What to do when a loved one dies away from home

Transporting mortal remains from one state to another, or to another country – What you need to know

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Funeral Shipping Explained

With a more mobile, transient, and immigrant society today, death arrangements often cross state lines, or even country borders.  This section covers everything you need to know about transporting the mortal remains of a loved one for a funeral, or simply to repatriate remains to a state or country of origin for interment.  Transporting a deceased person generally means that you need the services of 2 funeral homes.  One at the location of death to collect and prepare the body for funeral shipping, and a funeral home where the deceased is being transported, to receive the remains and conduct the funeral and/or interment.

What happens if you need to transport the deceased from one state to another?

If a loved one has passed away in another state and the family wish to return their remains to a home state, there are 2 options, transporting the body by ground transportation or shipping the body by air.  This is what is referred to as ‘domestic funeral shipping’.

Land transportation

Moving the deceased by ground transportation can be a reasonably cost-efficient solution if the deceased only needs to be transported locally and the distance between the states is not too far.  Most funeral homes or mortuary transport companies offer ground transportation at a per loaded mile rate.  This varies by funeral home but is usually in the range of $1.00 to $4.00 per loaded mile.  If you calculate the distance of the journey, you can work out a base cost for what this form of transportation would cost.

Rail transportation is another option if the distance is too far.  This would incur a rail shipment fee from embarkation station to destination.

On top of this, you would have the ‘ship-out’ fee.  This is the fee the funeral home charges to collect the deceased from the place of death and prepare the body for shipping.  We cover this in more detail below in ‘How is the deceased prepared for transportation’.

There are different rules and legislation in each state for funeral licensing and this can affect how a deceased person’s remains can be transported.  Some states have legislation that requires a body to be embalmed to cross a state line.  In other states, it is sufficient to pack a body with dry ice and/or use a refrigerated transportation vehicle.   Your dispatching funeral home or mortuary transport company will be familiar with what laws pertain to the journey that needs to be made.

Air transportation between states

If the distance between states is too far, then transportation would need to be by air.  Several airline companies offer human remains cargo shipping.  A funeral home that offers mortuary shipping will have a contract with an airline (or several different airlines) as a ‘known mortuary shipper’.  This means they can easily obtain airline freight fees for a journey and register the shipment of the human remains.  The deceased needs to be prepared especially for airline freight of mortal remains.  This requires embalming or preparing with dry ice, and the use of a special air freight tray to hold the casket for transportation.  There are also shipment declarations that must be made, and legal requirements for moving a deceased person across state lines.

How much does it cost to ship a dead body within the United States?

There are 2 elements to working out the total cost for shipping the deceased within the U.S.  Firstly, there is the ‘ship-out’ fee that the ‘first call’, or dispatching funeral home will charge.  This is the fee to collect the deceased from the place of death and prepare the remains for shipment.  This fee generally ranges from $600 to $1,500.  This can depend upon the requirements for shipping and whether embalming is required.

Secondly, there is a cost for the actual freight or transportation costs.  This will differ depending on whether it is ground or air transportation.  As mentioned above, ground transportation is a per-mile charge, whereas air transportation is a set airline shipment for flight.  Airline cargo funeral shipment fees within the U.S. can range between $600 - $3,000.

It is important to note that ONLY a known shipper can make arrangements to ship a dead body by cargo.  A family cannot deal directly with the airline.  This is because regulations of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) require that only known shippers, who have been approved, can make shipment arrangements.

How can you arrange affordable domestic funeral shipping?

Unfortunately, transporting a deceased person across the United States can be expensive.  In fact, it is often more expensive than flying First Class!  If you need to arrange mortuary transportation but need to try and do so at an affordable cost, then you should compare some prices and services.  If the distance is not too far, then ground transportation is likely to be your best option.  Find a funeral home where the deceased is located that offers affordable services.  Even if they cannot transport the deceased, they can prepare the deceased for transportation, and will probably have a local mortuary transport company that they use.

Purchasing a death care Travel Protection Plan can protect you from expensive funeral shipping expenses. This is a simple to enroll, one-time payment of $450, that covers all services and expenses to transport the deceased home, or arrange a cremation at the place of death & transport the cremated remains home. To read more about the Travel Protection Plan and enroll for membership, visit Travel Protection Plan: Affordable Funeral Shipping Coverage. This plan gives complete, affordable provision for funeral expenses for people who do travel away from home.

What happens if you need to transport the deceased overseas?

Transporting the deceased overseas can be more complex.  Now there is export and import legislation to meet, customs declarations, consulate forms, and the logistic requirements to coordinate a mortal shipment from a dispatching location in the U.S. to the receiving country, and receiving funeral service provider overseas.  It can be really important to use the services of an experienced and professional funeral company that specializes in International funeral shipping, as time can be of the essence in gathering all the Embassy or Consulate documents, and knowing the requirements for funeral cargo shipping import for the destination country.

How much does it cost to ship a dead body to another country?

The cost of International Funeral Shipping is generally more expensive.  As I have mentioned, it is a more complex process, which requires more time from the funeral director.  Also, there can be additional fees for the Embassy paperwork, and the shipment tray requirements for the destination country.  International ship-out fees tend to start at around $2,000 - $4,000 but can sometimes cost even more than this.  On top of the ship-out service charge, you then have the airline cost for an international mortuary cargo fee.  These obviously range by the destination country, but a ball-park figure would be anywhere between $2,000 - $6,000.
This means international repatriation of remains can cost thousands of dollars in total.

What does an International Funeral Shipping Provider do?

