Last month (December 2014), there were news that a passenger passed away during a flight. As mentioned in this answer, it appears that it is not a very uncommon scenario.

In an unfortunate incident like this, how is this matter handled?

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    $\begingroup$ This is dated info, applicable in the 1990s to Hadj charters in 747s, so I'm putting it as a comment. On these flights, deaths were not uncommon. Most of my Hadj flights were Jakarta to Mecca and return, with a few from Indian airports to Mecca and return. We carried body bags, and the body would be bagged and laid out in the rear of the cabin. The flight would continue to the destination. There was a doctor on each flight who could, in theory, ask for a diversion, but they never did. As I understand it, to die while performing the Hadj was believed to be a blessing. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    May 24 '15 at 6:52

In the event of a passenger dying on an airplane during flight, each case is different depending on the location of the airplane, the duration of that flight and the wishes of family or friends traveling with the deceased passenger.

  • What happens to the flight?
    If the death occurs before takeoff or shortly after takeoff, the airplane is landed back to that airport or the nearest airport. If it happens mid-flight, normally the flight is continued to its destination.

  • Where is the deceased passenger placed?
    If there is a seat available in first or business classes, the deceased person is moved there and covered with a blanket. If it is a full flight, that person may simply be strapped in more tightly and covered. This is done to ensure that the body is out of view of other passengers. A deceased person is never placed in the lavatory. It is not respectful and a major security concern.

  • What happens at arrival airport?
    The arrival airport is informed in advance about the situation. Hence police, ambulance and coroner are available. Some airlines keep body bags on board. Normally the deceased person is placed on a stretcher and is carried from the rear exit of the airplane using a lift truck and then placed in an ambulance. This might be done after other passengers have exited the airplane.

  • What are the regulations?
    FAA have regulations addressing several emergencies, but not specifically this one. An FAA spokesperson mentioned:

    FAA spokesman Les Dorr said he was unaware of any policies that specifically address what should be done if someone dies in flight. The airlines make those decisions on their own.

This article mentions some incidents of this situation happening.

MedAir is a company which provides airlines with medical help from emergency care doctors on the ground. They estimate that:

... there is one death for every 8 million passengers from the airlines [they] serve ...

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the drink and newspaper. Even a corpse can travel in style on British Airways - after all, they paid for that seat! :) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Jan 16 '15 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ "One death from every 8 million passengers" - an interesting stat, as (taking statistics alone) it means you're roughly 2-5x more likely to "just die" on a flight than to die in an airplane accident. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Story
    Feb 11 '15 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Jon I wonder how likely they would be to "just die" if they weren't on a flight ... $\endgroup$ May 21 '17 at 0:30
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    $\begingroup$ Think about all the person-hours collectively spent on flights every day...that far exceeds the typical human lifespan, even though getting on an airplane requires a certain degree of health and removes several hazards that kill people elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – WBT
    Sep 20 '17 at 18:10

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