19th March 2007
British Airways has apologised after First Class passengers on a flight from Delhi awoke to find crew had placed a corpse in their cabin.
Businessman Paul Trinder, 54, had dozed off in his £3000 First Class seat on the flight from Delhi to Heathrow, but awoke to a "commotion" in the darkened cabin.
He told how crew were moving what he later established was a person "like a sack of potatoes", positioning her in a seat on the other side of the cabin and seatbelting her in.
He then discovered it was the body of an Indian woman in her 70s who had died in economy class and been taken to the front of the plane where there was more room.
Mr Trinder said that the procedure was so farcical he thought he was the victim of a practical joke, explaining how the turbulence was causing the lifeless body to "rock and roll all over the place".
His concerns that she could have died of an infectious disease prompted no action and he spent the next five hours of the flight last month with the body across the aisle from him.
He later spoke to British Airways to question their procedure of handling deaths in flights - and was told to "get over it if you haven't got any better ideas", he said.
A spokesman for BA said that the body was moved to First Class as there was more space, allowing the grieving family as much privacy as possible.
He said: "It is always distressing when there is a death on board a flight.
"Fortunately such events are rare - in the region of ten deaths on board per annum from some 36 million passengers carried per annum.
"On this occasion, the flight was very busy, although there was space in the First Class cabin which allowed the family members travelling with the deceased some level of privacy in their grief.
"We apologise to passengers in the First cabin who were distressed by the situation - our cabin crew were working in difficult circumstances and chose the option that they believed would cause the least disruption.
"Procedures in the event of a death on board are dependent on the specific circumstances.
"However, all actions are governed primarily by issues of safety, for example, the deceased must not be placed in the galley or blocking aisles or exits, and there should be clear space around the deceased.
"The wishes of family or friends travelling with the deceased will always be considered, and account taken of the reactions of other passengers."
Describing the situation, Mr Trinder, from Brackley, Northamptonshire, said: "I woke up to find that all the window shutters were down. It was fairly dark and there was some commotion going in in the second isle away from me. The crew were moving an object which could have been a sack of potatoes for all I knew.
"It seemed an odd thing to be doing in the middle of the flight. The next thing we knew they were positioning what I had worked out was a person into a seat and putting a seat belt and blanket around her.
"It was quite a turbulent flight and every time there was a vibration in the plane she was rocking and rolling all over the place.
"They put a wall of pillows around her to keep her upright and stop her slipping out. I wondered if it was a practical joke because it was so badly done. I thought: 'This can't be the World's Favourite airline - is this really the procedure they have worked out?'
"I thought: 'What are the family's feelings in all of this - their mother being carried 50 rows like a sack of potatoes?'
"At first I didn't know she was dead. I went to the galley and I said, 'She doesn't look too well'. They said 'we did put out a call to the doctor but it was too late and she has expired'.
"I said, 'We have got five hours to go at room temperature'. I asked if they knew what she had died of, if it was an infectious disease. It could have been an airborne disease.
"You could tell they had never thought of it. They looked at each other open-mouthed but they didn't do anything about it.
"There could have been a risk of potential disease when the cause of death is not known. We didn't know if she had died from something like bird flu, for example, and then you get five hours of somebody in the early stages of death sharing your air.
"Other passengers had shocked expressions. The woman's family were clearly very upset.
"We finally got to Heathrow and nobody was allowed to leave to plane. The police and the coroner were sent on. There were police stopping people getting off.
"I thought: 'I have had enough, I want to go home'. I eventually got off an hour later."
Mr Trinder, chief executive of building manufacturers Capital Safety, said he later contacted BA to question their handling of the issue. The businessman, a BA gold card holder who travels 200,000 miles a year with the airline, said he was offered no compensation and told to "get over it".
"The ticket cost more than £3000. I wrote to BA later and said that this procedure can't be right, you have to do something better than this. Other airlines, for example, leave the deceased in place and move other people away from it.
"I then phoned them up and I was told the crew had done the right thing. I was told: 'You just have to get over it'.
"Before this flight I had had to change four flights because of the strike, and they just told me: 'Get over it, if you haven't got any better ideas we will stick with ours.
"People may dream of getting on a flight and waking up next to Tom Cruise for example, but the reality is you may not.
"I got really, really miffed with their whole procedure.
"I just think it could have been better done and I feel very sorry for the woman's family, who were under enormous stress and this wasn't the most brilliant performance of support.
"I just hope they improve their procedure, both for the sake of people directly concerned and other passengers."