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Experiences With Military Escorts On Flights  
User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (8 years 1 day 20 hours ago) and read 5313 times:

I know the topic line is a bit misleading. I don't mean fighter plane escorts on emergency flights. I mean the experience airline employees have has when they have a Military escort taking a body to his home.

PHL is the originating station for most, if not all, Military escorts, since Dover AFB is so close.

I've written down some of my experiences as an agent. I'd like to hear some experiences from other carriers agents. What about at hubs? What in-flight experiences have flight attendants had and Pilots? I wrote a short essay about it just to keep some memories fresh. it is a generalization of many experiences. It needs polishing as well so please forgive:

We sit down to the afternoon briefing at eleven AM. The agents are in various states of preparation, men with ties half off, women applying eyeliner. They listen with a vague disinterest. They make a mental note of their positions for the day. "We have an N-1 on 371" says the service director. Sad nods come from the agents who will be working that flight, and understanding. This is Philadelphia International Airport. As the closest commercial airport to the Military Morgue at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, it is the starting point for all Military escorts and the bodies of soldiers going home for the last time.

The airlines give radio call signs to situations like this. Considering it unprofessional to announce a casket being loaded on the plane over the radio network, my airline called them N-1. The agents working the flight work hard to get a good seat for the escort. His task is a difficult one. Most times the escort is a soldier on a burial detail. He's done this a couple of times. His task is to never leave the body unattended. But he must when the van drops the casket off at the freight side of the airport Cargo City. The Escort is driven over to the terminal to check in. Sometimes it's a buddy, pulled off the front line by the last request of the deceased to take him home. Sometimes it's a brother. These last are confused. Grieving themselves they fall back on training. They are uncomfortable leaving the casket when they were told to stay with it. They are confused by their task, so unfamiliar to them. They are traveling in full uniform, which the military discourages at any other time. The agents have seen this enough times. A military uniform can mean only one thing. The TSA and police know it too.

One hour before the departure time, the agents arrive to work the flight. Invariably, one of the first in line is the escort, dutifully alerting the agents to his presence. He is unaware that the agents are very aware of him, they have been working behind the scenes, first to get him a seat with more leg room, then to get him a first class seat. This is not the policy of the airline. But the agents in Philadelphia do this anyway. It is a small thing they can do; it is a small thing they want to do. The agent informs him that they will be told over the radio by the ramp service agents when the casket arrives. At that time they will be escorted plane-side.

The escort usually sits off to one side, out of the way, trying to remain inconspicuous in his uniform. Sometimes, he is alone in his own grief. Sometimes other passengers chat with him. The flight attendants come for their briefing and are made aware of the escort's presence. The pilots, many times ex-military themselves are briefed. When the time comes an agent comes to get him. They politely push through the throng waiting to board.

The agent unlocks the jet-way door and guides him around the dangerous ramp. The Ramp Agents work hard manhandling the casket, supported on a wood pallet and covered in white cardboard protective cover, it is very heavy. The Ramp service men place the casket on the belt-loader. The head towards the airplane the feet down, the casket cover is marked to let them know. The escort verifies the information on the sticker on top of the cover. He then steps back, and draws himself to attention and slowly salutes the agent and pilot standing beside him stand-up straight in reverent respect. All three watch as the casket moves up and into the plane. As gently as they possibly can given the weight and the small cargo door on most planes, the ramp agents manhandle the casket into the pit of the plane. Once again, the head is place forward the feet toward the rear. This is to keep the embalming fluid inside the body when the plane takes off and tilts up. The ramp agents bless themselves sometimes; they come out of the plane and shake hands with the escort. The agent then guides the escort back to the jet-way. He sits in his seat having taken care of his duty for this part of the trip.

The agent makes sure the flight attendants "take care" of the escort. I was never sure what I was requesting of the flight attendants, free drinks, special care and attention? All I knew was that some Flight Attendants understood and did what they could to make the trip as comfortable as possible for the escort, just as the agents did what they could.

14 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 1, posted (8 years 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 5210 times:

Not that I'm bringing this back up so that it can be seen, I just can't believe no one has a comment on this.

Is it just so rare an occurrence that no one else on Airliners.net has experience with this? Did I have an unusual experience being at PHL since we dealt with this most often than other cities?

