- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2007

12:14 p.m.

LONDON (AP) — A first-class passenger on a flight from New Delhi to London awoke to find the corpse of a woman who had died in the economy cabin being placed in a seat next to him, British Airways said today.

The flight’s economy section was full, and the cabin crew needed to move the woman and her grieving family out of that compartment to give them some privacy, the airline said.

The first-class passenger, Paul Trinder, told the Sunday Times newspaper that he was sleeping during a February flight from India and woke up when the crew placed the dead woman in an empty seat near him.

“I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The stewards just plonked the body down without saying a thing,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Trinder as saying. “I remember looking at this frail, sparrowlike woman and thinking she was very ill. When I asked what was going on, I was shocked to hear she was dead.”

British Airways said in a statement that about 10 passengers die each year in flight and that though each situation is dealt with on an individual basis, safety is paramount.

“The deceased must not be placed in the galley or blocking aisles or exits, and there should be clear space around the deceased,” the statement said. “The wishes of family or friends traveling with the deceased will always be considered, and account taken of the reactions of other passengers.”

Because there was space in the first-class cabin, that “allowed the family members traveling with the deceased some level of privacy in their grief,” the airline said.

“We apologize to passengers in the first cabin who were distressed by the situation — our cabin crew were working in difficult circumstances and chose the option that they believed would cause the least disruption,” the statement said.

David Learmount, a former pilot and cabin crew member who writes about the aviation industry for Flight International magazine, said that each airline has to deal with the relatively rare situation on an individual basis. He said it would be unusual to divert the flight and that the captain would be consulted before the crew acted.

“Personally, I think they did the thing that was the best thing to do,” he said. “It’s an isolated incident. It’s not as if it happens every day, but you do have to take in people’s sensibilities when it does happen.”

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