How To Transport a Loved One’s Ashes

Collecting the ashes of a loved one after cremation can be an emotional experience. You arrive at the funeral home empty-handed, but you don’t leave that way. It’s normal to feel uncertain about what the drive home should look like. And if you need to travel with your loved one a long distance, whether by car, train or plane, you may wonder what you can or should do.

Are there rules about how ashes can be transported? What’s the best way to secure an urn? How can you be sure others will handle your loved one's ashes respectfully? Below we offer detailed guidance about transporting ashes so you can worry less.

Transporting ashes by car

Most people arrive in their personal vehicles pick up a loved one's ashes. They may then go home, to a cemetery, to another family member's house or someplace else altogether. We're often asked if a loved one's urn or cremation container should be buckled into a seat, if it can ride in the driver's lap or if it should be placed in the trunk. It really comes down to one thing: What makes you most comfortable?

There aren’t laws about traveling with ashes in a car within Canada, so you can decide what feels right. Some people feel uncomfortable placing ashes in the trunk or on the floorboard. Wherever you choose to place the ashes, it’s important to make sure the urn or other container is well sealed to prevent spilling and that the urn or container is secured so it doesn’t bounce around and get damaged.

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You may also want to avoid leaving a loved one's urn in your parked vehicle, however temporarily. Whether you're running into the store to grab an item on the way back from the funeral home, don't feel ready to bring the urn into your house or find comfort in having your loved one's ashes close by while driving, leaving an urn in your vehicle can add undue grief to an already mournful situation. If the urn is visible to passersby, someone might break into the vehicle and take the urn. Even if you place the urn in the trunk, there's a chance the vehicle could be stolen. A loved one's ashes are irreplaceable and losing them to theft could be heartbreaking.

Flying with ashes

Transporting ashes by plane can be more complicated than transporting ashes by car. Each airline has its own rules. Start by talking to someone at the airline or checking the airline's website.

The first choice you’ll need to make is whether you’ll take the ashes onboard with you or place them in your checked luggage. Most of the time, it’s better to take the ashes with you onboard the plane; checked baggage is often handled roughly and may get delayed or lost in transit. Some airlines do not allow ashes in checked baggage.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) requires cremation containers and urns containing ashes to go through the X-ray machine during security screening. To guard against breakage or spillage and allow for X-ray scanning, containers made of plastic, wood, cardboard or cloth materials are considered the most likely to be permitted through security screening. The materials to avoid include containers made of metal, ceramic or stone—these materials are considered the least likely to be permitted through security screening.

CATSA agents cannot open an urn, even with your permission, and they will not inspect the contents if you open it yourself. If the X-ray machine can’t clearly show what’s inside the container, they will not allow the urn on the plane.

If you’re worried about your container or urn making it through security screening, be sure to ask your funeral director if they can provide a temporary container to transport your loved one’s ashes while traveling. These temporary containers are more likely to be made with materials that are permitted through security. Then, once you reach your destination, you can have a local funeral provider transfer the ashes into the permanent container of your choice.

The container will also need to meet the size and weight requirements for carry-on luggage, and some airlines require a certificate of cremation or a death certificate. Check with your airline for requirements before you arrive at the airport.

Airlines that allow ashes on board

Canadian airlines allow passengers to take ashes onboard, in addition to their carry-on baggage, provided the ashes are properly stored in a tightly sealed container that can pass security screening.

Here are some of the major Canadian airlines that allow you to take ashes on board, as well as the requirements in effect as of January 1, 2024:

  • Air Canada allows ashes to be carried on board in addition to your carry-on allowance, provided they’re properly stored and can pass security screening.
  • Air Transat allows you to transport ashes in the cabin along with your carry-on baggage. You’ll need to present the cremation and death certificates at check-in and security checkpoints.
  • WestJet permits ashes in the cabin. You can also carry an empty permanent container (made of metal, ceramic or granite) in your carry-on luggage.
  • Sunwing requires passengers to carry both a death certificate and cremation certificate when transporting ashes, which can be carried in the cabin or in checked baggage.
  • Porter allows ashes to be carried into the cabin in addition to your carry-on baggage allowance. They ask that you declare the urn when you go through security and that you carry with you a death certificate or document from the funeral home.

Here are some of the major American airlines that fly internationally to and from Canada that also allow you to take ashes on board, as well as the requirements in effect as of January 1, 2024:

  • Alaska Airlines may require a death certificate, especially if ashes are being shipped as cargo.
  • American Airlines provides TLC specialists—people who work directly with funeral homes—to help you prepare for your flight and proceed through security.
  • Delta Airlines allows you to transport ashes in either carry-on or checked luggage; a certificate of cremation or death certificate is required.
  • JetBlue allows an urn only as a carry-on item, though it is not counted against the number of carry-ons. The urn must be stowed under a seat or in an overhead bin. You must provide a copy of the death certificate and a certified document from the crematory that performed the cremation.
  • United Airlines requires a death certificate or cremation certificate before you can fly with an urn. Its QuickPak service will quickly ship ashes as cargo, if you’d prefer.

Because CATSA and airlines change their policies and regulations from time to time, be sure to talk to someone at the airline or check the airline's website before you arrive at the airport with ashes.


Transporting ashes across provincial lines or to another country

Many people want to be returned to their home countries after death, or they wish for their ashes to be scattered in places they loved abroad. Taking ashes to another country can involve some bureaucracy, as each country has its own regulations and policies.

If you want to travel with or transport ashes from Canada to another country, you’re likely going to need special documents. These may include a burial transit permit, which gives authorities in the destination country the ability to track where the ashes came from and shows you have permission to transport them. You may also need an overseas certificate (also called a Certificate of Entry of Cremation), which contains information about the crematory where the loved one was cremated. It’s also a good idea to take a death certificate or cremation certificate, even though not all countries require it. It might also be helpful to reach out to the Canadian embassy for the destination country to make sure you have everything you might need.

If you’re bringing or sending ashes into Canada from abroad, there aren’t as many restrictions. Even a death certificate is not needed (though it can’t hurt to have a copy with you). You simply need to make sure that the container is able to be X-rayed, and always declare the ashes to the Canada Border Services Agency so they’re handled properly. Take note of whatever paperwork and container your international airline requires.

We’re always here to help

While losing a loved one is difficult, many of the challenges of traveling with a loved one’s ashes can be easily overcome with some simple preparation. Talk with your funeral director to ensure you’re prepared.

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