Man Dies In Cathay Pacific Lounge, Isn’t Found For Over 17 Hours

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

Here’s a shocking and sad story that’s only making headlines months after the actual occurrence. On October 28, 2018, Ming Kou Chan (a Stanford scholar) was scheduled to fly Cathay Pacific from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and was using the Cathay Pacific Lounge at San Francisco Airport.

Not only did he never board the flight, but it was nearly 18 hours before his body was discovered inside one of the shower suites in the lounge. The reason he was finally found was because he never made it to Hong Kong, at which point concerns were raised regarding his wellbeing.

The autopsy showed that he had clogged arteries in his heart. It also showed multiple rib fractures due to CPR, but the attempts to revive him were futile, and he was declared dead at the scene.

This is of course a tragic story. While it doesn’t sound like there was foul play, it seems like there’s a chance that he could have been saved if they found him sooner.

An airport spokesperson said the following regarding the incident:

“From the airport’s perspective–we typically to leave it up to the airlines to manage the situation whenever the passengers don’t actually board the flight.”

Meanwhile a Cathay Pacific spokesperson said the following:

“Out of respect for the parties involved, we will not be commenting on the specifics of the incident.”

Many might be wondering how it’s possible for someone to be in an airport lounge bathroom for nearly 18 hours without anyone noticing. There are a few things to keep in mind, none of which justify what happened, but which might explain the combination of factors that led to this:

  • This was a private shower suite, so there’s only one person who uses it at a time
  • You’d think some red flags would have been raised when he didn’t board the flight; the reality is that all too often airlines don’t do much verification in this regard, given that airlines allow online check-in, so you have some people who check-in but don’t board the flight
  • Logically when you get a shower suite in a lounge an airline should be keeping track of you; my guess is that the shower attendants were simply focused on whether the room was occupied or not, rather than keeping track of how long it had been occupied for

This is terrible, though I can see the set of unfortunate circumstances that led to this. It shows a clear lack of attention to detail on the part of the lounge staff. That includes the receptionists at the front (who should have known that this guy had visited the lounge, and therefore should have been suspicious when he didn’t board), and also the shower attendants (who should be tracking how long the shower room is being used for, rather than just whether it’s occupied or not).

It’s awful to think that he might have been saved if they had gotten to him sooner. The guy was only 69…

This also raises the question of how much responsibility the airline bears in this situation. Should they be held liable for their lack of attention to detail here, or was this just an unfortunate situation that couldn’t have easily been prevented?

  1. It is noteworthy that Cathay did nothing to locate a passenger who had checked in, but did not board. Shouldn’t such instances trigger alarm bells from a security standpoint?

    Air India suffered a tragedy in 1985 when a flight from Toronto, Canada exploded off the coast of Ireland. A suitcase with a bomb was checked in from Vancouver, but the passenger did not board the aircraft; the suitcase made it onto the Air India flight.

  2. While unfortunate, this doesn’t strike me as a case of particular malfeasance on anyone’s part. It’s a private part of a lounge, itself a private part of an airport. Ideally, if you’re in a shower, you’re *not* being paid attention to.

    With all that said, if you gotta go, you could do worse than in a Cathay Lounge.

  3. 69 years old actually is not too young considering typical American eating and workout habit…

    But still, very sad news and Cathy Pacific could have done a better job on locating this passenger, unless this lounge is 24/7?

  4. Indeed very sad
    Doesn’t surprise me and though my gripes with Cathay are petty compared to death
    I have always found Cathay’s management to be exceptionally poor/lax
    lacking attention to detail for things like working internet in their business center and a host of other annoying concerns that may not be important to all.
    Other business travelers share with me signals are not functioning consistently

    While death is a real extreme here the fact is they have a fancy appearing lounge but the customer service and lack of concern has been apparent to me for sometime
    Nobody is willing to take care of problems
    I stopped flying them a few years ago and switched to other premium carriers

    At LAX there is nothing like taking a bus to get to your Cathay first class seat packed with hundreds of people crammed in.They don’t even rate a real gate at LAX so you have to go the tarmac somewhere to board on stairs like it is the 50s or 60s all over again
    Once on board great seat good staff
    However everything else with Cathay is a giant fail for me overall
    All show no go

  5. Unless CX’s shower policy has changed at SFO, I find this particularly shocking. The last time I took a shower there about 16 months ago, you had to hand in your boarding pass while you were in the shower suite (assuming you had a paper one) or you had to hand in an ID or something if you had a mobile boarding pass. If this is still the case, how the hell would they not check on the passenger after the flight had departed?

