Turbulence

Fear of Turbulence

Boeing 757 Taxiing in Tenerife

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;

  1. Light – Still able to walk around, but can feel slight movement. Seatbelt signs may not be switched on in this case.
  2. Moderate – Harder to walk around. Seatbelt signs will usually be switched on. Flight Attendants will normally continue with their work.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.

Convective Turbulence

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!

Click to see the Boeing Wing test Video Click to see another video on Turbulence

Comments

  1. Reena says

    Hello,
    I am a regular traveler and travel a lot on long flights 9 to 10hrs per flight.I am not really scared traveling alone or taking long flights and I am fine when the flight takes off or lands..The issue arises when I am on a 2 or 3hr flight supposedly cause of small sized flight..I am very very scared of the turbulence and panic a lot when that happens in fact I feel my heart has just gone up for a second..then I am ok but from past 2travels i have started taking motion sickness pills which makes me feel better.Please can you suggest me something so that I dont need to take any pills and stay normal and enjoy my flight.Cause I am travelling from Chicago to Vegas on 22nd and last time we went to vegas there was severe turbulence cause of grand canyons so worried about my flight travel..Please help..

  2. Sophie says

    Hello,

    I am absolutly terrified of flying, let I can still bring myself to fly (the holiday draws me in and i dont even consider my fear of the flight until im on it) – I hate the feeling of being out of control, im tall so i hate being cramed in the same seat for hours, i hate turbulance, i hate all the small noises and movements the plane makes and i hate taking off. The only part i can say i like is the landing, because then i know its over! I will physically cry and shake like a baby – i hate it that much. Before flying i find myself getting very paranoid and asking RIDICULOUS questions.. not even caring how stuid and nieve i look!

    As a child i used to love flying and it never bothered me… i remember my fears starting after 9/11 and after having a really bad flight to Tenerife.. where the Turbulance would easily be rated at ‘severe’ – even the flight attendant was paniking and our plane had to take off again while trying to land, it was bouncing all over the place, i remember thinking i was going to die, no matter how over the top that sounds!

    3 years ago i flew to Cyprus with my ex boyfriend and his family, in my head i knew that i was petrified but i acted like i loved flying, because him and his family hadnt flown before, and because i had experience, i acted like i was a pro and really confident… so the whole flight i was absolutly fine! Very strange.

    I came back from Egypt last week and it was honestly the worst flight ive ever had, most of this was down to me being very unwell (i had to be collected by ambulance at Gatwick) but also my fear.. i was a nervous wreck, cuddled into my mum and shaking as soon at the plane made the slightest noise or movement, the staff were also appauling and we have put a complaint in to the company.

    Anyway, all this contributes to my massive fear, but i need to find a way to get over it as i am desperate to travel, my main aim to get to Australia to see my family!

    Any suggestions?

    • Emma says

      Sophie, I totally relate to your post as this is exactly how I used to react to flying- no one understood why I was fine as soon as we started our landing! I was a wreck through take off, calmer during flights and a mess if we hit turbulance. I listen out for every noise, watch people constantly and generally don’t look forward to holidays until I get there! I’ve never let it stop me from flying though, and take about 4 flights a year. In April I am going to Thailand… I finally feel ready for a long haul flight (Eygpt is the furthest I’ve been so far) and found the following helped…
      Talk to a flight attendant out of work! I am lucky to have a close friend who has been a flight attendant for 6 years. She talks me through all sorts and tells tails of turbulance she dealt with and didn’t even flinch over.
      Look at data for the number of planes that fly each day- I find it really reassuring to find that thousands of flights are happening each day and yet you hardly ever here of incidents.
      Consider some form of hypnosis/ meditation. I am looking into this as I really want to just relax all the way.
      I also find (and this is a bit silly) that reading a celeb gossip magazine as we wait to take off helps- imagining how many flights each celebrity has taken with their jet setting lifestyle.
      I am by no means a perfect flier, I’ve got better although I am better on some flights than others- at the end of each flight I congratulate myself and promise to remember next time that it is nothing to worry about.
      Hope this helps!
      p.s. I have tried diazapam and alcohol before flying (sometimes at the same time) and think that really these are just red herrings – but speak to your doctor if you really feel it might help

