Air India is in the news over its security screening requirements for transporting human remains, and frankly I’m a bit surprised…
Air India’s “insensitive” screening of human remains
CNBC-TV18 reports the outrage among some people over how Air India screens human remains before transporting them on flights. This is something most people probably don’t think about when traveling, but in many cases human remains are transported by commercial aircraft in the cargo hold.
It’s being claimed that Air India is causing distress to grieving family members and being insensitive to religious and cultural beliefs with how it security screens human remains:
- Air India requires human remains to be screened before being transported back to India
- In many cases rings aren’t removed after death for religious and cultural reasons, and dhotis and sarees are also kept on
- However, security officials insist that they be removed, because they otherwise set off the security screening for Air India flights
- In these cases, remains have to be taken back to the funeral home so that these items can be removed, adding cost and also delaying transport
A letter has been addressed to India’s Civil Aviation Secretary, arguing that it is “nothing less than shocking that our own Air India does things that are religious and culturally insensitive.”
This is coming to light after an incident last week at Newark Airport, where remains were supposed to be transported back to India on an Air India flight. A registered funeral home that’s authorized by the DHS handled the shipment of human remains, and the body was embalmed and had required documents.
It’s suggested that the TSA then followed Air India’s procedure for scanning remains. This is when a hold was put on the transport, since some things were flagged during the security screening.
Other airlines don’t screen human remains?
Here’s the part of this story that surprises me:
- A senior Indian government official claims that no other airlines scan human remains before loading them onto planes; it’s alleged that only Air India requires this
- It’s also stated that the US Department of Homeland Security doesn’t mandate the Transportation Security Administration scan any human remains if death is due to natural causes, for any destination or airline
This is not something I’ve put much thought into in the past, but in a way it surprises me (and since OMAAT readers collectively know just about everything, I’m sure someone will have the answers):
- I understand the complexity of screening human remains, but is it really true that this screening doesn’t happen on any other airlines?
- If that’s the case, is this because the funeral home is somehow trusted and audited by the TSA/DHS (and similar organizations in other countries) to ensure the safety of transport, or how exactly does that work?
- If all of the above is true and this policy is specific to Air India, is it a policy set by the airline or the government?
At least in part it sure seems to me like the problem comes down to communication. There will be differing opinions on the value of screening remains. However, it sure seems like this shouldn’t lead to an extra trip to the funeral home and a delay of transport.
Rather it seems these rules should clearly be communicated in advance, so that these items can be removed before transport on an Air India flight. If Air India has this policy and other airlines don’t, then sending remains away only to be returned doesn’t make sense, especially when there are other airline options.
Air India is being criticized for screening human remains before transporting them in cargo holds. It’s alleged that Air India is the only airline to have such a policy, which seems surprising to me.
I can appreciate what a sensitive situation shipping human remains is, but it seems like there should be a middle ground between respecting cultures and just not screening them at all.
What do you make of these Air India allegations? Anyone have more info about how this works at other airlines?