My friend, Gavin, an air steward (a job that he had done for decades), told me about an incident at work. He said that (shockingly to me) passengers occasionally die on a flight (particularly long-haul), just as a matter of course. This can be because people sometimes travel to visit loved ones BECAUSE they are dying, people sometimes find travelling itself stressful (so it can exacerbate an existing medical condition), or simply that, if you took a large number of people and shut them up in a space together for some considerable time, some of them would pop off through sheer statistical probability. Cabin crew are, apparently, fully trained to deal within this eventually in a calm, almost routine manner.

This particular flight, Gavin was working with another gay man: Peter, who was actually a VERY funny personality. Camp, extravagant and loud, Peter really lit up the place. But naturally, when the very elderly male passenger in seat 38b died peacefully in his sleep halfway across the Atlantic, Peter acted (like the entire crew), with decorum and dignity. As per the protocol, all the lights in the cabin were dimmed. A hush fell over the passengers (Gavin told me that, although no announcement is ever made, the other passengers nearly always instinctively know what's happened, with the news spreading via the media of hushed whispers and nudges). Then, as per standing instructions, two of the crew carefully lifted the deceased out of his seat and gently carried him to the crew station where he was laid down on a bed for the remainder of the flight.

After the late gentleman disappeared behind the discreetly drawn curtain, you could have heard a pin drop. There was a demure pause during which, slowly, the lights went back up.

Suddenly Peter's cheery face appeared, poking through the gap in the drapes. He looked around, blinking brightly with curiosity at the seated passengers, and said, in a voice that echoed around the whole cabin:

"SO! Anyone else have the fish?"

He narrowly avoided getting sacked.

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