  6. It’s your responsibility to get on a plane, end of story. It’s not the planes responsibility to find you. Every day people wander off , stay at the bar to long , or get distracted.
    It’s unfortunate that in this case it was due to an injury. When I was in the shower suites I felt like there was a time limit. That would have been helpful, again life happens.
    Hopefully this person had the trip of a lifetime and went out as he wanted.

  7. Why aren’t you more up front where you source info from? You’re essentially just amplifying others’ work. And in this case, it’s quite old.

    It’s not wrong per se but it seems problematic to not indicate this is essentially a megaphone for stuff that’s out there already. “Reporting on reports” is the epitome of the whole fake news phenomenon.

    But without any clear indication at the top (not the nonsense “hat tip” sometimes but not always given at the very end), it is rather misleading and generally just bad that this phenomenon exists.

  8. Hi Ben,

    What is the best program to credit the miles? I am not a frequent flyer (I fly about 10 times a year – most in business class using miles), and I have a boatload of Membership Rewards that can be used to pay for these flights with 35% MR refund for being a Platinum card holder. It would be awesome to get any type of status. My last three trips I used my MR to fly business class. We are seeing a trend of points/miles being devaluated by the airlines and hotels, but also great deals for flying revenue business class tickets, which makes sense to pay with the MR.

  9. @Bob Trial – “News Flash!” (pun intended) – it’s common practice for even the “most respected” news agencies to simply copy off each other. Heck sometimes I read a story on one news website, only for it to be a carbon copy – word for word – from another. This is Ben’s blog and he can share what he wishes. He doesn’t even claim to be a news agency, but he does bring a vast amount of information for us from the aviation/points world. As for this piece, this is the first I heard of it, so it’s “news” to me.

  10. @Bob Trial – Lucky is a blogger, not a journalist working for the New York Times. Unless it’s a personal experience, everything Lucky writes about is obtained from other sources. If you prefer other news sources, fine. For myself, I like getting all the airline and credit card news and information Lucky offers up. I believe Lucky is an honest broker in his reporting and it’s unfair to characterize his work as “fake news.”

  11. @Adil there is no security risk as the passenger has gone through security. And baggage should have been offloaded if he was a no show
    The gate staff may have made out a call but it was not their responsibility to look for him
    What is surprising is that no one bothered to check the shower to clean it
    Very sad

  12. Classic clikbait, because I already know this story. Instantly you think of Hong Kong and its lauded Cathay Lounges.
    But this is San Francisco, in a shower most people do not know even exists.
    But not quite as sensational when you put it:
    man found dead in shower in foreign airline lounge in SFO

  13. Please no, I don’t want anyone checking on me during shower time even if I am in for a few hours. A shower suite is private, let it remain this way. Nobody made a mistake here, lounge agents went to home after their shift, new lounge agents came in etc.. How could they know that this guy was dead?

    Maybe there should be an emergency button in the shower room, but that’s all.

  14. Almost every shower suite requires you to give your full flight number and departure time AND your boarding pass. The fact that they did not find him within an hour of boarding is unacceptable. Any other suites require you to give ID or a passport. Very rarely an attendant will just hand you a key but they tend to be very aware of how long everyone is in each room for.

