Day in the Life of a Charter Flight Attendant

Jul 4, 2013 - 6:25 AM

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!