'Put them in first class': What happens when a passenger dies mid-flight?

Cabin crew at British Airways have revealed how they deal with a death at 30,000 feet – “move them to first class, and don’t put them in the loo”

While flight attendants are usually adept at dealing with drunk passengers and screaming babies, a lead trainer at the airline admitted that handling a recently deceased flier is a “grey area”. She was, however, able to offer some advice to new recruits, all of which has been captured for a new BBC series, A Very British Airline, to be screened in the UK next month.

“You cannot put a dead passenger in the toilet,” she tells trainees. “It’s not respectful and [the corpse] is not strapped in for landing. If they slid off the toilet, they would end up on the floor. You would have to take the aircraft apart to get that person out. Imagine putting someone in the aircraft toilet?!”

Her advice refers to instances where rigor mortis had set in and a body could not be removed from a confined space.

“In a nice, easy world – where someone dying on an aircraft isn’t – you put them back on seats. I know a crew member who had to sit next to someone who passed away for the rest of the flight. All of this is such a horrible topic.”

Once seated, flight attendants should “tuck a blanket” right up to the corpse’s neck, she added. If there is space in first class, they will often be placed there, and nearby passengers informed.

In 2006, a deceased man on a BA Flight 213 to Boston was placed in first class for three hours.

"Four male stewards came in carrying the poor chap," one flier on board told the Mail. "But he was a bit too big for them. Another passenger lent a hand as they propped him up. They wrapped him in a blanket and strapped him in and semi-reclined the seat. But his head was exposed and leaning to one side, as if he were asleep. I could see the top of his head throughout the flight. I felt quite uneasy, but some passengers were being very British about it and simply not acknowledging there was anything wrong."

The system wasn’t always thus. The trainer goes on to explain that British Airways used to prop up dead passengers and pretend they were dozing.


“It’s what we used to do many years ago – give them a vodka and tonic, a Daily Mail and eye-shades and they were like, they’re fine. We don’t do that [now].”

The four-part documentary, which begins on June 2, follows would-be flight attendants attempting to complete the airline’s intensive training programme.

The London Telegraph's Lizzie Porter was given access to Cranebank, BA’s training centre, recently, where – among other things – she took part in evacuation drills and learned how to deal with difficult passengers.

“Cabin crew work is tough and demanding: staff are faced with anything from vomiting, drunk passengers and women in labour to engine failure. And pay is pretty awful,” said Lizzie. “Yet there is a willing supply. In 2013, British Airways had 14,000 applications for 800 cabin crew places. In six weeks, trainees at Cranebank go from man or woman on the street to fully-fledged cabin crew.

“They undergo a full day of fire training, pool sessions to mimic emergency landings on water, and three days are spent on how to treat Club World (Business Class) passengers. You need to know your Fat Duck from your Alain Ducasse, and, with four wines and champagne on board, make sure that you can conduct intelligent conversation about appellations like Pouilly-Fuissé.”

The Telegraph, London