Flying Home

Our Transportation Goal is met!

Families can now arrange to have their pet’s body flown back home for burial.

Sky symphony (2007 CC by kevin dooley in Flickr.com)Every year, hundreds if not thousands of families arrange for the body of a loved one to be flown home for burial; most notably recovered military personnel who died overseas. Their military comrades are often seen flying on commercial airlines as they accompany the remains of fallen women and men on the solemn journey home (read an online discussion by airline personnel and others).

The air transport of bodies has long been regarded as an acceptable and allaying practice – we collectively respect (if not always understand) a bereaved family’s need for such solace. These journeys have inspired several poignant scenes in cinema, particularly regarding military casualties.

At least one film, Taking Chance (2009), was entirely dedicated to the story of a marine escorting the body of a fellow marine back home. Another film, The Lost Valentine (2011), is a love story (spoiler alert!) that leads the viewer to the exhumation of a navy pilot’s remains – buried in the Philippine earth decades earlier – which are then transported back to the U.S. for interment. It is as if the body – for a moment – transforms into spirit, gently caressing the heavens.

Airline Regulations

Crossing the November Sky (2008 CC by Irargerich on Flickr.com)As you might expect, the transport of human remains is highly regulated. Upon speaking with a few airlines in the U.S.A. about the domestic transport of bodies, we learned that they generally require bodies to be embalmed. Yet since embalming is prohibited by Jewish custom, airlines have established alternate requirements to accommodate different faith traditions: bodies may still be transported by air if they have been appropriately refrigerated and packed in a ziegler or other approved container, sometimes with dry ice (i.e., solid CO2 – the amount of which is dependent on the body’s weight and regulated limits). As dry ice sublimates to gas, it displaces the oxygen within the carrying compartment – a potentially dangerous situation for any live animals also being flown in cargo.

Considering the numerous ways in which humans interact with other animals, there tends to be far fewer regulations regarding the treatment of animals than other humans (e.g., veterinary care vs. medical care, animal shelters vs. human shelters, pet cemeteries vs. human cemeteries). Subsequently, we might assume that it would be relatively easy to transport the body of a companion animal as checked baggage on a commercial flight. Not quite.

This may be the rare case when regulations have made it nearly impossible for families to transport the remains of their animal companions from overseas or between states. It has nothing to do with the animal per se, and everything to do with shipping. Since the horrors of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has imposed strict regulations on all shipping, and pets’ remains are not designated as a standardized category for transportation.

One can ship dead animals by air as ‘meat,’ but only through a licensed shipper of meat. One can ship animal remains for scientific study, but again, from a licensed laboratory/shipper. Upon speaking with several pet cemeteries, we’ve learned that some have occasionally received a pet’s body that was shipped via FedEx, UPS or United States Postal Service (most likely in a clandestine manner, since the package may not have otherwise been accepted). I haven’t heard of a case where the parcel had ever been lost, but the risk exists. I can only imagine the private desperation experienced by those who feel they must take such risks in order to get their pet’s body back home for burial.

As small dogs continue to be in fashion – easily and routinely accompanying their human companions in an aircraft’s passenger section – we expect that there will likely be an increased demand for this service.


Helping the Bereaved

When the Green Pet-Burial Society was founded, we included the objective of identifying and encouraging a national network of licensed shippers willing to ship a pet’s remains in order to accommodate families who desire a full-body burial at home or in a green cemetery/wildlife preserve. Initially, only one pet cemetery, Miami’s Pet Heaven Memorial Park, provided this service.

I am relieved to announce that in the Los Angeles area, Pet Taxi LA is also willing to ship a companion animal’s body, as long as it is appropriately packed by a veterinarian’s office, pet cemetery/crematory, or a funeral director (if state law allows). Furthermore Susan George of Animal Transporters assured that – through their nationwide animal transport network – they will confidentially arrange for a beloved pet’s remains to be shipped between most cities in the continental U.S.

IGLOO Marine Coolers (10393767 © West Marine)We asked Pet Heaven Memorial Park how they prepare the body for transport. They replied: “since we do not embalm any pets[‘s remains], we are required to keep the [remains] in a freezer for 48 hours before the time of shipping. To ship the [remains] we are required to use a sealed container … we use our polystyrene shell caskets packaged in a standard cardboard box.” Others use a sealed marine cooler packed in a cardboard box.

This service will be of enormous benefit to those families who prefer not to cremate. While airflight is not ‘green,’ we’ve addressed the balance between environmental costs and support for the bereaved on our Transportation webpage. As small dogs continue to be in fashion – easily and routinely accompanying their human companions in an aircraft’s passenger section – we expect that there will likely be an increased demand for this service. While our objective has been satisfied, we will continue to encourage other pet cemeteries, crematoria, funeral homes and veterinarians to become licensed to pack and ship a pet’s body as a service for the bereaved.

  • Pet Heaven Memorial Park in Miami, FL. They have an arrangement with United Airlines. All preparations are performed in their Miami facility, and can ship anywhere in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.
  • Pet Taxi LA in Los Angeles, CA. They have an arrangement with United Airlines.
  • Animal Transporters. Although based in Los Angeles, they work with handlers nationwide and will arrange for the shipment from and to any city in the U.S. via United Airlines.


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updated December 18, 2012

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9 thoughts on “Flying Home

  1. Any advice for those of us who will some day, hopefully in the very distant future, need to transport a small dog’s remains from the UK to the US? Hopeful in London

    • It’s a good question, and it is good that you’re gathering information now rather than in a crisis. We emailed Animal Transporters and are awaiting their response, which we’ll post here. You may also want to subscribe to our posts and like us on Facebook to keep abreast of any changes.

      • Eric, thanks so much for your response. I’m eager to hear what you find out. I recently had a big health scare with my fuzzy that made me realise I need to plan if I want to take her home with me. Thanks for your help and I will keep watching your page. Keep up the great work you’re doing in the name of our fuzzy angels.

      • Jenny, our contact here in California doesn’t know of a shipper in the UK. But this is the time for planning, and here are some recommendations:
        We know that United Airlines seems to be more receptive to such shipments than other airlines at this time, so you may want to identify a shipper who has an arrangement with them. This may be a vet, a pet crematorium or a pet cemetery.
        A question to explore might be – “how would someone transport a pet’s body from one European country to another?” – there may be existing arrangements.
        In addition to contacting the above locally, you might want to contact any pet transportation service. Sometimes they may also have a shipper’s license with an airlines.
        Finally, you may want to contact some of the green cemetery and pet services in the UK that are listed on our resources page and on our international providers page.
        Some of our listed transportation arrangements came from another person’s success in trying to make arrangements for her dog upon her dog’s passing.

  2. Pingback: 2012 Year in Review | Green Pet-Burial Society

    • That is a good question. The cost depends on the weight of the package and which airports will be used (departure and arrival). If you contact either of the three providers with that information, they can give you an estimate.

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