Flight attendants on a recent Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Sydney have been slammed by one couple after the crew allegedly left a dead passenger in their seat surrounded by other customers. It sounds pretty horrific, but the question is, what else were they supposed to do?
The incident occurred last week onboard Qatar Airways flight QR908, which is a 14-hour flight from Hamad International Airport in the Persian Gulf to Sydney. The most direct routing takes the flight far away from any land for much of the 14 hours across the Arabian Sea and over the Indian Ocean.
Essentially, until the Airbus A380 superjumbo used for this service approaches the coastline of Australia, the passengers and crew are on their own; there’s nowhere easy to divert, and any kind of emergency, medical or otherwise, has to be handled with the resources onboard.
In this case, passengers Francesca and Enrico, a married couple who declined to provide their surname, allege that, in their opinion, the Qatar Airways cabin crew didn’t do enough to help the passenger and then “just left her” with a blanket covering the body for the rest of the flight.
It was Francesca and Enrico who alerted the cabin crew to the fact that the passenger appeared to be making a ‘weird noise’ while breathing. Flight attendants attempted to wake her and, when this didn’t work, administered oxygen.
It was at this point that the couple alleged the flight attendants left the passenger for 20 minutes before moving her from her seat and performing CPR. They also called for the assistance of a doctor onboard, but after some time, it was concluded that the woman couldn’t be revived.
At this point, she was moved to a row of seats and covered in a blanket. Francesca told the Daily Mail that the crew should have handled the situation better.
The problem is, there isn’t anywhere better to move a dead body – especially on what was likely a packed plane on a capacity-restricted route because of the Australian government’s refusal to open up additional landing slots to airlines like Qatar Airways.
The simple truth is that there isn’t anywhere else to move a passenger if they pass away in the middle of a flight. There certainly isn’t a ‘death cupboard’ like some online articles would have you believe, and dead bodies aren’t stored in a lavatory either – an incredibly disrespectful way to treat someone’s relative and loved one.
The sad truth is that a dead passenger has to stay in a normal passenger seat. Cabin crew will normally try to first wrap the seat in plastic bags to prevent soiling and then discreetly cover the body in blankets.
Its preferable to move the body away from other passengers, but on a fully booked flights, sometimes this isn’t possible.
Some airlines will choose to divert an aircraft where a death has occurred, but policies differ from airline to airline, and if nothing more can be done to revive someone, it’s sometimes best just to continue to the original destination.
After all, diverting to an alternative airport will likely result in the crew ‘timing out’, which will leave the plane and passengers stranded until the crew has got a minimum amount of rest.
Clearly, an inflight death can be an incredibly traumatising event for everyone involved – the relatives or friends travelling with the deceased, other passengers in the vicinity and the cabin crew who have tried to save the dead person’s life.
It may also seem like cabin crew aren’t done enough when, in reality, they are following their training and procedures exactly as they should be.
Ultimately, a wide range of factors have been considered when an inflight death occurs, but In this case, it would seem the best option to get all the passengers to their originally intended destination as quickly as possible.
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.