What happens when someone dies in the middle of a flight?
Two words: corpse cupboards
Oct 9, 2017
Everybody knows what happens when a baby is born mid-flight in an airplane, but what about when somebody dies there of natural causes?
Unfortunately, death still won’t definitively grant you special treatment from airlines. When someone passes away mid-flight, the plane won’t always do an unscheduled landing. The response to a person’s death in an airplane varies on a case-to-case basis. Here are some of the scenarios that might happen to you post-mortem 30,000 ft. up in the air.
If the person dies shortly or immediately after takeoff, there is a chance that the pilot might do a U-turn and go back to the airport. Unscheduled landings can happen too, but rarely. Even if another airport is nearby, chances are the pilot would opt to fly until the final destination is reached rather than doing an impromptu landing. This is to spare everyone, including the dead, from the logistics constraints of an unscheduled flight. There’re the possible problems of fees, missed connections, and conflict with authorities.
Right to privacy
For most airlines, the S.O.P. is to find the most private location in the plane and transfer the corpse there. It could be an empty row or an empty seat in business class or first class. Passengers are asked to change seats to move them away from the dead body. If the deceased’s family is also aboard the flight, the family member/s could ask to stay with their loved one for the duration of the flight.
In case of a full flight where the cabin crew won’t have enough room to move the body, the dead body is wrapped in a blanket up to the neck. Then, a seatbelt is fastened around the body as tight as it can go so the body won’t slip from their seat. The goal is to direct the attention away from the corpse as much as possible and avoid making the deceased a spectacle.
The Corpse Cupboard
Singapore Airlines’ discontinued Airbus A340 became infamous a while back because of its special compartment specifically for the dead. Nicknamed the “corpse cupboard,” this compartment is said to be able to fit an entire body, meant to house the deceased in cases of death in the middle of a transatlantic flight.
As for whether the morbid cupboard has ever been used for this purpose, a spokesman for the airline told a correspondent in Quartz that no dead body has ever been housed in the compartment.
Finding the Family
After the body has been dealt with (sounds morbid, but that is what they do) the cabin crew will then focus their efforts in contacting the family of the deceased.
Becoming the Living Dead
You don’t die immediately. Legally at least. If you happen by a flight with no doctors on board, your legal status will remain of the living until the plane lands and authorities can come to pronounce you officially dead.
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.com
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