By: Jim Hardy
Tuesday, June 4, 2024

     When given the opportunity to write about shipping within the funeral industry, I jumped at the chance. Historically, “shipping” means the movement of human remains from one location to another. This process has been going on for longer than the 36 years that Custom Air Trays has been in business. In that time, the only major change has been the addition of new airlines that were accepting human remains for transport. The packaging of the remains has stayed almost the same. Different woods and even high-performance corrugated products have been introduced that brought us lighter weight, but in some cases, lower quality. After many years with only slight changes, the adage, “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” comes to mind. The biggest change in shipping currently is the cost associated with the production of products, materials and labor, insurance, even the light bill. These costs have gone up substantially, but that could be said about almost everything.

     I’d like to focus on an area of the industry that has exploded in cost, specifically in the last five months: the shipping cost that funeral homes incur when they receive various products from manufacturers and suppliers. I don’t claim to be an expert in the field of logistics. However, I have been dealing with truck lines and their procedures for over 35 years.

     To give some background information on the trucking industry, I provide the following which was supplied to me by Scott Wilhelm, National Account Executive with Worldwide Express (Custom Air Trays’ logistics partner for many years now). The governing body for the trucking industry is the NMFTA (National Motor Freight Traffic Association). All freight is categorized into classes with numbers, made available through the NMFC (National Motor Freight Classification). Historically, the lower the class number, the lower the shipping cost. For example, air trays in the past have had a classification of 70. These class numbers were determined by what materials made up the product, in this case wood and corrugated cardboard. 

     In early December of 2023 the NMFTA changed the classification of products related to the shipping of human remains. Considering our air tray example, the class went from a class 70 to a class 150. This has increased the cost by almost 50%. Most of our items were classed at 80. Now those same items are a class 150. That has caused a major increase in class and more importantly, cost. Corrugated cremation trays were classed 110 and now are 150. This once again means a higher cost to the funeral home. If it is big and lightweight, the cost has gone up. If after reading this you conclude that the trucking industry has singled out the funeral industry for punish ment, you are not alone. I thought the same and brought my concerns to Scott Wilhelm. He assured me that we were not being singled out and that the NMFTA periodically focuses on areas that they deem needing attention and make changes. This happened with the furniture industry years ago and had a lot of the same results we are now seeing in our industry. 

     The NMFTA changed their emphasis from the product materials to the shipment weight and amount of space taken up in a trailer. This is known in the industry as “density”. Density is calculated by taking the mass (weight) of a product and dividing by its volume (length x weight x height).

     This NMFTA change was enacted with little to no warning to us, the customer, and in turn has been challenging and burdensome to our customers, i.e. funeral homes, mortuaries, cemeteries, crematories, casket manufacturers, shipping companies, etc. 

     As a supplier we work closely with our freight partners, therefore we can suggest how to ship smarter. Our pricing software looks at what the shipment consists of, where it is going, and what the size and weight are. After these factors are calculated, the system gives us six or seven different truck lines and their associated prices. Our dedicated staff then decides which line is the best based on the customer’s needs. We take into consideration things like the makeup of the funeral home staff, whether or not a lift gate is needed, or (believe it or not) even the attitude of the truck driver. Since the chief concern of the trucking companies is density, we have changed our focus to maximizing density. As we ship smarter, we try to provide all the information that will allow our customers to buy smarter. Funeral homes can weigh the options and take advantage of our expertise. After all, we are all trying to save money in any area that we can. Our office staff have been dealing with this change for five months now and have come up with some creative ideas on how to maximize your dollars.

     My nature is not to leave anyone with a “doom and gloom” picture of what is happening with our company or our industry. The following are a few insights that I have, including and some from the many trucking salespeople that I speak with daily. 

     Density-based pricing is probably not going away, but it can be a tool used to more accurately reflect the true pricing of products. As time goes by and the truck lines gain more experience with their own systems, there should be a balance in pricing across the board. We might even see that on certain items, the price is lower than the old FAK class system. Like most changes, they seem to circle back around as time goes by. What I mean is that competition drives everything, even prices. Right now, the truck lines are relatively busy and with demand up, prices have gone up as well. On the flip side of that is that if things cool down and demand backs off, competition takes over and truck lines get hungry. That almost always leads to prices dropping. So, there are some bright spots out there and we will experience them at some point down the road. 

     For now, let’s all work with the current system and rely on each other to make selling and buying decisions that will benefit our customers, and in the long run, benefit grieving families. That is what we are all dedicated to in the end.

Custom Air Trays was founded in 1988 and has been a lead ing manufacturer and supplier of human remains shipping containers and leak resistant cremation trays. Our cover age is nationwide, and we can easily be reached by phone at 800-992-1925 or on the web at

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