Travel SOS: what happens if someone dies on my flight?

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What goes on behind the scenes on an aircraft is a simply fascinating. In this week’s Travel SOS, we answer Pauline’s query about what happens when someone dies on board a flight

Q. Pauline
I know this is really morbid, but what happens when someone dies on a plane? I was flying overseas recently when there was a medical emergency – thankfully, the woman was okay – but it made me think. Would a flight have to be diverted if someone died on board?

A. Thankfully, despite billions of people flying across the globe each year, the incidence of mid-air deaths is actually really low. However, that’s not to say they don’t happen and how they’re dealt with depends on the circumstances, the airline and just how busy the flight is.

It used to be that when someone died on board a plane, the crew would try to make it appear as though they were just sleeping. In fact, they were given some eyeshades and a drink and newspaper would be placed on their table. Today, we’re a little more realistic about death, so this doesn’t happen any longer.

cabin crew dealing with a dead body

Depending on the specifics of the death, the onboard crew will liaise with ground control to decide on the best course of action. Only if there is a real likelihood that the person could be saved, would a plane be diverted.

if a passenger is clearly dead, the cabin crew will do their very best to store the body in a respectful manner, away from passengers, where possible. If there’s a spare row of seats, the body may be placed across these, or sat in first class, if space is available. In some instances where the flight is busy, the body will be covered and placed in the galley at the back of the plane. Some airlines even carry body bags.

It used to be that some aircraft had an upright compartment specifically for storing deceased bodies, but with new aircraft design, this is no longer included.

If you’re keen to find out more of what goes on behind the scenes at an airline, you may be interested in the BBC’s A Very British Airline. You can watch the trailer below and most episodes can be found on YouTube.

Have you ever had this experience? If not, how did you imagine this type of episode would be handled?

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Total Comments: 5
  1. 0

    A couple of years ago, on an AirAsia flight KL to the Gold Coast, we were about half an hour out, and a request came over the speakers for a doctor. Then requests for epi-pens.

    Shortly after, the plan gently banked to the right and I could see we were headed back to KL.

    We landed, waited about half an hour, and then we started the journey again. All done with a minimum of fuss.

    However, we were now about 90minutes late, and as we were flying over QLD, we were advised that the Gold Coast airport had an 11pm curfew, and we’d be landing at Brisbane.

    There were buses waiting, and those unable to be collected at BNE were bussed to the Gold Coast.

    Problem was, the airport was closed. No buses, no taxis. There were a lot of Asians standing around, wrapped in whatever they could find, as it was a cold night.

    I was lucky, as the bus driver dropped me off near my final destination, but I felt sorry for those with no contacts or family waiting for them.

    AirAsia did their best, but once at the Gold Coast, it’s up to you.

  2. 0

    Flying back from the Dubai two years ago in business class and in the middle of the night the gentleman opposite suddenly pushed all his buttons and turned on all his lights. He had been watching the gentleman in the seat capsule next to him and must have seen something that triggered his in built alarm. The call for doctors went out and they were surrounded. The gentleman in the capsule next to him had slumped forward which triggered his in built alarm that something was not right. He was basically dead when the doctors arrived and revived him. Contact was kept for the rest of the night and when we arrived in Sydney we had to remain in our seats whilst the ambulance came on board and took the gentleman to hospital. He was very lucky that he had an observant passenger sitting next to him as you could die in a capsule and know one would know till you arrived at destination.
    BTW Doctors get discount fares if they agree to be on call during flights.

  3. 0

    I suggest they carry body bags because dying is not always a clean and peaceful occurrence.

    An extra large body bag to cover the whole seat might be something airlines should consider.

    They would have to have a qualified person to determine the cause of death. If the deceased died of an infectious disease (something like Ebola virus) the passengers may have to be detained for medical treatment to prevent the onset or spread of the disease, or kept in quarantine for blood tests.

  4. 0

    Well if he ,or she is sitting next to you,say nothing ,and eat his meal when it comes around and tell the stewardess he wanted red wine with the meal,
    well theres no point in wasting good food ,is there????????



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