Turbulence is a dreaded experience for many fearful flyers, and is the source of the majority of anxiety amongst airline passengers. I’ll be honest with you, this surprises me. Before I started producing Flying Fear I never would have thought this would be the case. It’s easy for aviation employees to forget how an every day occurence could be perceived by our passengers.
As a Flight Attendant I see turbulence as a mere annoyance. Usually because we only seem to experience it at the very same time I get my only chance to have a cup of coffee! Either that, or when I’m desperately trying to complete paperwork.
In a way though, it’s fair to say that I enjoy turbulence. For those of you with a fear of flying, that probably makes me sound a little crazy. But, try and think about it differently;
Would a Flight Attendant really enjoy something that could cause damage to the aircraft?
I’m sure you can guess the answer. If I knew that turbulence was in the slightest bit dangerous, there is not a chance in hell that I would find it enjoyable!
What is Turbulence?
Understanding what turbulence is will be your first step to getting over your fear. We need to eliminate your fear of the unknown…..
Turbulence comes in various forms, and various degrees of intensity;
- Light – Still able to walk around, but can feel slight movement. Seatbelt signs may not be switched on in this case.
- Moderate – Harder to walk around. Seatbelt signs will usually be switched on. Flight Attendants will normally continue with their work.
- Severe – Flight Attendants will be instructed to put their seatbelts on. To put this in perspective, I’ve experienced this once in thousands of flights!
- Extreme – I’ve never experienced this, and most airline crew will go their whole career without doing so.
You may be thinking you have experienced severe or extreme turbulence – but it’s more than likely you haven’t.
Clear-Air Turbulence (CAT)
When you are cruising at 38,000ft with not a cloud in sight, and it starts to get bumpy, you are experiencing Clear Air Turbulence. This form of turbulence is often found in mountainous areas and near jetstreams.
The most effective way to describe turbulence, is by directly comparing air to water. Both act in a very similar way – in fact, many aerodynamic tests are carried out underwater.
Think of air as thousands of streams, joining together, and splitting in different directions. Where these streams meet, you will find the water is unsettled. A streams flow is also interrupted and altered by any obstruction in its path – for example a rock. This can be compared to the way air moves over the earth’s surface, and how it behaves when it encounters a mountain range.
Concective turbulence is sometimes encountered in warm climates, during sunlight. Air is warmed by the sun and rises as a result, before cooling and falling. This process continues on a constant basis, so air is rising and falling continuously. When we fly through this it can cause turbulence as the air is moving in different directions.
A Video on Turbulence
This is a great little video from Captain Stacey Chance explaining turbulence. Look out for the shot of the altimeter in the cockpit and note how it is hardly moving.
You may think you are dropping hundreds of feet – but you are not! The proof is in the video……..
Is Turbulence Dangerous?
I could answer this question in one word – NO! But, I’m sure you are looking for a more detailed answer, so I’ll do my best to give you one…….
If you are sat in your seat, with your seatbelt fastened, then turbulence will not cause you any problems. I’m not saying it won’t be uncomfortable, but it certainly isn’t dangerous.
A huge misconception amongst airline passengers is the idea that pilots are desperately fighting to keep control of the aircraft during any encounter with turbulence. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s very rare that the autopilot will be switched off, as it is perfectly capable of staying in control. The aircraft is designed to naturally fly straight, and therefore always corrects itself if bumpy air interferes with this.
Turbulence is NOT a danger to the aircraft itself either. It’s actually pretty amazing how strong modern airliners are. The best example of this can be found by watching this video on YouTube, which shows a Boeing wing test. Take note how far the wings move before breaking – and how much force is applied.
You will NEVER encounter any weather that puts this much strain on the aircraft, and so the wings will NEVER break………. NEVER!