A Sikh widow who protested when Emirates Airlines refused her permission to board a plane in Australia with her late husband’s ashes – wishing to disperse them in a river in India – has helped convince the airline to soften its policy.
Early in February the media reported Nashater Hayer’s distress when she was told by Emirates’ staff in Brisbane that the urn contaning her husband’s remains could not be included as carry-on luggage but instead would have to travel in the aircraft hold.
She and her daughter Debbie had booked to fly to the Punjab to spread Kewal Singh Hayer’s ashes on the Kiratpur River. He died in October 2008.
Debbie said her mother was distraught at the airline’s response.
Sikh tradition says a dead person’s remains must be transported respectfully without touching the ground on its way to being cast into a flowing body of water.
Emirates Airlines’ refusal was guided by company policy which said that transporting human remains would be a security issue because of the “unsuitability of these items for security inspection prior to boarding”.
But a few days later it announced an amendment to the rule. It stated: “Following a recent review of the policy, cremated human remains (ashes) may now be accepted for carriage in the passenger cabin, provided all such requests comply with international security regulations including and not limited to possession of necessary documentation.”
Sikh Council of Australia president Ajmer Singh Gill had pointed out that other airlines usually did not have a security problem with Sikhs transporting family remains. “Most airlines are very accommodating,” he said.
But the picture remains clouded.
Jitender Bhargava, Air India’s executive director, corporate communications, Mumbai, told Sikhs Online that his airline had a rule similar to Emirates’ original stance.
It “prohibited carriage of any powdered substance as carry-on baggage, due to security regulations. The final decision rests with the security agency and local laws supercede all other regulations even if an airline was to permit it keeping in mind religious sentiments and traditions.”
Have you had a bad – or good experience – trying to transport a loved-one’s remains on an airline? If so, tell us about it. It may help others to achieve a trauma-free journey.
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