Palm Beach Post Newspaper Article—June 2008
As snowbirds’ corpses take off, so does body-shipping business
http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/cnishared/js/NewsworthyAudioC2L.js http://alt.coxnewsweb.com/cnishared/newsworthy/palmbeachpost/local_news/epaper/2008/06/14/palmbeachpost_local_news_epaper_2008_06_14_m1a_bodies_0615.js By JOHN LANTIGUA
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2008
One South Florida export has definitely not been affected by the economic downturn.
South Florida ships more deceased people for burial in other states or countries than any other region in the United States, according to local funeral industry professionals. And business is steady.
Of 171,279 deaths in Florida in a one-year period, 22,534 bodies were flown out of state for burial, or 13 percent.
In Palm Beach County, the deceased were even more likely to be headed for the airport. Of 13,423 deaths, 3,021 were buried in other states or nations, 22 percent.
The 2006 figures, the latest available, reflect the large number of snowbirds who live in the county part time and are buried in their hometowns out of state. Or tourists who die while on vacation.
“Death has no holidays,” says Ira Gurin, owner of Flite-Rite Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, which makes the containers in which almost all bodies are shipped from South Florida.
In the funeral business, the bodies are referred to as HRs – human remains. The shipment of HRs has spurred a small industry in South Florida. It includes not only Gurin’s firm, but at least two other companies specializing in services and containers, not to mention extra earnings for funeral homes and airlines.
Last year, Gurin estimates, his five-man factory built 10,000 “air trays” and “combination units,” in which bodies are transported on airplanes.
Air trays are wood-based boxes built to hold a casket. Combination units are made of particle board wrapped in a cardboard sheathing and carry bodies not traveling in a casket. That box contains a rubber pad, a Styrofoam headrest and straps to hold the corpse steady.
“In some cases we hold services here and then send the body to another state for further rites and burial,” says Jonathan Weis of Kraeer Funeral Home in Boca Raton. Weis says about 20 percent of his customers are shipped out of state.
“In that case, the body is already in a casket and we use the air tray, which has to be sturdier,” Weis says. “If we are simply shipping the body for funeral rites in another state and the casket is to be purchased there, then we use the combination unit.”
Greg Quattlebaum of Quattlebaum Funeral and Cremation Services in West Palm Beach says about 15 percent of the bodies he handles end up airborne.
“We are a very mobile society, and not everybody dies in a hospital a few miles away from where they live,” Quattlebaum says. “My job is to put the family at ease. I am going to take care of every detail in getting the family member back home. Oftentimes, the deceased leaves the very next day and arrives home before the survivors do.”
Almost all bodies are transported by commercial airlines, although a few wealthier clients go by private plane.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport handles more HRs than any other U.S. airport, according to South Florida funeral directors.
Airlines have standard rates for HRs that weigh less than 500 pounds, Quattlebaum says.
For example, Delta Air Lines, which handles many bodies out of Fort Lauderdale, charges $424.06 to LaGuardia in New York City; $471.88 to O’Hare in Chicago; $631.25 to Los Angeles; $922.44 to Alaska; and $1,135.94 to Hawaii.
All fares are one way.
The funeral home’s charges