Day in the Life of a Charter Flight Attendant

 - July 4, 2013, 2:25 AM
Susan Friedenberg

A good few years ago I was a flight attendant on a charter trip out of Boca Raton,and we had a body to transport north of the border. The deceased man and his family were Jewish, and under Jewish religious law you have to be buried within 24 hours. Still in shock, the family was making these arrangements swiftly to get their loved one’s body back to Canada for burial.

The family would be traveling on the Gulfstream with the body, we were told. The morticians from the funeral home showed up two hours before departure with the body in the coffin. No matter how hard they tried, they could not get the coffin to fit in the baggage compartment.

So they decided to take the body out of the coffin and put it in the baggage compartment, in the body bag, laid flat on the floor in front of the mesh restraints. There were many suitcases, and they were stowed behind the mesh restraints.The baggage compartment also had storage space and compartments for stock and galley items, so before we took off I brought forward what I would need, so as not to have to go back there in flight.

They loaded the body, and I must say this freaked me out a tad. It was done in a kind, respectfuland gentle manner, but it was nevertheless strange to have a dead man lying in a body bag beneath where my garment bag was hanging.

The morticians asked me not to let anyone in the family go back there in flight, because they were not telling them that their dad/husband/grandfather/brother was laid out in the back, out of the coffin.

Then the family showed up–the grown kids, the grandchildren and the elderly wife. The kids immediately started drinking heavily and were telling stories of the deceased. He sounded like a cool guy! Then his widow asked me, “Susan, where are the bags? I have to get my knitting needles out of a suitcase.” I said they are in the back, pointing to the aft of the aircraft, and she started out of her seat. “Oh no, Mrs. – ,” I said. “The luggage compartment is packed solid, and it is highly unlikely you will be able to find the bag. It might be under other bags.” She gently pushed past me and headed aft.

Freaking out, I blocked her–all 110 pounds of me–and would not let her pass. “Please, Mrs. – , describe the bag and I’ll find it for you.” So she did, and I went aft and locked the lav door behind me. There I am, alone with the deceased lying in the body bag at my feet. I was quiet and respectful and even said a prayer in Hebrew for the mourning while looking at the bag. I was thinking, this is so weird.

Then I reached over the body bag to open the mesh between me and the suitcases, and the body sat almost upright from rigor mortis. I lost it. I screamed, jumped up and hit my head hard on the garment-bag pole. Then I started asking him questions: “How could you scare me like that? Why did you die over the holidays? How could you leave these lovely people?” I was laughing and crying at the same time.

It was like a Saturday Night Live skit. I composed myself, put him back flat, found the knitting needles and returned to the cabin. The family was wasted by this time and, trust me, I really needed a cocktail. We landed. The family went into the FBO. The morticians showed up and discreetly put the deceased back into a coffin and offloaded him. What a day!


Susan, that beats all, for funny Aviation/Corporate Flight Attendant stories! Made me LOL!!! I might have passed out from shock if that had happened to me!!! : o

In my looking at our family name I find that there are more of us out there than I thought. Not a very common name, but heaven only knows how many of our predecessors immigrated from the old country. Being twice removed from immigrant grandparents (unknown to me) from Silesia and trying to chase the "tree" to its roots is rather hard.

The story was very interesting and I'm sure that you did a fine job under the circumstances. My son, David Scott Friedenberg, A&P for FEDEX in Indianapolis sent the link.

Dave F

Susan, I've had some crazy days flying but your story tops them all!
I'm laughing so hard!!

I flew for almost 20 years. And I thought searching through vomit bags for someone's false teeth was bad, but Susan, hats off to you!

Ron, how utterly charming..........LOL! You must have a stronger stomach than me for sure!

And now you know why I spent my life in the cockpit and not in the cabin Susan. Great story.


At first when reading this I was in shock. I don't know what is more egregious, that you would be so indiscreet to discuss such a private matter on a public forum or the level of fabrication used for self-promotion. A simple search led me upon this:

“Qualities that a corporate flight attendant needs […] Confidentiality, Integrity, Constant Professionalism.” - Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Consulting

The story is so specific that said family member(s) could happen upon this article, and to say that they were wasted, goes against everything that a Corporate FA should represent. Beyond anyone discovering this, making a mockery out of such a solemn and dignified task illustrates un-professionalism.

Just a few glaring things:

-Apparently, second time's the charm in that the body was able to be loaded into the coffin, while still inside the Gulfstream, before being offloaded. Yet there was no possible way the coffin was fitting into the jet on the first try.
-You also cannot reuse a coffin, so regardless of the valiant effort to keep the way in which the body was transported a secret, the family would still have been billed for two coffins and ultimately finding out.

If you are knowingly going to participate in having fictional stories published, at the very least use proper descriptors. Rigor Mortis, literally "stiffness of death", actually causes a body to become incredibly stiff and difficult to move or manipulate. Simply put, bodies do not move once rigor mortis sets in. Though, you are right about it being similar to a Saturday Night Live skit. In that it was a skit, a parody using deliberate exaggeration for comedic effect.

If I had a dollar for every fact in this story, I'd have 75 cents.