might want to ship the remains in a lighter temporary container and have the provider of the urn (like Eirene) separately direct-ship it to the destination.
More information on parcel postal rates found here.