What unusual items join us on flights?

When getting on a plane for our holidays or business travel, our thoughts commonly turn to inflight movies, the oftentimes subpar food and the arrival time to our destination…Rarely do we consider the contents of the plane’s hold. Who, or what else is joining us on our travels?

There are many unusual items that we unknowingly sit above whilst flying. The fact that airlines will fly anything for the right price means there is a number of surprising cargo items that you would never expect to share your flight with! Below are just a few examples of these:


It’s quite normal for you to share your flight with animals, the most common being horses and chickens, but you could also share with the more exotic and endangered. Many zoo animals have been known to be transferred via air including; pandas, lions, tigers, bears and even elephants! In 2010 a poor tiger cub was found in a suitcase in Bangkok, disguised amongst toy tigers! Other strange passengers include live fish and poisonous snakes.

Human Remains

It is surprisingly common to have human remains aboard a commercial flight, so long as the right regulations are followed, and the correct paperwork is completed. A person may wish to be buried in a different location to where they have passed away, meaning that being deceased won’t necessarily stop you from boarding a flight! If someone deceased is on your flight you may hear the crew call them “Jim Wilson”, the airline code for a deceased individual. Cremated remains may also be on your flight, permitted to be stored in hand luggage.

Luxury Cars

The types of cars that are shipped via air are not your average on the road vehicles (which tend to be shipped over land or sea). The ones you will be sharing your aircraft with are usually luxury or performance vehicles typically valued at $200,000 or more (due to the sheer costs of shipping the item via air). Back when the Boeing 747 was in action it had the capacity to carry up to 46 vehicles.

Human Organs

The transportation of human organs for transplant is time critical. Using aircrafts to transport organs is often the most efficient method however this can be an intense job, ensuring that there are no delays resulting in the degradation of the organ which may become unuseable. Examples of the types of human organs that are transported via air can be kidneys, lungs, hearts, eyeballs and bone marrow – each of which is shipped daily.


As with human organs, pharmaceuticals can also be considered time critical. For vaccines and viruses the packaging instructions are extremely strict to avoid any contamination on board the aircraft – these are transported in temperature-controlled containers under firm guidelines. In some cases the viruses being transported can be highly deadly so following these instructions are vital!

Hazardous Materials

Passengers are checked before each flight to ensure they are not carrying anything that could put the flight in danger, however beneath these passengers are several hazardous materials being stored and transported under airline guidelines. Such items might include flammable liquids, radioactive material, explosive products and toxic substances.

Priceless Artworks & Artefacts

Passengers regularly and unknowingly travel with priceless pieces of art and antiques. Galleries and museums will often buy, sell or loan out artworks or have rotating exhibitions; this type of cargo can be found on many flights and will range from paintings to large sculptures and historical artefacts.

Under your seat

Although it can be hard to imagine sharing your flight with anything other than passengers and crew, it’s interesting to know that below your seat could be a panda being transported to its new home, a beautiful sculpture or an organ being sent to save someone’s life. Over time this list is sure to grow alongside the affordability of airtravel, and will no doubt contain more strange and unusual items that are transported via air each year!

Written by Emma Bray – Recruitment Consultant – Shipping & Logistics at Alchemy Global Talent Solutions.

Posted in categories: Cargo, Fine Art, Imports, Shipping