    • dawn says

      I can empathise with your problem. I was just the same – in fact I had avoided flying until I was 34 as I was too scared! This went on for years and I tried everything, in the end resorting to drugs to calm me down (legal and prescribed of course!!). I have recently had CBT which has helped me A LOT! It started by the guys explaining the fear response is so you can fight off the problm or run away. As I had already made the decision to get on the flight, neither of these things were necessary and so the fear response was a waste of time. Once I reaslised I was ;choosing’ to feel this way, I gradually got over things. I flew to Singapore last month for my honeymoon and was totally fine- even in moderate turbulence for a lot of the flight and some cross winds on landing. In short, this takes time and determination but get some help and you CAN get over it. I would never have believed it!! Good luck x

  3. Jennifer says

    I am having to fly from Baltimore to Atlanta in a little under 2 weeks. I’m absolutely terrified of the thoughts of flying 1) All by myself for the first time and 2) For the first time in about 7 years. I’ve flown many many times before and I know how everything works, but it still scares me. I’m mostly afraid of turbulence. Also, I’m afraid to move around on the plane for fear that I will somehow make the plane unstable. I’m constantly examining the attendants’ faces to make sure there’s nothing wrong with the plane. I must admit that I have a hard time believing that planes are safe when it seems like they could fall out of the sky at a moment’s notice. For that reason, taking off and touching down don’t really affect me much- during those times, I get this real sense of just how fast the plane is traveling. During those times, I can feel the speed of the plane so I can reason to myself how a plane could somehow lift off into the air, therfore, I’m ok. It’s that (seeming) lull time in thee air that gets me everytime, when it seems as though we aren’t moving and I can’t feel the speed (and I don’t understand the physics involved). It’s terrible to feel this stressed out about flying. When I’m panicking, I’m usually not one for discretion- that is, I openly squirm and cry like an infant with no regard to the fact that I’m embarrassing myself. Please help if you can.

  4. Shannon says

    Hi, i know this sounds ridiculous but i am terrified of flying, i have only been abroad 3 times before, and you’d expect people to be getting used to it by now, but i’m not. I was fine with flying until around September last year, i went to Menorca with my parents, and we were due to leave at around 12.00pm, but word came out that our flight would be delayed due to ‘technical problems’. We waited around 3 hours and still, we never heard anything else. My parents and i went to the Thomas Cook information desk, and they told us that they had to fly an engineer in, and the closest one, was in Leeds. In total, we ended up with a 7 hour delay. While we were waiting for the flight, my mum’s friend, who was also travelling with us, said to me “Well, i’d rather wait 7 hours than get on a plane that blows up when your in mid-air” and of course, only being a 13 year old girl, this panicked me terribly. Our flight was only 2 and a half yours long,and i was physically shaking everytime i heard the slightest little noise, i tried to blank everything out, and i kept grabbing mum, it was that bad, the flight attendant was laughing at me. To make it worse, the pilots decided to tell us what this ‘technical fault’ was, but they decided to tell us after we had taken off and were at crusing altitude. It turns out that one of the wings had jammed in reverse and the pilot’s couldn’t turn it back. When they announced that we were beginning to descend, i remembered what the fault was and started having visions of the plane’s wings not changing into reverse and the plane eventually running out of fuel and plummeting to the ground. We have booked to go to Tenerife this September, which is a 4.5 hour flight from Manchester, and i don’t want this fear again, please can you help me?

