I can't describe the shock on the face of a lot of people when I tell them that airlines transport dead bodies on their flights.
Many people are on the move today as the population has become much more mobile. Unfortunately, this means that a lot of them die away from their home countries or just far away from their home city. These people have to be repatriated to their wished place of burial.
Statically speaking, more than 450 Americans died abroad between January 2020 and January 2021, and more than 700 died between January 2018 and January 2019. and that's only in the U.S.
You can transport the bodies by car, but that's only available if the route is short and you are still inside the same country. A lot of people prefer to choose an aeroplane as it's the fastest and it respects the dignity of the dead. Most of the dead bodies are shipped on cargo aeroplanes, but some of them are shipped on passenger aeroplanes
Handling of Dead Bodies (Human Remains):
Repatriation of human remains can be very difficult and expensive. It requires extreme care and vigilance on top of a bunch of regulations that have to be met.
For airlines to transport dead bodies on their flight, the body has to go through special procedures. According to IATA Airport Handling Manual (AHM 333):
- The human remains, if not cremated, must be packed in a hermetically sealed inner containment which may be constructed of flexible material or maybe a rigid coffin of lead or zinc.
- The inner containment must then be packed inside a wooden or metal coffin.
- The wooden or metal coffin may be protected from damage by an outer packing and covered by canvas or tarpaulin so that the nature of its content is not apparent.
- Cremated remains must be shipped in funeral urns which are efficiently cushioned by suitable packaging against breakage.
The airline that you are transporting the human remains with would have their own required documentation and restrictions such as:
- Accompanying passengers need to be present on the same flight until the destination.
- Burial Permit.
- Certificate of death.
Where do Airlines Transport Dead Bodies (Human Remains)?
The human remains are loaded and handled and loaded as ordinary cargo. There are a few precautions to take:
For cremated human remains, ashes can be taken in your cabin bag, as long as you provide the necessary documents.
Non-cremated human remains shall not be loaded in close proximity to foodstuffs, and the pilot in command should be informed of the presence of human remains on the flight.
Also, airlines do segregate human remains and live animals in the cargo compartment due to ethical and cultural reasons.
It's worth mentioning that there are few airlines that don't accept shipping non-cremated human remains on their flight such as Easyjet. The latter only accepts cremated human remains.
Airlines Transporting Dead Bodies (Human Remains) - A Pilot Perspective:
As I mentioned previously, the pilot in command has to be informed of the loading of human remains. This is done through a document that operations give you when loading called NOTOC (Notification To Captain).
It provides the pilot in command with accurate and legible information concerning dangerous goods that are to be carried as cargo. When you look at the NOTOC, you find information such as:
- The station of unloading.
- The airwaybill number.
- Loading position.
- The description.
In addition to a code. The code for dead bodies on the flight is HUM meaning Human Remains. The captain needs to sign the NOTOC and pass it to the first officer to double-check and confirm.
In the end, I hope that this article gave you a hidden insight into the world of Aviation. Also, I would like to say that there is nothing to be scared of. I operated many flights where we had human remains on board, and I can guarantee that no one rose from the dead and crashed the aeroplane, so don't worry.
If you see a coffin being loaded into cargo, don't shout and complain; remember that their family member might be sitting next to you, escorting their loved one to their final destination.
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