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What Does It Mean When There's A 'Jim Wilson' On Your Flight?

What Does It Mean When There's A 'Jim Wilson' On Your Flight?

Flying on an aeroplane can be a pretty grim experience... but there's often someone on the flight who is having it much, much worse than you are.

Airlines take thousands of dead bodies alongside their millions of living travellers and, unlike their breathing passengers, all of the deceased ones have the same name: Jim Wilson.

While some customers might find it a little strange that corpses are often on the plane, the naming of them is done specifically to keep the identities of the passed-away passengers from the public and to keep the disconcerting nature of the cargo as quiet as possible.

Jim Wilson is the recognised codeword that airline staff have designated so that on board flight crew, undertakers and funeral directors, and the relevant authorities are all aware of the special type of cargo in the hold - everyone, indeed, except the general public.

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Credit: PA

The code is not universal - some airline companies prefer HR, or human remains, as a name - but the majority use Jim Wilson. The etymology of the term derives from the trays in which dead bodies were transported, the so-called Jim Wilson trays.

American Airlines adopted the name and plenty of others have followed suit.

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The need for secrecy is understandable - most would be slightly freaked out if they knew of their close proximity to a dead body - and the need to transport coffins is just as vital.

Many people live far away from their families and thus, when they die, their bodies need to be moved so that they may come to rest close to their loved ones.

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There's also a special permit that's required for burial transit, and the shipping containers that hold the coffins are packed with ice to limit decomposition.

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Credit: PA

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The numbers are staggering none the less. 50,000 dead bodies are moved via aeroplane every year, the majority in specially-designed coffins that are secured and encased in an air tray.

American Airlines, according to Sara Marsden of US Funerals Online, have a dedicated help desk known as the Jim Wilson service that they use for inquiries from funeral homes.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, one of Europe's largest and a hub of international and intercontinental flights, is thought to move 2,000 dead bodies a year and boasts its own morgue.

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You can feel a little safer if you're flying short haul, low-cost airlines, however. They don't take cargo and thus are far less likely to have dead bodies in the hold.

Though if you're flying back from Magaluf of course, you might not be able to tell the difference between the living and the dead...

Words: Mike Meehall Wood

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Aeroplane

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