  15. @dwondetmeant. … at LAX they are waiting for the midfield concourse to be completed with 12 extra gates. Eventually it will be extended to have almost 25 Each time I’ve flown on Cathay to or from LA it’s been from a regular gate.
    I believe those remote buildings where the bus transfer passengers to/from are to eventually be demolished as the American Airlines hangar has to be relocated to make way for the southern section of the midfield

  16. I don’t blame Cathay Pacific at all. I blame the shower attendant and whoever runs the lounge.

    Of course, now we know that it’s possible to have lengthy SEX in the shower at the Cathay Pacific Lounge for, if you’re quiet (or maybe not), they won’t notice that you are in there for a long time.

  17. I am a big fan of yours but not a fan of CX but I have to disagree with you in this case. I don’t belive that the airline is there to track the passengers’ comings and goings and especially when you are in a private lounge and in a private shower suite. People check in but don’t board the flight all the time for various reasons, the burden should not be on the airlines to track them down. I will agree, though, that it shouldn’t have taken 17 hours for them to find him but still we should not speculate that finding him any earlier would have made a difference unless the coroner said so. I don’t think it’s fair to CX to insinuate that they had indirectly killed this man.

  18. Bad things happen. That doesn’t mean someone is at fault. Lounges and airports are self-serve spaces. Had the man died sitting on the toilet, it would have ended much the same way. It may just have been 4 hrs later (vs 18) when a cleaning crew noticed something.

    Hopefully CX removed any checked luggage from the hold when he didn’t board the plane.

  19. If the airline is liable then I’d imagine all airlines around the world will start installing “the airline is not liable for death in the shower suites” signs on shower suite doors which isn’t exactly something you want before getting onto a flight…

  20. @Dmodemd

    Guessing whoever found him and performed the CPR had no clue that he’d been down for 18hours.

  21. @AlanD and Brendan

    I am with you, EVERY TIME I have taken a shower in a lounge, I have had to leave my BP in the hands of the attendant/receptionist, including once in Doha’s Al Safwa where they lost it and excorted me to the desk to reprint it. Question is that, if you have a (.pdf) or any such BP on your phone, are you supposed to leave the phone with them?

  22. Bob, “reporting on reports” is not the epitome of the fake news phenomenon. “Fake news” is Trump’s phrase for any bit of truth he doesn’t know how to tackle without making himself look bad/pathetic. On May 9, 2018, Trump admitted that “fake news” is simply press that he doesn’t like: From Twitter, “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake).”

  23. It’s odd/sad/bizarre that so many people need to find someone to blame or fault for this. Not to minimize the loss to his friends and family, but clogged arteries are the result of genetics, diet, and lifestyle, none of which are the responsibility a shower attendant or airline crew. So, to the question “was this just an unfortunate situation that couldn’t have easily been prevented?”, yes, but the process needed to start decades before he stepped into the shower.

    As far as lamenting, “It’s awful to think that he might have been saved if they had gotten to him sooner.”, the brain starts dying 3-4 minutes after the flow of blood/oxygen stops. Personally, I have yet to meet a shower attendant that I would want coming in to check on me every three minutes.

    Just out of curiosity, since it had nothing to do with the circumstances, why is it necessary to include that he was a Stanford scholar? Does that make it more tragic or shocking or sad? Perhaps if he had gone to a community college or dropped out of high school no one would be shocked or sad that he died.

  24. As a physician, I can tell you that if the guy was down from an MI and not breathing for more than 10 minutes, he’s brain-dead and a meaningful recovery wouldn’t be possible. Even if a nosy or alert shower attendant found him within 5 minutes, started immediate CPR and threw a defibrillator on him, that’s almost too late. Plus, the logistics of getting paramedics to him, and then getting him out and to a hospital would have probably meant his event-to-treatment time would be so great that his recovery odds would have been dismal.
    At 18 hours they were doing CPR on a corpse. There’s nobody to blame here other than cholesterol and bad timing. It was the worst (or maybe the best) place to go out in style.

  25. It shows a clear lack of attention to detail on the part of the lounge staff. That includes the receptionists at the front (who should have known that this guy had visited the lounge, and therefore should have been suspicious when he didn’t board), and also the shower attendants (who should be tracking how long the shower room is being used for, rather than just whether it’s occupied or not).

