Handling a delicate form of cargo

Kenneth McKenzie
Columnist

I received a call a few days ago from a woman while she was reading the daily obituaries. She told me, “I have a very strange question.” I told her that I had heard it all. “Well then, first of all I check the obituaries every morning to make sure my name is not listed, and if not, I plan my day.” I laughed, knowing at that moment I would enjoy her question.
She had noticed that the mortuary had been sending a lot of people out of state and even out of the country. She asked, while giggling a little, “How do you get them on the plane? Where do they sit on the plane?”
California and Florida seem to have the greatest number of persons being shipped out of their states. Many people live in these locations later in life due to weather, and many others are visiting or vacationing. When a person dies away from home, the funeral director in the person’s home town will usually contact a well known funeral director to represent them in the state of death. The funeral home in the death state picks up the person where they died, performs embalming, shrouds (wraps in white sheeting) the body, and places it in a shipping unit. This unit takes the place of a casket and is required by the airlines to protect the body and to move the remains on and off the plane.
If you do not want to be embalmed, you do not have to be. Dry ice would replace the embalming procedure.
Some people having funeral services within the death state would first be dressed and placed in a casket, have their funeral service and then the casket would be placed into a shipping container.
Funeral directors do not take a deceased person to ticketing, nor do we go to baggage claim. There is an area at most airports that handle cargo, everything from fresh flowers to living pets and sundries can be found next to the deceased. The cargo area is usually located at the far end of an airport. Typically we arrive two to four hours prior to the scheduled flight.
After some paperwork, the deceased/casket/shipping container is weighed. The unit is then placed into a luggage cart, which is attached to their mini tractors, like a small train. The cart has its own curtain, so the deceased’s container is not displayed to everyone inside the airport looking out.
The weight of each container is an important factor of when and where the deceased is placed on the aircraft so as to distribute the weight properly. Large commercial airlines typically can handle up to two human remains on board each flight.
At the destination, the receiving funeral director will arrive two to four hours after the flight has landed, to give time to move the deceased to air cargo. There, the receiving funeral director will take the deceased to the hometown funeral home and complete the funeral services and burial. The cost of the actual flight to send a deceased within the U.S. averages about $700 and overseas averages about $2,100.

It's a Matter of Life

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