Reading this question, a new one came to my mind. That question is explaining how an airline behaves in that unfortunate situation. However, what are the legal consequences?

Concretely I would like to understand the following situations?:

  • Only a doctor can certify the death of a person. If no doctor is present in the flight (or all doctors have been dragged off due to overbooking), how is the death certified? On the ground I guess.
  • Can the passengers leave the airplane or they will need to wait until the authorities get inside?
  • Which country will be liable for any potential criminal investigation (if applicable)
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This is probably better on Law.SE $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    May 20, 2017 at 17:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See "Tokyo Convention" (ICAO) which may be relevant. The full text is here. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    May 20, 2017 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ The latest ICAO recommendation that I could find is at iata.org/whatwedo/safety/health/Documents/…. It recommends disembarking passengers first, and that is what we did on Hajj flight in the 1990s when there was a death on board. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    May 20, 2017 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Re "or all doctors have been dragged off due to overbooking" --um, wouldn't this be redundant with "If no doctor is present in the flight" ? $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2020 at 1:34

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, having been on board in this situation I can tell you what happened on board my flight:

  1. The deceased was covered and secured in the seat.
  2. The passenger sitting next to the deceased were relocated.

Needless to say, it was a very somber flight. No announcements were made to the effect, but for the people sitting around the rows, it was very sobering.

The aircraft landed and everyone was told to remain in their seats. ER staff along with a bunch of other personnel came onboard.

The body was removed.

Passengers were deplaned.

Years later, I was watching an episode of Ultimate Airport Dubai where an Emirates flight suffers a similar tragedy where a business class passenger is found unconcious.

In addition to the normal scenario on board that I faced, the documentary revealed that:

  1. The crew was changed
  2. The person was pronounced dead by the local authorities

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