    Now tell me which airline lounge receptionist keeps track of its visitors at any lounge around the world??? None. If a passenger doesn’t show up for boarding, no airline makes a particular big effort to track and locate it’s missing passenger other than occasional announcements.

    The shower attendants however could have done a better job at tracking how long guests spend inside showers and maybe limit each visit to 45mins or so and check on passengers if anyone exceeds that.

    Truly unfortunate and tragic indeed and certainly a better monitoring process could be in place for the shower suites.

  26. Terrible tragedy but — wow a lounge shower has never been a more intimate and secluded place for the pre-mile high club.

  27. The continued deterioration of this site; Died in The Pier, news. At SFO, who cares.., click bait.

  28. Why is it when OMAAT posts something that can be categorized as “Interesting (to some) piece of information”, someone always howls “click bait” ????
    Can’t something travel related just be an FYI kind of thing?
    Do we need every single post to be something directly related to reviews or miles & points advice?
    Me thinks not. A bit of gab is good from time to time.

  29. That’s the same lounge I got food poisoning at a few years ago prior to boaring a flight to Cebu via HK. It was from the mini sandwiches which were apparently left out all day without proper refrigeration. Luckily the nurse on board got a script approved via phone and gave me a fast acting drug. Was not a pleasant flight. CP never apologized or gave me any compensation.

  30. A very sad story
    Hope this is a lesson fo Cathay and other airlines. Once a passenger check in at the airline’s lounge counter and then at the shower area there is a way to trace the passenger. In this particular case it could had save a life.

  31. While I don’t think its reasonable to suggest he could have been saved if they had a different policy (once you stop breathing really you have six minutes before brain damage occurs), after 10-15 minutes without medical intervention being taken your chances of survival are pretty much gone. Its not reasonable to suggest he could have been saved with one exception. maybe if there was an alarm button in the shower to signify he needed help he may have been able to hit that and be saved. Still all this being said there is NO excuse for him not being discovered foralmost 18 hours. At some point staff should have figured out that the shower is still occupied even though they had seen nobody go in there for almost 18 hours. The policy should be changed so they are checking the shower more often in case elderly people or something fall down in the shower and can’t get up etc, but I doubt even with these changes it would have made a difference here. We don’t want staff banging on the shower door every 10 minutes, but maybe having them check what is going on if somebody has been in the shower more than 30-45 minutes would make sense.

  32. Not to be judgmental about it, but given typical attitudes among HK natives to haunted places, I’m betting that shower suite is going to be permanently closed, and possibly the whole lounge will be (finally!) getting an extreme makeover, which would be a minor silver lining on this otherwise appalling incident.

  33. Usually there is someone overseeing the showers(think JFK) and they know who is in and out???

  34. @derek
    Sex? More like you can take a shower, have sex, take a bath, sleep overnight, wake up, have sex again, then another bath and still have plenty of time.

  35. It is the airline’s responsibility, your ticket is a contract is with them not an individual attendant. CX is often poor on the ground. I also find some of the flippant comments made about this situation to be third rate and uncouth. Cathay is responsible, from what’s reported they haven’t shown due diligence and its surprising that the litigious American attitude hasn’t taken effect yet on this matter

  36. Thanks for the report, Lucky, even though some may think it is old. It is news to me. At least I will avoid going to that lounge next time. Both CX and the lounge management should take some responsibility for the reasons cited by some on this site. Even though the shower is private, but if there is no sound coming out from the shower for a few hours, this should raise suspicion, and this is different from someone checking on you every three to four minutes when you are showering. When someone is in shower, there will be some sound coming out from the shower. Also, after 18 hours, why would someone perform CPR on a corpse and then declared the person is dead? They should have known the person is long dead before performing CPR. Very strange!

  37. “It also showed multiple rib fractures due to CPR, but the attempts to revive him”…. My God! Were the paramedics using a bench press to conduct CPR? I find it worrying.

