Published March 18, 2007
A British Airways passenger travelling first class has described how he woke up on a long-haul flight to find that cabin crew had placed a corpse in his row.
The body of a woman in her seventies, who died after the plane left Delhi for Heathrow, was carried by cabin staff from economy to first class, where there was more space. Her body was propped up in a seat, using pillows.
The woman’s daughter accompanied the corpse, and spent the rest of the journey wailing in grief.
Paul Trinder, who awoke to see the body at the end of his row, last week described the journey as “deeply disturbing”, and complained that the airline dismissed his concerns by telling him to “get over it”.
“It was a complete mess — they seemed to have no proper plans in place to deal with the situation,” said Trinder, 54, a businessman from Brackley, Northamptonshire.
The woman died during a nine-hour flight on a Boeing 747. Trinder was catching up on sleep when he was woken by a commotion and opened his eyes to see staff manueuvering the body into a seat.
“I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The stewards just plonked the body down without saying a thing. I remember looking at this frail, sparrow-like woman and thinking she was very ill,” said Trinder.
“She kept slipping under the seatbelt and moving about with the motion of the plane. When I asked what was going on I was shocked to hear she was dead.”
The woman’s daughter and son-in-law arrived soon after and began grieving. Trinder said: “It was terrifying. I put my earplugs in but couldn’t get away from the fact that there was a woman wailing at the top of her voice just yards away. It was a really intense, primal sound.
“I felt helpless. Grief is a very personal thing; it’s not as if there was anything I could do or say.”
Trinder, chief executive of Capital Safety, which makes products for the building industry, holds a BA gold card and travels more than 200,000 miles a year with the airline.
He became particularly concerned about the state of the body. “When you have a decaying body on a plane at room temperature for more than five hours there are significant health and safety risks,” he said.
After the plane landed, those in first class remained on board for an hour before police and a coroner gave the all-clear.
“The police even started interviewing me as a potential witness, although I had no idea what had happened to the woman. I just kept thinking to myself: ‘I’ve paid more than £3,000 for this’,” Trinder said.
When contacted by BA about the complaint, Trinder says he was told he would not be compensated and should “get over” the incident.
BA said the dead woman was taken into first class because the rest of the plane was full.
A spokesman said: “When a customer passes away on board it is always difficult and we apologize for any distress caused.”
He said there were about 10 deaths each year out of 36 million passengers.
Other carriers use different procedures. Singapore Airlines has introduced “corpse cupboards” on its Airbus 340-500 aircraft. Cabin crews use the locker if there is no empty row of seats to place a corpse.