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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, 2015 at 6:52

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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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    $\begingroup$ "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, 2015 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 ... $\endgroup$
    – Golden Cuy
    May 21, 2017 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, 2017 at 18:10
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Twenty years ago Singapore Airlines installed a special locker in their A340-500's which could be used if a passenger died on their ultra-long Singapore to Newark and Singapore to Los Angeles routes. According to a U.K. Guardian article from 2004:

The airline's new fleet of Airbus A340-500 aircraft boasts a discreet locker next to one of the plane's exit doors which is long enough to store an average-sized body, with special straps to prevent any movement during a bumpy landing.

Cabin crew have been instructed to use the locker in the event of a death on a long-haul flight - particularly if the aircraft is busy, with no free seats on which to lay out the deceased.

The aircraft came into use in February, operating the longest non-stop route in the world: a 17-hour, 7,900-mile journey between Singapore and Los Angeles.

Singapore Airlines operated their fleet of five A340-500's for ten years, and some reports say that the lockers were never used, however I'm not sure if it's possible to know that for certain. A Simple Flying article says that an airline spokesman told them that it "was likely never used", however that is far from being definitive.

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Flight attendants are not allowed to declare someone dead so they would continue giving care until either (STAT-MD or A medical professional) declares them dead they would be put in a empty row or in first class (if flight is full they would be put back in their seat with blanket over them.

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    $\begingroup$ Wait a minute, you are saying that if someone dies mid-flight and there is no doctor on board the flight attendents have to do CPR until physically exhausted? $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2023 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ There's another 100 or so pax on board, @quietflyer, they can take turns... $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Dec 19, 2023 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer yes, but (STAT-MD) can also do that they are a medical center 24/7 and can connect through the cabin medical headset and give instructions and declare death $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2023 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, ok, guess I had no idea what that was-- $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2023 at 21:23

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