They arrange everything for you.  Time IS of the essence if a body needs to be transported internationally.  One call to an International Funeral Shipping Program Funeral Provider and they will immediately set the ball rolling.  Arrangements are made to collect the deceased from the place of death and move them to a funeral facility.  They ensure the correct preparation for transportation, including a sealer casket, and an ‘approved’ receiving country shipping container.  They handle all the bureaucracy and coordinate all local, state, and receiving country consulate paperwork and handle the booking of all international flights.

As ‘Known Shippers’ with major airlines, a Funeral Shipping Funeral Provider can usually confirm flight availability with ease and often have discounted programs.  An experienced funeral shipper will be versant with shipping windows and after-hours’ release processes, ensuring they can transport your loved one home as speedily as possible.

The specialized team handling the funeral shipping will also liaise with the receiving country, or state, funeral provider to ensure a seamless transportation process. They also handle the delivery and supervision of the deceased’s international or domestic flight.
The export/import of human remains must meet the regulations of both the disembarking and receiving country. A certified English translation of the death certificate, written authorization from local authorities to remove the body, and a certificate of the embalming must accompany the body.

How do you choose a Mortuary Shipping Provider?

It is advisable to select a funeral home at the place of death that has experience in handling mortal remains shipments.  There are several international mortuary shipping companies that funeral homes can use to work with them on the shipment process.  Most of these companies deal directly with funeral homes and not with families.

How is the deceased prepared for transportation?

The deceased is either embalmed, or sheltered in refrigerated storage, and then shipped on dry ice.  The body is placed in a casket or suitable (and approved) container for transportation.  All the legal paperwork must accompany the body during transportation.

What legal procedures need to be completed to transport a deceased body?

As I explained above, this varies depending on the legal requirements for each state or country.  The death certificate must accompany the deceased, and additional paperwork, as required.  For ground transportation, this will be transit permits.  For overseas funeral shipping, the consulate documentation, and customs import/export documentation must all be in order and accompany the deceased.  If the deceased is being transported to a foreign country, all the documentation must be translated.

How long does it take after death to arrange to transport the deceased overseas?

This very much depends on the speedy completion of the Consulate approval and paperwork. If there are no complications with completing all the requirements, it will usually take about 5 business days.

Can a barometric, or oversize deceased body, be transported?

We have a growing obese population, and according to National Mortuary Shipping, in 10 years’ time, nearly half of all burials will require oversize caskets and facilities to manage an overweight body.  In terms of transporting an oversize body, this requires a larger size vehicle, special lifting equipment, wider doors, and a stronger chassis.

Most commercial airlines that offer funeral shipping have a cut-off weight of 500 pounds.  If the deceased weighed more than 500 pounds and requires shipping, it could be more problematic, and more expensive!

What is an air-tray?

This is a special kind of container that the airlines and the TSA require a body to be placed inside for shipment on an airplane.  It is specially designed to be robust and protect the deceased during the freight, but also for health and safety purposes, it is air-tight to prevent any leakages.

Can a family transport a dead body over state lines?

This can depend on the state.  Certain states will allow transportation without embalming, and there are 42 states that do not legally require you to employ a funeral director to conduct a funeral.  You may need to obtain a permit to transport.

Airline Mortal Remains Transportation

Airline carriers that specialize in Mortuary Shipping Cargo Services:

  • American Airlines Jim Wilson Service: Dedicated help desk for funeral homes, offering scheduled service to 250 cities in 40 countries, special ramps at larger AA Cargo facilities & shorter drop off times.
  • Delta Cargo ‘Delta Cares’ service & Fallen Soldier Program: Also offer considerate rates for bereavement travel and allow the transportation of a casket spray at no extra charge.
  • Southwest Airlines Cargo:  Southwest Support provides mortuary shipping services across the Southwest network of destinations apart from Interline or Road Feeder destinations.
  • US Funerals Online is currently partnered with funeral shipping experts in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Houston, Rome, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Beijing, Tokyo, Warsaw, Madrid, and Kiev.

Accompanying the deceased during mortuary transportation

Most mortuary shipments go on commercial flights as cargo, so if you are traveling with the remains, you should be able to accompany the final journey of your loved one on the same flight.  Of course, this depends on the availability of seats, but some airlines do still try and accommodate bereavement travel and will try and make special arrangements in the circumstances.

Affordable remains transportation: Arranging a direct cremation at the place of death and transporting cremated remains

If the costs for transporting the body of the deceased seem too expensive and you either cannot or do not wish, to incur that level of expense to repatriate your loved one’s remains, you may wish to consider cremation at the place of death.

The cremated remains can then be shipped back home at a reduced cost.   A basic direct cremation can usually be arranged for around $1,000 (depending on the state/country of death) and the shipping of cremated remains costs much less as it is a much smaller weight freight item.

Cremated remains can be carried on as hand luggage on most airlines, although you do need to carefully ensure that you are compliant with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines.  Cremated remains MUST be transported in a temporary container that can pass through TSA x-ray machines.  This should be a container constructed of wood, plastic, cardboard, or any non-lead based ceramic.  The TSA personnel are NOT permitted to open an urn to check the contents, therefore if a container does not pass through the x-ray, it will not be allowed as carry-on.  Most reputable funeral homes and cremation urn suppliers who are familiar with this legislation will be able to provide a known TSA complaint container for transportation.

Cremated remains can be transported by the U.S. Postal Service so long as they are correctly packaged.

Repatriation of Remains Insurance – Travel Protection Plan for those who travel frequently

It is possible to take out a repatriation policy if you (or a family member) travel frequently.  It can become especially important if you are over 50 and travel regularly out of state or overseas.  A Travel Protection Plan can be purchased for around $450 as a one-time payment.  This is an assurance policy that covers repatriation of a body back home, or cremation at the place of death.  It is can give peace of mind to those who travel or have retired and spend time in warmer climates during the winter months.

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