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Dead man flying

Now that airlines are developing increasingly long-range airplanes, they’re running into some interesting problems. Say you’re captain of the Singapore Airlines 12,600-kilometer trip from Singapore to Los Angeles — which, at 17 hours in the air, is the longest non-stop flight in the world. Now suppose someone has a heart attack or their appendix bursts. An on-board doctor could help the person out, and in a pinch, the flight could simply land somewhere quickly.

But what if someone dies on the flight — peacefully and in their sleep? What do you do then? Believe it or not, this actually happens with some regularity. And in situations like this, the airlines apparently just keep on flying. Because really, whaddya gonna do? Guy’s dead. It’s not like there’s any need to rush him to an E.R. Still, there’s the touchy question of what to do with the body. If someone passes away one hour into a 17-hour flight, that’s an awfully long time to leave a cadaver sitting in its seat, particularly if there are people sitting on either side. But where else would you put it?

Singapore Airlines has a solution: a new “corpse cupboard” will be installed on its new fleet of Airbus A340-500 aircraft. As the F2 Network reports:

The cupboard, near an exit door, will be fitted with special straps to prevent the body moving during turbulence.

A spokesman for Singapore Airlines, Rick Clements, said the cupboard would be used only if there was no other suitable space in the cabin.

“On the rare occasion when a passenger passes away during a flight, our crew do all that is possible to manage the situation with sensitivity and respect, ” Mr Clements said.

“Unfortunately, given the space constraints in an aircraft cabin, it is not always possible to find a row of seats where the deceased passenger can be placed and covered in a dignified manner, although this is always the preferred option.”

(Thanks to Howard Sherman for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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