This is how pilots were told mid-flight that the Queen had died

Only a few pilots will have received the historic notice while thousands of feet in the air

Lucy Thackray
Tuesday 13 September 2022 10:40 BST
One pilot posted the transcript sent to aircraft on the ACARS system
One pilot posted the transcript sent to aircraft on the ACARS system (Twitter/@Katie_Pilot)

Pilots flying commercial jets on Thursday 8 September, 2022, had an extraordinary task put before them, as inflight communications informed them that the Queen had died.

Airline pilots shared photographs of the historic bulletin sent to them mid-flight, which offered them the decision on whether or not to announce the death of the monarch while still airborne.

One 29-year-old First Officer, who runs social media channels under the name Katie Pilot, shared an image of the message she received via the ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) system “somewhere over France”.

“I received the news of the death of Her Majesty The Queen via acars message somewhere over France,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Somewhat surreal and extremely sad moment. Goodnight your majesty, you will be deeply missed.”

The message reads: “Attn all aircraft.

“To be read at your discretion.

“It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the passing of her majesty the Queen.

“Our thoughts are with the royal family at this difficult time.”

The ACARS system is an automated messaging service that sends pilots key updates to the flight deck. It’s where a destination can give your pilot the latest weather update, so they can inform you before landing, or so pilots can inform ground staff of a disabled passenger that will need assistance on landing.

It was also used to inform pilots about the 9/11 attacks and subsequent closure of North American airspace in 2001.

Katie, who did not share which airline she was flying for, added in a reply that she had chosen not to break the news to passengers.

“We elected not to, we had Wi-Fi on board so word had spread around the cabin anyway. A poignant moment for sure,” she wrote.

Aviation Twitter account @TheNewArea51 shared a screenshot of the various ACARS messages being sent to aircraft on 8 September, announcing the death of the queen.

“Heathrow are saddened to hear that her majesty the Queen has passed away,” read one, sent to an Airbus A359.

“Just’d like to confirm, passengers inquiring if Queen Elizabeth has passed away?” wrote one pilot from a Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350.

Other communications showed obituaries and tributes from world leaders being sent to pilots.

French aviation reporter Arnaud Tousch also posted about the phenomenon of the “rare” ACARS message giving a current affairs update.

“The death of Queen Elizabeth II was announced to pilots in flight via the ACARS system. This type of message is quite rare and only concerns very important events,” he wrote.

He posted examples of an easyJet flight’s message, followed by another sent to a British Airways flight.

“With sadness we have to announce that HM Queen Elizabeth passed away peacefully this afternoon at Balmoral,” says a digital message displayed in green on a flightdeck screen.

“‘Ordinary’ ACARS messages are daily and very often relate to information for the flight. Messages concerning ‘news’ are more rare,” explained Mr Tousch.

He posted a happier example of a current affairs note in the ACARS system - France’s victory in the 2018 football World Cup final being sent to pilots in French.

“Fin match, on est champion du monde, Fra 4 Cro 2,” wrote the ground station - “End of match, we are world champion, Fra [France] 4 Cro [Croatia] 2.”

The pilot who posted the shot of the momentous inflight notification called it the “coolest ACARS a CCO can send”.

On Sunday, a viral video showed how one British Airways crew onboard a New York to London flight were left fighting back tears as its pilot announced the death of the Queen at cruising altitude.

The announcement was made over the tannoy by the pilot as the plane approached London Heathrow, just over an hour after news emerged that the Queen had died.

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