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After incident, TSA clarifies rules on travel with crematory remains

Cinerary urn

After an incident in which the ashes of an airline passenger’s grandfather were allegedly spilled at a TSA checkpoint in a Florida airport, the agency explained its rules for carrying such material.

An Indianapolis man traveling from Orlando International Airport in Florida in June accused a TSA agent at a security checkpoint there of spilling his grandfather’s ashes during a security inspection and laughing at him as he picked them up. The man said the agent opened the container to inspect it and dropped it.

TSA has disputed the story, but said it was the agency’s policy not to open containers of human remains and electronically screen them.

In a June 29 Web blog posting, the agency said it regularly screens crematory remains and said passengers can transport them as part of their carry-on property or in checked baggage, but added that some airlines don’t allow them in checked baggage.

The blog post didn’t refer to the Orlando incident directly, saying only that “the subject of traveling with crematory remains has been in the news recently.” It said the remains are subject to screening and must pass through the X-ray machine. It added, however, that if the X-ray machine operator can’t clear the remains, it may “apply other, non-intrusive means of resolving the alarm.” It said  “Under no circumstances will an officer open the container, even if the passenger requests this be done. If the officer cannot determine that the container does not contain a prohibited item, the remains will not be permitted.”

Crematory remains, it said, are one of the sensitive items “that could be exploited by someone wanting to conceal a dangerous item.” It said guidelines for traveling with them weren’t intended to make an already difficult emotional issue more complex than needed.