Travel Agents for the Dead
How Funeral Directors Earn Free Flights
Carriers Offer Incentives To Transport Deceased
by Anne Marie Chaker, Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2005
A long white box was carted to a refrigerated room at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. It contained the body of Murray Belkin.
Mr. Belkin, of course, didn't qualify for any frequent-flier points on this trip. But the Florida funeral home that scheduled the shipment did.
That's because mortuaries that book corpses on the New York airline are entitled to a free round-trip ticket after about 15 "ship-outs."
"The yield on transporting human remains -- I want to be sensitive when I say this -- is definitely worth our while," says Dale Anderson, director of mail and cargo for JetBlue. "I have to move close to 1,000 pounds of general cargo to equal the revenue of one human remain."
Continental Airlines [flew] about a dozen Florida funeral directors to its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport "to show us how they track and handle the deceased." ... The funeral directors and their wives stayed free of charge at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and were treated to dinner and a show.
The most coveted airline perks are what some in the industry refer to as "frequent-dier programs": the free flight coupons funeral directors earn after a certain number of body shipments. Delta's SkyMiles frequent-flier program lets funeral directors charge the shipments to their SkyMiles credit cards and rack up extra miles. The flights are paid for by the families of the deceased.
Under US Airways' "TLC" program, funeral directors receive a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in the continental U.S., Canada -- and in some cases the Caribbean -- after 30 shipments.
[JetBlue] has "really focused" on beefing up the business ... Besides introducing its loyalty program, it has set up a toll-free hotline that allows funeral homes to make travel arrangements at all hours of the day and night. Dave Eaton, mail and cargo supervisor, calls it the "death phone."
Sales agent Cheryl Silvey, who answers the line, calls herself "the travel agent for the dead."
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