Air Transportation of Human Remains in Canada

Transportation of Humain Remains by Air Canada

Transporting the deceased across Canada, and even repatriating remains from outside Canada, is a growing concern in the funeral industry.  As more and more people move around the provinces, or indeed retire or relocate outside of Canada; so funeral homes and families are faced with the issue of bringing their lost loved one back home. 

We have a growing older population, and an increasing ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, many of which choose to ‘snow-bird’ winters outside of Canada.  These factors alone mean that there is a rise in the need for the long-haul transportation of human remains within Canada and North America.

So what happens if you are faced with the death of a family member and need to return their body, or ashes, back home to family in order to conduct a funeral?  Human remains can be transported by air cargo by most of the major airlines in Canada. 

Airline Regulations
There are regulations that govern the movement of human remains, and the airlines will advise you in relation to your specific circumstances.  Regulations can vary dependent upon transportation between provinces, or dependent upon from which country outside of Canada you are seeking to transport remains from.  You may find that the funeral home handling the funeral service will arrange air transportation on your behalf if this is required.  In some cases funeral homes will have a ‘preferred’ airline that they will use.  However, if you are arranging many aspects of the funeral yourself, be it that you wish to, or managing costs dictate so, then you will find quite helpful information available on most of the major airline cargo web sites.

Options – Non-Cremated Remains, or Cremated Remains Transportation
The major airline companies usually employ a specialized team to deal with this very sensitive cargo.  For example, Air Canada operates a special cargo service called ‘Compassion’ that handles the transportation of either non-cremated, or cremated, remains.  As with other airlines, their regulations vary dependent upon domestic or international shipments.  Remains normally need to be transported in a casket that is contained within an airtray.  The airline will ordinarily provide an airtray, although they may charge for this.

It is difficult to provide a definitive pricing guide for the transportation of remains, as it varies so much by airline, schedule, distance, weight and other pertaining factors.  However, as a rough guide you will find the rates for shipping non-cremated human remains within Canada can start from as little as $60 but reach up to $100’s. Most airlines offer a basic fee classified by domestic zones and stratified by weight.  The freight charge may also be subject to additional surcharges.

An alternative to shipping the deceased’s body is to ship cremated remains.  This can greatly save on costs.  A direct cremation can be performed at the place of death, another cost-saving measure, and then an urn with the cremains shipped back to the family for a funeral service to be performed with family.  As mentioned the costs for shipping cremated remains can be cheaper than shipping the deceased’s body. 

All shipments must meet airline Goods Acceptance Process (GAP) and cut-off times for the shipment of human remains are generally between 2 - 4 hours prior to departure.  A shipment will usually be cleared for collection 2+ hours after arrival.  You, or your funeral home, will need to make the necessary delivery and collection arrangements.

Bereavement Travel Discounts
Many of the major airlines offer special discounts for people needing to travel due to a recent bereavement.  You would need to check specifically with the airline of your choice as to what criteria qualify for discounted bereavement travel.  Travellers eligible for Air Canada's Bereave Fares are the deceased's: spouse (includes common law as well as same sex partners), child (includes adopted / step / grand / great grand), parent (includes step / grand / great grand / in-law / common law in-law), daughter, son, father, mother (includes legal / in-law / common law in-law), brother, sister (includes step / half / in-law / common law in-law), aunt, uncle, niece, nephew (includes those of spouse and common law spouse), legal guardian (with proof of judgement) and spouse of legal guardian. All above include in-laws of same sex partner.

Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Northwest Territories
Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quèbec, Saskatchewan, Yukon

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