You may have seen a story in the news recently about a traveler finding his mother’s cremains spilled in his checked bag at LAX. We understand how painful losing a loved one is, and we express our sincere condolences. It’s terrible that he had to discover this, and we can’t fathom the emotions this would induce.
In an effort to prevent this from happening to anybody else, we’d like to explain what happened and offer some guidance on traveling with cremains.
We immediately looked into the matter, and upon video review, we learned that the checked bag alarmed for an unidentified object. Upon opening the bag for inspection, a TSA officer discovered that the object was an opened, unmarked ceramic container that was loosely wrapped in aluminum foil. Due to the lack of markings, the officer did not know that the contents were cremains. The container was carefully repacked and the bag was cleared to continue to its destination.
Travelers are allowed to travel with cremains in a checked bag, however it is recommended to do so in a carry-on bag to help protect the contents from the risks associated with checked baggage. Checked bags are subjected to rapid and sometimes rough movement along a series of conveyor belts as they make the trek to and from the aircraft. A little known fact is that checked bags are only in TSA’s possession for a fraction of their journey to the aircraft.
TSA has a clear process for screening crematory remains. Our officers routinely conduct these types of screenings throughout our nation’s airports. Crematory remains in carry-on must pass through the X-ray machine to be screened. If the X-ray operator cannot clear the remains, TSA may apply other, non-intrusive means of resolving the alarm. If the officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted.
We understand the emotional stress passengers may be under when transporting the remains of a loved one. Our guidelines for traveling with crematory remains are not intended to make this already emotionally difficult process more complex than needed. However, crematory remains are one of the many sensitive items that could be exploited by someone wanting to conceal a dangerous item. TSA officers are trained to treat all travelers’ belongings with care and respect and will not open containers with cremated remains, even if the passenger requests this be done.
We have a team of TSA employees who are ready to answer your questions via Twitter at @AskTSA or via Facebook Messenger. They look forward to answering your questions 365 days a year from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET daily. You may also reach our contact center by email or by phone at 866-289-9673. Federal Relay: 711
Some airlines do not allow crematory remains in checked baggage, so check with your airline first.