  38. Cathay Pacific is definitely negligent, despite that may not have changed the outcome.
    The lounge opens from 9am to 1am (16hours only), assuming the worst case scenario of the gentleman entered the shower suite at 9am sharp and collapsed immediately, he still should have been found at around 1am when the lounge closed.
    The fact that he was not found for over 17 hours indicates that Cathay Pacific did not thoroughly check and clear the lounge before closing.

  39. Liable? Liable because a man responsible for his own personal well being had a medical issue in an area he was in on his own accord: no. If someone uses a restroom in a department store and dies of an illness the store is not responsible for the person dying unless the reason was he was trapped because of a defective door handle and locking system.

    Liable?? This thought is why we have so many problems in the West.

  40. @Adil

    I’m fairly sure they just removed his luggage and thought he’d changed his mind about flying

  41. @J Munene. Rib fractures are a fairly common occurrence after CPR, especially in the elderly population.

  42. The lounge staff/shower attendants definitely share some of the blame. I get that people expect some privacy when taking a shower in a lounge, but you’d think the staff would be checking up after a few hours to make sure he was done with the shower, so they could at least clean and prepare it for the next person.

  43. Just back from Hong Kong and had a shower suite at The Pier. They do not require u to give you anything to get a shower suite.

  44. @j munene

    CPR almost always produces broken/cracked ribs, especially in older patients, due to the force required to compress the heart which sits under the ribcage. It’s not a gentle procedure.

  45. If not found within 3 minutes of dropping dead from sudden coronary death (what happened to this guy), your chances of survival are zero. The only people that have a remote chance of surviving this are those that are seen to go down, AND CPR is started immediately, AND someone has an AED handy or emergency services arrives quickly. Period.

  46. @Bob Trial
    If Ben gets his info from a single other blog or news site or whatever, I notice he’ll usually name and link it in the form “hats off to [site]” at the end of his post. In this particular case, I’m guessing he got his info from the FlyerTalk forums (I read the relevant thread a few days ago), so I suppose there’s not a good single source to reference. Ben also frequently mentions he trolls FlyerTalk, so it’s not completely unmentioned.

    The issue, completely unrelated to the above, is that the thread later establishes that the dude was in a normal restroom stall (fully enclosed though), not actually a shower, so this implies Ben didn’t read all the way through. Not a big deal, I just feel like poking fun at things.

    Also, for those complaining about clickbait, I thought that referred to headlines that entice clicking through by not providing the answer to an implied question in the headline, even though that answer would be just a few words long? Like an example, pulled from TPG right now: “Here’s Why Uber and Lyft Drivers Are Purposefully Surging Prices at Washington’s Reagan Airport” where the reason could be summarized “increasing earnings for drivers” (TPG has a lot of these). Here, Ben succinctly states the salient points of the incident…

  47. @ Will….Really don’t care that it was on another site a couple of days ago. Not all of us are reading they all travel sites.

  48. “it seems like there’s a chance that he could have been saved if they found him sooner.”

    Absolutely not. CPR isn’t like it is in the movies… The survival rate for CPR given outside of a hospital is something like 6%, and it’s not that much higher in hospital.

    Unless there was a trained first aider in there watching him shower, the chance of him surviving if he was found even ten minutes after collapsing (in itself incredibly unlikely and intrusive – if my shower was interrupted every 10 minutes for a welfare check I’d be irritated!) is roughly 0%.

  49. I wonder how many EK premium guests have died in their SFO shower.
    Marble everywhere and no handrails or mats. Last time I used it, I mentioned the safety implication to both the lounge attendants (whom by the way had retained my boarding pass) and what looked to be their Station Manager. I received the usual blank stares.

  50. If it helps at all, it’s very unlikely that this man could’ve been saved. CPR has a very low success rate, around 3%.

    He likely had a cardiovascular event. It might’ve been very quick. I had a wonderful great uncle who had a brain embolism (he had a PFO). His death was literally instant. He was getting ready to shower ironically, was talking to my great aunt totally normally, then out of nowhere just fell down unresponsive.

    Very sad for the family but probably the best way to go. I hope this man’s passing was similarly very quick, painless, and fear-free.

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