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A shomer from my local Chevra Kadisha explained to me that a dead body needs to be constantly watched and never left alone until burial. He also explained that about every 20 minutes, they say Tehillim.

With this concept, I am curious as to what occurs when the body is shipped on a flight from U.S. to Israel (or any flight). In my case, I was an onen on the flight, and, of course, the body was handled as cargo and placed in the luggage / cargo area. I wasn't watching the body; if anything, I was asleep most of the flight.

During the loading and unloading process, (well, considering burial was in Israel, perhaps just loading ;-) Gentiles were handling the body (I assume that they can't be Shomrim), so there were no Shomrim at that time.

Does the body actually require constant guarding or are exceptions allowed such as for the circumstances that I described?

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    In case reader's wonder - this was several years ago. So, no, B"H, I don't require any nichum aveilim, now. If you wish to offer nechama for my craziness, I'll accept it. – DanF Aug 12 at 17:28
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practicalhalacha brings relevant information to your question

A “watcher” (shomer) should stay with a dead body at all times until the burial, if possible, to honor the dead person. The watcher should be close enough to be able to see the body. A non-Jew may be a watcher, but only b'di'avad.

If the body is being shipped somewhere, it is preferable that a shomer stay with the body, but it is not required.

I did not find specific halachot related to the topic, maybe someone with access to Nitei Gabriel or Gesher HaChaim will be able to fill this gap.

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The Gemara about a shomer (ברכות יח ע"א) reads:

גופא המשמר את המת אף על פי שאינו מתו פטור מקריאת שמע ומן התפלה ומן התפילין ומכל מצות האמורות בתורה היו שנים זה משמר וזה קורא וזה משמר וזה קורא בן עזאי אומר היו באים בספינה מניחו בזוית זו ומתפללין שניהם בזוית אחרת

The Gemara discusses the matter of the baraita itself. It was taught in the baraita: One who watches over the deceased, even though it is not his dead relative, is exempt from the recitation of Shema, from the Amida prayer and from phylacteries, and from all mitzvot mentioned in the Torah. The baraita continues: If two individuals were watching over the deceased, this one watches and that one recites Shema, and then that one watches and this one recites Shema. Ben Azzai says: If they were traveling with the deceased on a boat, they are permitted to set the deceased down in this corner of the boat and both pray in another corner of the boat.

מאי בינייהו אמר רבינא חוששין לעכברים איכא בינייהו מר סבר חיישינן ומר סבר לא חיישינן:

The Gemara asks: What is the practical difference between these two opinions? Ravina said: The practical difference between them is whether or not one need be concerned about mice even inside the boat. The first Sage holds that we are concerned about mice everywhere, and it is therefore inappropriate to leave the deceased unguarded, even on a boat, lest he be eaten by mice. The other Sage, ben Azzai, maintains that we are not concerned about mice on a boat.

Since the main reason for having a shomer is to gard against mice, non-Jews can be shomerim (at least bidiavad). The freezing conditions of the belly of an airplane are presumably mouse-free.

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