I wish I'd done the search before I flew with my father's ashes. I kept meaning to check, but ran out of time. None of the TSA staff at the checkpoint (BOS/USAirways) had a clue either, but fortunately they were all pretty understanding, so it turned out OK (sort of). It also gave me a good story for parties! I eventually wrote the story up for another forum and I now present it for your enjoyment, and as a lesson to get the info up front like the OP.
Moderators - I you find this too long, inappropriate, or tasteless, feel free to delete it, move it, or whatever.
My father wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the Arizona mountains, where he had taken hiking vacations every year. The cremation part was easy – the funeral home took care of that and handed me a little box. Scattering the ashes in the mountains proved to be a bit of a challenge.
The Box O’ Dad, as we referred to it, sat on a bookshelf in my study for nearly a year. Hey, I had stuff to do. I periodically contemplated just dumping him in the flower bed in the back yard, but the be-an-adult-and-do-the-right-thing part of my brain always seemed to win (could I actually have a Conscience?). On one hand, the box was attractively wrapped in blue foil paper and made a good conversation piece, but on the other hand, I really needed the space for books, so this past April I finally got caught up enough on work to schedule a trip out west and fulfill his wishes.
The three of us (me, Mrs. KDT, and the lovely blue box) got to the airport security line around 6:30AM for a flight at 7:30. As usual for that hour, the screening checkpoint was crowded. I put my carry-on bag on the x-ray belt and walked through the metal detector. As my bag comes out the other side a screener grabs it and says, “Who belongs to this bag?”
Oh, crap. Here we go.
“We need to put this through again. There’s something we’re having trouble seeing.”
“Let me guess. A box about 8 inches cubed?”
“Yup. That’s it”
Oh, crap. Here we go.
“Let’s save some time. I’ll take the box out of my bag and you can run it separately.”
“Yeah. That might be best.”
So I take the box out and hand it to him. The ashes are incredibly dense and the box weighs around 12 pounds. Of course, he’s not expecting the weight and drops the box on the table.
“What the hell is in this thing, lead shot?”
“Uh, no. Not lead shot.”
Oh, crap. Here we go.
“Well, what is it?”
“My father’s cremated remains.”
“OK, but I still have to scan them again.”
“Yeah, no problem. Whatever you need to do. And here’s the death certificate that says he was cremated, and the court papers that say I’m the Executor of his estate and have custody of the remains”
So he takes the papers and runs the box through again.
“I still can’t scan what’s inside. I don’t know why. Hang on a minute. I need to get my supervisor.”
Oh, crap. Here we go.
(Shouting to a guy on the other side of the security area) “Yo, Tommy! I got a package here that won’t scan. The guy says it’s his father’s ashes.”
“Really? I’ll be right over.”
Several nearby members of the crack security team hear this and start to drift over to check things out. Next, here comes the supervisor, along with his entourage of several more curious security types. X-ray guy hands him my paperwork and he reads through the legal bull for a couple minutes.
“OK, run it again so I can see.”
So they do. They still can’t figure it out.
Me: “Ya know what guys? This foil wrapping is pretty thick. I’ll take it off and you can give it another shot.”
They can’t quite fathom my lack of reverence for human remains (which, in this particular case, is total - I was never close to my father and he had been dead for almost a year), and they get a little squirmy as I haphazardly tear off the wrapping and hold the cardboard box out to them. But they’re curious, and they stand firm. At this point, the crowd is so big I think security people from other terminals have come to watch. They’re jockeying for position like zoo monkeys at feeding time.
“OK, here. Try it now.”
“Well, we can make out the shape of something inside, but we can’t tell what.”
“No problem. I’ll take it out of the box. You can run the ashes loose.”
“I don’t mean loose loose. There’s got to be a baggie or something they’re in.”
I suspect there are now security people from other airports that have come to watch, but this is the point that I got the crowd to thin a bit. I rip the tape off the top flap and open the box. The crowd edges back a step. Inside is indeed a clear plastic baggie held closed with a twist-tie. The twist-tie wasn’t tight enough and the box has been kicking around for almost a year, so where the baggie is bunched together at the top has a light coating of ash. I pull the baggie from the box and hold it out to the x-ray guy.
“Here ya go!”
He wasn’t going to touch that baggie for a million bucks. So I hold it out toward Tommy the Supervisor. Same thing.
“Well, ah, umm, ah, errrrrr, umm, ah, yeah. Put it on the x-ray belt while I reset the sensitivity of the scanner.” (Which we all know is total nonsense, but he has to look important for the audience.)
I walk back through the metal detector, plop the bag on the belt, and walk back to the other end of the machine. Ol’ Tommy is standing there stroking his chin and staring at the monitor. Then he tells the operator guy to run it.
“It’s not uniform. There’s something else in there.”
“Huh? It’s ashes. What the hell else could be in there?”
“Looks like some kind of metal.”
“You’re joking. Must be bone fragments or something.”
“Nope, it’s definitely metal. Round, like a big coin or something.”
“Well, he was naked when they cooked him, so he didn’t have change in his pockets. Maybe it’s a rebate from the crematorium.”
Nobody seemed to find that humorous. I’ve now had one of the three security checkpoints shut down for 10 minutes and the lines are blocking the hallway. Tommy the Supervisor senses he needs to do something, but has no clue what that might be. Also, he needs to maintain his standing as dominant silverback of the security troop, so he falls back on his training as a low-level manager in a large government bureaucracy and starts spouting regulations, none of which apply to the current situation.
Since my life primarily consists of carrying weird stuff through airports, I know the rules as well as he does. Time to go on the offensive.
“Well, my flight starts boarding in a couple minutes and I’m gettin’ on it, so here’s what we’ll do: I didn’t like him all that much and I certainly have no attachment to his ashes, so you keep him and I’ll be on my way.”
Stunned silence all around, except for Mrs. KDT, who has both hands over her face to keep from laughing her coffee out her nose (pre-liquids ban).
Finally: “Well, your paperwork is all in order, so I guess it’s OK.”
Gee whiz! If I ever want to go through security with 5 kilos of heroin, all I need to do is bring a death certificate and wave the baggie around. Makes me feel so much safer.
Anyhow, resisting the urge to hold up the baggie and do the Shakespeare scene with the dude talking to the skull, I put the ashes back in the box and got on the plane…
PS - When I dumped the ashes (Another adventure, but not travel-related. I can PM it to anyone interested.) I did indeed find a large medallion from the crematorium. Approximately 2 inches in diameter, thin as a dime, stamped with my father's name, date of cremation, and some control number.
So - On the one hand, I was pleased that the TSA staff didn't make it personal or harass me in any way. On the other hand, it bothered me that when faced with an unfamiliar situation, their answer was to let me go and have the problem disappear. They never even did a swab! I found it difficult to believe that not a single one of the TSA people had run across this situation. Surely it's not that uncommon.