Dealing with a dead body mid-air

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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Written by Debbie McTaggart

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