I thought this would elicit more comment, although I was NOT looking for any political comment.

I'm surprised is all over 100 looks, and no comments. Weird.

User currently offlineZANL188 From United States of America, joined Oct 2006, 3594 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (8 years 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 5194 times:
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Quoting UALPHLCS (Reply 1):
Not that I'm bringing this back up so that it can be seen, I just can't believe no one has a comment on this.

Is it just so rare an occurrence that no one else on Airliners.net has experience with this? Did I have an unusual experience being at PHL since we dealt with this most often than other cities?

I thought this would elicit more comment, although I was NOT looking for any political comment.

I'm surprised is all over 100 looks, and no comments. Weird.

It's been discussed extensively over in mil-av I believe

Legal considerations provided by: Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe
User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (8 years 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 5191 times:

Quoting ZANL188 (Reply 2):

I'll check it out.


It's similar but not quite. The other thread in the Military Forum is about a specific Air Force Policy. This thread is more about the Airline end of the transport.

[Edited 2006-12-27 19:53:39]

User currently offlineBroke From United States of America, joined Apr 2002, 1322 posts, RR: 3
Reply 4, posted (8 years 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 5108 times:

Thank you UALPHLCS for you description of the procedures (both official and unofficial) used when a person of the military is escorting a comrade home for the last time.
It is a sad event and what you have described is a process full of respect for the fallen one and their escort.
Good for you and for all the members of any airline who take the time to ensure that this process is handled so well.

User currently offlineMemphis From United States of America, joined Mar 2006, 143 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (8 years 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 5007 times:

I never witnessed this type of occurannce untill this summer. I had a second job, fueling commercial aircraft in MEM. We would get shuttled around the ramp and asigned to fuel aircraft. One day, there was some vans and a hearse at B8. I figured out what was going on, very sad. I think I made the comment to the lead that I wanted to watch, and replied with something like, well, your are going to get to, that's your flight. I was dropped off at B8, the vans with the families and the hearse were there, yet, the NW 757 had not arrived yet. I remember standing with my fueling stand, right beside the vans with the families in them, with the honor guard out in front. One of the NW rampers came over and told me that the casket was in the aft bin, and that all they were going to do was mate the belt-loader up to the aft and open the compartment up and let the honor gurard take over and bring the casket out of the A/C, he and asked me not to hook up to fuel the A/C as I normally would, but instead to give the family time and room to welcome the fallen soldier. I had no problems with this. The whole time I just tried to stand there and be respectful to the family and to the soldier. When the plane arrived, the honor guard saluted the aircraft as it pulled into the gate. The rampers mated up and opened the compartment. If I remeber correctly, another soldier came off the plane and joinded the honor guard, I guess this is the one who was traveling with the body. I was also told that when this happens, the escort and the fallen soldier are both booked a seat on the plane, so the soldier sits right beside an empty seat, the seat reserved for the fallen soldier. The honor guard went up on the plane, removed the cardboard covering and put the flag over the casket and then brought him out, the rampers may have helped in this process, but once the soldier was down the belt, they moved aside and left room for the family to come over and welcome their loved one. I just stood there, with many emotions, sadness, heart-ache, gratitude, and other emotions. The pilots came down and were standing near me, one taking pictures. Many of the rampers were arround the silhouette, just watching. There were many peoples looking out from the concourse, watching what was occuring. Normally, in the airline industry, time is everything, not this day. I didn't care how long it was before I could begin to fuel this flight, didn't really matter. Once the family welcomed him, and the honor guard placed him in the hearse, the procession left the gate, and drove away. Then it was back to business, now time to fuel. My fellow fuelers talked about the occurances of that day. I was very moved at what I had witnessed. What saddness, what honor, I am proud to be an American, and I thank those who have laid their lives down for this country, who have laid down their lives for me! Even more than that, I am thankful for Christ who gave his perfect life as antonement for sins, for all mankind.

[Edited 2006-12-27 23:30:22]

User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 6, posted (8 years 21 hours ago) and read 4839 times:

Thank you Memphis.

I was not aware that an Honor Guard came to the inbound flight. My experience having only been with the originator. This is exactly the kind of experiences I'm curious about. It seems like MEM handles the situation very well.

