Flight crew has to deal with all eventualities, including a death on board their aircraft. Photo / Alev Takil, UNsplash
A stewardess has used her social media to share one of the more unpleasant and less discussed issues – and the internet was responding quickly.
It is one of the great philosophical reflections: ‘What happens when we die? ‘
For flight crew ‘what happens when we die’, however, in an aircraft under their watch, it is however a much more practical consideration.
For 25-year-old escort Sheena Marie, she was not shy about peeling the garment back on the practical steps of caring for a passenger who left too early. Her video caption simply “… the end” has already garnered nearly three million views.
“So what happens when we are dealing with a passenger who is literally already dead?” she asked her TikTok viewers.
The truth is at this point that very little crew can do it, says Sheena Marie, and the body is often left in place for the rest of the flight.
“If they have a heart attack and die, and we can do nothing about it, and we can not start CPR, we will just wait until we get to our final destination,” she said.
“If there is enough space on the plane – one of the back rows is open – we will move the body.”
In a full plane, however, long-distance passengers must sit tight and stay close to the body.
The two-year-old cabin crew member was overwhelmed by questions, mostly about how often this had happened to her.
“Please tell me this is unusual and very rare,” read one comment.
Others shared horror stories of flights alongside a passing passenger.
“This happened to my mother while she was on a flight from New York to Ireland and they said they did as the man slept.”
Even upon arrival at the final destination of the plane, the saga is not over for those who care about the body.
“People [medical staff] will meet the plane, to get the body of the plane and we will call her descendants, “said Sheena Marie.
“It causes a scene because that plane has to be taken out of service for a while.”
Today, depending on the starting point, there may be additional steps that keep not only the aircraft but all passengers in quarantine.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the death of a passenger on a plane could raise suspicions and lead to public health investigations, according to aviation writer John Walton. In a piece for the Budget Travel website he explained that it is common to check routes to see if the deceased passenger has been in the “area of special care”, such as West Africa during the Ebola epidemic.
To answer the frightening questions of TikTok viewers, it is indeed very rare for passengers to die on planes. Global Risk Rescue Management Service estimates that there are roughly 16 medical emergencies for every 1 million flights.
Of these mid-flight medical emergencies, less than 0.3% were fatal, according to figures published by the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013. Of 9.1 billion passengers in the 2019 peak, this represents about 450 mid-air deaths per year.
It’s a small risk, but one that some airlines feel they need to go further to make up for.
Especially on long-haul flights, the occurrence of a death in an airplane causes additional problems, with heavier fuel loads, which means that planes cannot easily make an emergency landing and there may not always be a suitable airport to head for en route.
Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A340-500 fleet, which flew the world’s longest routes between Singapore and the US, included a built-in mortuary.
A refrigerated toilet area large enough to store a corpse was included next to the exits of the shot.
Launched at launch in 2004, the airline said “the box will only be used if no other suitable cabin space can be found.”
In a statement to the guard, an airline spokesman said: “On the rare occasion when a passenger dies during a flight, the crew does everything possible to manage the situation with sensitivity and respect.”
Instead of a blank row, corpses are moved to first class. These premium cabins are often spacious and a more secluded, dignified place for passengers to undertake their final journey.