Ok, back to a funeral-related topic. For all the “non funeral home types” that read this column, hang in there as this column will help illustrate one of the many reasons why the cost of most goods and services continue to rise and funeral service is no exception. ) Since it’s about flying, I’ll insert pictures of birds as opposed to caskets being loaded into planes.)
In 2007, Congress passed the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act more commonly known as the 9/11 Act. This new law mandated that all cargo transported on a passenger aircraft be screened for explosives by August 1, 2010. At the time, the deadline seemed far off on the horizon, but it is now two weeks away and 100 percent screening is becoming a reality for all businesses…including funeral homes.
From the TSA Website:
Every shipment of cargo carried on passenger aircraft will require screening at piece level, prior to being transported on any passenger aircraft. Skids and pallets will have to be taken apart, screened and reconfigured. The 9/11 Act specifically identifies the types of screening allowed ranging from physical inspection to various technologies. If airlines are forced to screen cargo, similar to how passenger baggage is screened, there is a potential for delays and damage to shipments. The screening process affects all cargo on passenger planes, but TSA believes large shippers and exporters will feel the greatest impact.
Some of you may be thinking, “Where is he going with this?” Here is where I am going:
Every day, dozens, if not hundreds of caskets containing dead persons are shipped by air in our Country. The airline industry has a special term for this cargo, “HR” for Human Remains. Most of the major airlines have divisions that specialize in providing this service and historically, the system worked very well, but now it is getting difficult to work within the guidelines.
Keep in mind that I live in what Century 21 Real Estate calls the 9th best place to retire in America. Typically, we ship/receive 12-15 HRs each year.
I recall when I first purchased the funeral homes in 1999, we were using Bush Field (Augusta, GA) as our primary point of shipping/receiving. The time it took for us to make the trip to the airport and back was about 55 minutes. There were lots of flights and we gave little thought to whether the HR was going to arrive at its destination…because it always did.
A few months later, they shut down air cargo at Augusta and we had to start driving to Columbia, SC. Now the round trip was two and a half hours and there were fewer flights. In June of 2009, the last of the bigger jets, capable of carrying a caskets, stopped flying into Columbia.
Then and currently, it’s only the regional jets, whose cargo hold is too small that are flying in and out of Columbia, resulting in us having to drive to the next closest airport, Charleston, SC, with round trip time being just shy of six hours.
In April 2009, the “Known Shipper” regulations went into effect. Even though we had been shipping HR for as long as the airlines have been in business, we had to become “known”. Not much to it, just schedule inspections with the different airlines you utilize (7) and pay $100-$125 each for them to walk in your front door and say, “Yup, it’s a funeral home”.
With the latest regulations going into effect on August 1st, every piece of cargo, including HR will need to be inspected. Guess, what? they are not going to have the equipment to do that in Charleston, so we will need to transport HR approximately 175 miles each way to either Atlanta or Charlotte. What used to be a one-hour task will now become a one-day task…along with the resulting staff and equipment being committed. Additionally, what happens if the casket/air tray triggers an alarm?…someone then is going to go through Mama’s casket. What about delays in scheduling services? I recall having someone die in the morning and us having him or her on a plane heading home that afternoon. Today, there are fewer flights, flying out of fewer airports, resulting in delays and occasionally, missed connections (yikes). This causes delays in the receiving funeral director being able to schedule funeral services and added stress and frustration for the family members.
I’m all about safety and reasonable precautions. I fear however, when I hear the words, “We are from the Federal Govt. and we are here to help”. This is a bad idea that will only hurt those who are already hurting. And we, your funeral director, will be stuck in the middle, trying to mitigate the government’s incompetence.
I’ll report back after August 1st.