I can tell you that the Government does NOT book two seats however. As nice as that sounds, it was never my experience. Typically, these were last minute bookings sometimes on VERY full flights. Frequently there was no assigned seat for the escort, this is one thing we agents tried to fix first. Get the escort the best seat available, as close to the front as possible since he is to be the first one off the plane.

Twice however, I was in a situation where the escort was on the standby list. In both cases since I could do nothing a Supervisor authorized the removal of a passenger's pre-assigned seat for the escort to have. They had priority.

We also signed into the downline flight and got the escort a good seat there as well, however, we only gave first class in PHL since we weren't technically authorized to do that in the first place. Doing that downline would have really screwed things up.

User currently offlinePHLJJS From United States of America, joined Oct 2005, 418 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (8 years 7 hours ago) and read 4673 times:

I came accross this story on flyertalk. It is about how DL at PHL handled a recent escort flight. Very detailed and a very emotional story.

The Hedgehog Blog: Second Lieutenant Scott Lundell, RIP: A Story About Coming Home

User currently offlineTlfd29 From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 81 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (8 years 7 hours ago) and read 4662 times:

UALPHLCS, that was the most sobering thing i've read in a long time, thanks for sharing

User currently offlineWingnut135 From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 134 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (8 years 6 hours ago) and read 4628 times:

Having sent two of "Angel Flight" C-17s home from down range, it is good to hear that our brothers are being treated with the same respect on your end as on ours; both the deceased and the escort. We know that once they arrive in Dover it is mostly out of the Air Force's hands, and all we can do is hope. I know the escort has no idea of what is/has been going on behind the scenes for them, and I'm sure they appreciate it. Thank you.

I challenge anyone to contact their local VA and find out if there will be a military honors funeral in their area. You don't have to get involved, just be there to witness it. It will definitely change your outlook on life.


A good friend will get you out of jail. A real friend will be there with you saying, "Damn that was fun!"
User currently offlineElectech6299 From United States of America, joined Aug 2005, 616 posts, RR: 3
Reply 10, posted (8 years 4 hours ago) and read 4584 times:

My brother worked many a mission at Dover, performing the ceremonial duties from the C-5/C-17 to the hearse and pairing your escorts with their charge. Here's an (old) link for you, just to add my  twocents 

Unfortunately the old thread I found here on A-net was extremely politicized, so I won't bother a link unless someone wants it.

Quoting Wingnut135 (Reply 9):
I challenge anyone to contact their local VA and find out if there will be a military honors funeral in their area. You don't have to get involved, just be there to witness it. It will definitely change your outlook on life.

A very honorable challenge! I kinda like keeping up with the USO myself, and contacts there will often put you in touch with local events, especially ones that need support (e.g. no or few local family, hard-hit families, etc...) It also gives you a group to go with, for those that don't like going out of their way alone...

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls...it tolls for thee
User currently offlineCOSPN From Northern Mariana Islands, joined Oct 2001, 1661 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (8 years 2 hours ago) and read 4549 times:

We had 2 PHL-IAH-GUM-SPN, lots of good co-ordination between CO and the Military Normaly 2 are never to ride together but exceptions were made, a sad homecoming on one of the longest trips home..It is a sad duty, but so important..for the Hundreds waiting for them at the airport in SPN..

User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (7 years 12 months 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 4464 times:

Quoting PHLJJS (Reply 7):


That was powerful.

It was also wonderful to read that UA was in no-way unique in our handling of this duty. DL certainly does a nice job, doing many of the things we do over at UA.

I really like how ATL handles it. I wonder how ORD handles it. I never got a full story even from my own airline. With this essay I know no more about DL than I do about UA!

User currently offlineGODIA From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 97 posts, RR: 0
Reply 13, posted (7 years 12 months 4 days 18 hours ago) and read 4412 times:

I am a reservist myself, and I found the original post to be heartfelt and meaningful. No matter what our political feelings about the war, the sacrifices the men and women in uniform make is worthy of our respect and thanks. I greatly appreciate the efforts the airlines make to bring our dead home with the respect and honor they deserve.

Military Jet Noise--the Sound of Freedom!
User currently offlineUALPHLCS From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 14, posted (7 years 12 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 4226 times:

This was sent to a friend still at UA. Mentions a couple of people I worked with.


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