Dead in the air
The fear of flying is about as irrational as they come.
Sure, Hollywood (and Malaysia Airlines) have engrained the fear in all of us that something can and will go wrong on our flight, and sure, maybe humans weren’t meant to fly. But since crashing isn’t even as likely as you may think, maybe your bigger concern should be dying of natural causes while in the air.
What happens when somebody dies on a plane? It’s a grim situation that nobody — from the flight attendants to the other passengers to the loved ones — wants to think about, but it has happened before and it will happen again. Though you may never have thought about it, airlines have policies and procedures in place for this unfortunate situation.
Here’s what airline workers had to say about what their duties to the dead include!
Fear of Flying
In 2014, as many as 40% of air travelers reported a fear of flying. Imagine that: Nearly half of all people on planes are afraid of them. But for many trips, it’s the only option.
If you are one of the 40% of flyers who spend your time in the air in fear, there’s good news: Flying is one of if not the safest form of travel. An MIT statistician even cited that you’d need to fly every day for 55,000 years before you’d get in a fatal crash. Now, hopefully, you can relax on your next flight with that in mind.
But still, people can die on flights for a wide array of causes, often natural ones. And airlines have to be prepared for this unfortunate circumstance.
Grief and Immediate Action
The hardest part about having somebody die on a plane is not accommodating the body, but rather consoling the friends, family, or associates they may be traveling with, as well as any other distressed passengers.
“It felt like a never-ending flight,” recalls Rubina Husain, whose husband died from an asthma attack on a flight in 1998. “I felt like: Why doesn’t this plane just crash and kill me? Why don’t I just die?” She had to cover her young daughter’s eyes as the crew moved the body to a rear galley.
But airlines are ready for this situation, both inflight and on the ground. Heidi MacFarlane, a spokesperson for MedAire, a company that provides emergency ground services for airlines, says, “It’s one of the most overwhelmingly emotional situations possible. When you’re the one sitting next to the remains, it can be shocking and upsetting.”
And how the crew deals with the death could severely affect the witnesses and other passengers. Here are some of the preferred methods:
“Is there a doctor in the cabin?”
If somebody becomes gravely ill aboard a flight, the crew is trained to assist them and will also ask if any of the other passengers are medical professionals. Flight attendants are equipped with emergency medical supplies and will try to aid the passenger and save their life should their condition become life-threatening. The captain and crew also usually has access to specialists on the ground that can give step by step instructions on how to treat an ill passenger.
Of course, this isn’t always enough. The simplest way crew will handle a death on flight is by covering the body with a blanket, preferably away from other passengers, and then comforting the other people on board.
Then again, there’s always the corpse cabin… Keep reading!