It’s a scenario that few travelers consider, but it’s a reality: a death on a plane can occur on any flight. Sheena Marie, a seasoned flight attendant, detailed what unfolds when such situations arise.1
Handling a Death on a Plane
Imagine being mid-air and faced with a passenger’s death. Sheena’s firsthand experience brings clarity to the procedure in such moments. If a passenger has a heart attack and cannot be revived, the crew typically confirms the person’s passing. Should the flight be full, the deceased might remain in their seat, covered in a blanket for respect and strapped in for safety.2
Contrary to myths, bodies aren’t stowed in lavatories due to safety concerns. However, reports suggest certain airlines, like Singapore Airlines, previously had compartments for this purpose. However, these features remain uncommon.
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Protocol and Medical Assistance
Each airline might have slight variations in handling such incidents, but the general protocols align. Once passengers disembark, medical professionals evaluate the situation, ensuring the deceased’s next of kin are informed. During the event of a possible revival, medical professionals on board or via ground support are consulted. Yet, flight attendants cannot declare someone deceased, even if there’s a definite death on the plane, only medical experts can.
Should someone pass away in flight, the aircraft might be grounded for investigation and cleaning. In some cases, extensive cleaning efforts involve carpet removal and seat replacement, impacting subsequent flights.
A Death on a Plane is Rare
Dr. Claudia Zegans, associated with Global Rescue, notes that in-flight deaths are infrequent, with medical emergencies occurring roughly in 1 of 600 flights. Additionally, the incidence of death due to these emergencies stands at 0.3%.
In instances where individuals pass away, the crew follows guidelines set by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). These guidelines encompass procedures like moving the deceased to a less occupied area if feasible, covering them respectfully, and notifying the destination accordingly.
@danidboyy1 ⛔️Trigger warning⚠️ This video may contain distressing content #cabincrew #aviation #airline #didyouknow #flightattendants ♬ original sound – Daniboy
Unusual Instances and Behind-the-Scenes
TikTok user Sheena Marie’s revelations stirred reactions online. Her account of how airlines manage deceased passengers sparked discussions on the treatment of bodies mid-flight. Sara Marsden, editor-in-chief at US Funerals Online, mentioned airlines’ discreet handling, such as American Airlines’ dedicated service desk for funeral homes, referred to as the “Jim Wilson Service.”
Instances where deceased passengers remain on board till landing or are transported in specialized containers are rare but illustrative of the intricacies in these situations. The video is no longer available on TikTok but a pilot does speak about the protocol below:
Although unsettling, understanding how airlines manage in-flight deaths sheds light on the lesser-known aspects of air travel. Sheena Marie’s insights, grounded in her experiences, offer a glimpse into a sensitive yet vital aspect of air travel that passengers rarely consider.
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- “A flight attendant on TikTok explains what happens when someone dies on an airplane.” Insider. Sophie-Claire Hoeller. February 5, 2021.
- “DEAD WAIT I’m a flight attendant – here’s what we do if a passenger dies on the plane.” The Sun. Kara Godfrey. July 26, 2022.