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When Someone Dies On Board, During a Flight, or at the Airport

- Airline Procedures for Death on a Plane

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Economy Class Seating Inside An Airplane Cabin
Baran azdemir/E+/Getty Images
It happens infrequently, but it does happen several times a year - someone dies on board a flight or in the airport. Airline procedures vary a bit, but some of the ways that airlines deal with death on board.

What are some of the potential procedures, or policies, that an airline will follow if there is a death during one of their flights?

  • If death occurs early into a flight, the flight is likely to return to the gate (if not airborne), return to the airport, or the nearest airport.
  • Mid-way and later, there usually isn't the option to return to point of origin so officials may quarantine the aircraft on arrival for up to 48 hours.
  • Usually, airlines will have crew follow the procedure of a medical emergency - which is to divert to the closest airport for medical attention, even though a passenger has no vital signs.
  • During a flight, a deceased passenger may be moved - to an empty seat (if available) in first class/business class, or brought to a crew rest area and laid down and covered.
  • If there is no space available, the dead passenger may simply be strapped in more tightly with efforts to cover said passenger, and prop them up. The effort is usually made to place the body out of view of other passengers.
  • Other passengers may or may not be detained on board the flight for a short period of time on landing while officials deal with the situation.
  • Authorities at the arrival airport are advised - usually the police and a coroner.
  • A few airlines do maintain body bags on board.

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