It is one of those seminal moments in history where people will remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that Queen Elizabeth II, the United Kingdom’s longest-ever reigning monarch, had died.
The news that Her Majesty had died was released by Buckingham Palace at around 6:30 pm on Thursday after Royal officials had earlier released a bulletin explaining that doctors had become concerned for Queen Elizabeth’s health.
In the hours that followed, senior members of the Royal Family rushed to Balmoral Castle in Scotland to say their goodbyes, while broadcasters in the UK and around the world cleared their schedules in preparation for the sad news that Queen Elizabeth had passed.
Many people may have already been eagerly watching the TV when the news eventually broke on Thursday evening, while many others would have received news alerts ping up on their mobile phones within moments of the official announcement being made public by the Palace.
But what if you’re 38,000 feet in the air on a plane flying from New York City to London? Inflight WiFi may well have improved considerably in recent years, and some airlines even have live TV, but the vast majority of passengers are unlikely to be aware of what’s actually happening on the ground.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II was news that couldn’t wait until planes had landed. In one viral video, a British Airways captain is heard telling passengers aboard a New York to London flight about the news.
Although the pilot had little extra information to provide, he told passengers” “I thought I should at least tell you that before you arrive at the terminal because I know many will be very, very sad about this.”
Indeed, crew members were visibly upset as the news was read out.
The reason that the Captain had so few details to share with passengers was because the news had been relayed by a special datalink system that allows ground stations to transmit short messages known as ACARS.
Within moments of the death being formally announced, airlines quickly relayed the news to their flight crew via the ACARS message. This was the message that British Airways sent to its pilots:
“Attention all aircraft. To be read at your discretion. It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the passing of Her Majesty The Queen. Our thoughts are with the Royal Family at this very difficult time.”
But it wasn’t just British airlines that relayed the news to passengers via ACARS. The database of ACARS messages sent at around the time that Queen Elizabeth II died showed messages sent by Malaysia Airlines and Emirates.
And it wasn’t just airlines that needed to break the news to passengers. Heathrow Airport also made a special announcement just after the news was released and as part of the UK’s period of mourning, tributes to the Queen are displayed prominently across the airport.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.