What would you do if the passenger in seat 39B suddenly died?

By Adam Sherwin

Airlines advise against placing bodies in the toilet because rigor mortis can make it hard to move the body after landing. Photo / Thinkstock
Airlines advise against placing bodies in the toilet because rigor mortis can make it hard to move the body after landing. Photo / Thinkstock

It's a delicate challenge for any cabin crew: how do you deal with a passenger who has died in mid-flight?

British Airways staff have been instructed that the answer is not to hide the dead body in the toilet, as it is both undignified and a safety risk.

BA granted a BBC2 documentary crew unprecedented access for a new series, A Very British Airline, to be broadcast next week.

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The documentary shows a training session dealing with medical emergencies, attended by applicants hoping to join the airline's cabin crew. The lead trainer says that managing a death during a flight is a "grey area".

She tells the trainees: "You cannot put a dead passenger in the toilet. It's not respectful and it's 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!"

She admits that in the old days BA used to simply prop up dead passengers in their seats and pretend they were asleep. "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."


Photo / Thinkstock

She explains: "In a nice, easy world - which 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." Cabin crew should "tuck a blanket right up to their neck" if they are required to place a corpse on a seat.

Airlines advise against placing bodies in the toilet because rigor mortis can make it hard to move the body after landing.

Normally if a passenger dies during a flight they will be moved to an empty seat (if available) in first class or business class, or brought to the crew rest area.

If there is no space available, the dead passenger may simply be strapped in more tightly and covered up, usually out of view of other passengers.

A Very British Airline, which begins next Monday on BBC2, shows how candidates hoping to join BA's cabin crew are "fired", in scenes reminiscent of The Apprentice, if they fail key tasks during an intensive training programme.

The series follows the training of Alice, Patrick and Jodi, selected from thousands of applicants who want to be the face of the airline.

Unite, the union which represents cabin crew, said the programme presented a "one-sided" description of life for staff following resolution of an industrial dispute over pay.

Unite regional officer Matt Smith said: "BA has made considerable savings with mixed fleet cabin crew but about 25 per cent of staff are leaving every year because they are so exhausted."

The Independent understands that a ballot for fresh industrial action, over demands to improve the "work/life balance" for cabin crew, could be held while the series airs next month.

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- The Independent

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