Ten facts you didn't know about turbulence while flying

Many people get annoyed, get uncomfortable or are even scared of turbulence while flying, but many don't know what turbulence is.

 An airplane takes off from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands June 16, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW)
An airplane takes off from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands June 16, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW)

Air vortexes (which is the scientific name for turbulence, but are more commonly known as "air pockets") are not just annoying or uncomfortable, but also cause fear among fliers. These turbulences, caused by a combination of thunderstorms, winds, the jet stream of the plane and sometimes when flying close to high mountains, are considered by many to be an "unexpected enemy." Like a sudden pothole in the road, which makes us cringe in panic.

Last February, three passengers on a Delta flight were sent to the hospital after turbulence caused an emergency landing. As well as a month ago, 36 people were injured, 11 of which were badly injured, on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Pheonix to Honolulu. These are just two examples from the past year.

But before you rush to cancel your next flight, it is worth stopping for a moment and fully understanding the essence of the phenomenon. For this purpose, the tourism site Condé Nast Traveler interviewed several pilots and aviation experts. Spoiler alert: It's not as bad as you think. Here are the conclusions.

Turbulence is mostly harmless

Turbulence is relatively common and usually harmless. But of course, this does not prevent it from being very unpleasant or uncomfortable at times. It's enough just to think about all these massive air currents, up and down, to feel discomfort.

 A Continental Airlines airplane is refueled at its gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, March 29, 2009 (credit: REUTERS/GARY HERSHORN) A Continental Airlines airplane is refueled at its gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, March 29, 2009 (credit: REUTERS/GARY HERSHORN)

There are injuries - but they are rare

The US Federal Aviation Administration claims that approximately 58 passengers and crew members are injured each year as a result of turbulence. Two-thirds of this number are flight attendants or passengers who aren't wearing seat belts, which means about 20 passengers - of the 800 million that fly every year in the United States - get injured due to turbulence. And this usually happens at an altitude of 10,000 meters or above.

The pilots know when it will happen

In many cases, the pilots know the turbulent conditions in their path and can activate the seat belt remote when the plane approaches the situation. The pilots are also guided by weather reports before the flight, in the radar on the plane and in reports from other planes in the area.

Most dangerous: Clear air turbulence

Clear air turbulence does not contain water condensation and therefore cannot be detected using normal radar. This is the most dangerous type since this type of turbulence occurs in a cloudless sky with perfect visibility. Therefore, there is very little (if any) time left to warn passengers and call them back to their seats and buckle in. Unsurprisingly, the majority of injuries associated with turbulence result from clear air turbulence.

Clear air turbulence is on the rise

According to scientists, the number of extreme air turbulences affecting flights could double by the middle of this century due to global warming. This means you should prepare for more bouncy flights in the future.

An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)An Israeli flag is seen on the first of Israel's El Al Airlines order of 16 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, as it lands at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Turbulence won't cause the plane to crash

Although it feels like an emergency, the chances of the plane crashing due to the turbulence are slim. Airplanes are designed to withstand a tremendous amount of extreme conditions.

The pilots know how to deal with the turbulence

To avoid such situations, the pilots study the weather patterns well, plan ahead and choose the best route before each flight. When turbulence becomes inevitable, good pilots also know how to calm their passengers.

You should obey the seat belt sign. No, really

Due to the high incidence of clear air turbulence, the only sure way to prevent related injuries is to fasten your seat belt whenever the sign is illuminated. It's simple but effective.

Pay attention to the children

Children held during flights on their parents' laps may be most vulnerable to injuries related to turbulence. This quick and sudden movement can cause the child to fall off you. In one case, a baby girl on a United Airlines flight was "sent flying" from her parents during turbulence and "landed" on one of the passengers who was sitting several rows in front of her (surprisingly, the baby girl was not harmed at all.)

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States called on airlines to install dedicated safety seats for infants and small children, similar to those in the vehicle.

Saying goodbye to whirlwinds for good?

We may soon be able to avoid turbulence altogether. Airlines are testing technology that may help planes avoid turbulence. This is through the use of ultraviolet lasers that will send a kind of pulse that will "clear" the plane's path in the air.