Dead in the air
The flight must go on
In most cases, the pilots will continue the flight as planned in the event of a passenger’s death. This is especially true if the flight is already well on its way and the death/resulting grief aboard the plane do not require an emergency landing.
That being said, the crew has several options on what to do with the body, which by this point will have been covered with a blanket or, in rarer cases, a body bag.
A spokesperson for American Airlines explained, “When there is a death aboard a flight the general procedure is to move the deceased to an area of the cabin where they can be isolated to some extent and covered in as dignified a way as possible.” Where is this isolated space? Oftentimes, it’s in first class.
Moving on up
Since first class is typically not as full as the rest of the plane, bodies will often be moved into an empty seat or row and left covered for the rest of the flight, away from the other passengers. If this isn’t an option, the crew may leave the body in economy class … but in an isolated row by itself, away from other people.
Of course, even a dead body has to follow the safety rules on the plane. It can’t block any emergency exits. Many flight attendants are also trained to never put the deceased in the toilet, as it would not only be disrespectful but also unsafe, as the body could fall over.
The crew’s primary goal is to maintain the dignity of the dead while respecting the comfort of the other people on board.
The Corpse Cupboard
Other times, the best option is to move the dead body to the back of the plane or to any available galley space, out of the view of the rest of the passengers.
A now-retired Singapore Airlines plane model has a space specifically designated for this purpose, known unofficially as the “corpse cupboard”: a locker big enough to fit an average-sized adult.
Sadly, there isn’t always an easy solution to discreetly dealing with a deceased passenger. Sometimes, they’re just left in their seats… next to their family members. Keep reading!