  5. nicci says

    Hello
    I can totally relate to you all. Taking off and landing are the worst times for me. I stood on the runway refusing to get on a plane once! I do eventually get on and everybody is staring at me as I am usually hysterically crying and I dont care what anybody thinks at the time. I have booked my honeymoon to mexico in March 2012 and I am already having sleepless night and stomach complaints due to the anxiety, in fact if it was up to me I would be going to Cornwall on my honeymoon :)
    I am trying to find as many websites like this one as possible to attempt to enjoy the thought of going on holiday, I am taking my 2 year old little girl and am so scared that its too much of a risk to take her flying. I was crying in the travel agents just booking my honeymoon. Any advice would be really appreciated, I have researched the flying statistics, however it doesnt seem to help that it the safest way to travel etc as I cannot shake that feeling of sheer terror as I am no longer on the ground. I gave my fiance finger mark bruises on his arm last time we went and ruined his decent shirt with lots of make up.
    If anybody has tried something and it has worked then please share this with me.
    Thanks
    Nicci

  6. Sharon says

    Hi, I am flying on Saturday morning, i take about 6 long hall flights a year and more short ones. I am so scared of flying the thought of going on a plane makes me sleepless and panic ! I start thinking about the flight as soon as the Holiday is booked even if its 6months before. I used to be fine as a child and at the age of 17 i started to fly every few weeks to Spain which is a 3 hour flight, i flew by myself and the more i flew the worse i got. I would cry and hyperventilate i can no longer fly by myself. I fly with my Husband always but as soon as i am about to bored i go quiet and nervous, When my parents or husban are flying without me they have to call me as soon as they are on the plane and as soon as they land other wise i worry all day. I have to call my mum as soon as i sit down and i start to panic on the phone. Take off starts the process i hate the sounds the shuddering, the loud noises i cant relax at all untill i see the air hostess get up from her seat, if the seat belt sign is on for longer than usual i start to freak out and ask my Husband why they are not off yet. Then when it gets turbulent even the slightest bump i panic, i go hot and my body almost goes into shock my hands clentch up and i shake and cant breath. I wish i could just relax and not have this fear it really effects me and gets me down. I love landing so much as soon as we start going into land im happy because i know the flight is over. I would really love some advice ? I even ask questuons about how good the airline is and are they new planes and i research them online ! Please help !!
    Thanks

  7. says

    I’m 69; I fly frequently; I love taking off, landing, and smooth air. But for some reason I don’t understand, turbulence scares me.
    I’ve read all the information from pilots and flight attendants about how turbulence is just a minor annoyance for them; about how planes are super-strong, etc. On my most recent flight I compared the bumps as we were taxing down the runway before takeoff: actually much bumpier than turbulence in flight. I know rationally that turbulence is no big deal.
    I tried one valium and two drinks. I even imagined we were not flying, but driving at 400 miles per hour along an elevated roadway, 7 miles high, with some potholes which the road crews needed to fix; I could see them stepping aside to let us shoot past so they could get back to their patching work.
    But I still have this gut-level reaction, accelerated heart, and fear. It’s physical, and I can’t seem to think it away.
    I wonder: is it possible to take something and just go to sleep for two hours, then wake up? I would love that!

  8. Nathanm97 says

    I’m Going From Newcastle To Sharm El Sheikh On 20th July and last year when i was going to turkey we went over moderate turbulence over the alp’s and no-1 liked it as some people started crying and it got me worried.. and ive kinda got a fear of flying now and this is a 5 hour flight and i thought going over sea’s and mountain’s would be quite turbulent..

    • Anonymous says

      The same thing happend to me! I was fine until a flight to Turkey with minor turbulance (the air hosteses didnt even have to sit down, it wasnt that bad) and I started to panic and ever since then ive been freaked out. Im planning a holiday this summer and I am a nurse and see ill people every day battling with their lives. I just think what have we got to lose? Its not as though we are having life threatning surgery with low surival rates, we are getting on a plane, which is one of the safest methods of travel!

      • Viki says

        This is one of the most sensible and reassuring comments on here. I appreciate those that are commenting are also seeking help, but they are some comments that are actually more upsetting to read than helpful so some users must bare in mind what they are writing on a phobia forum!
        I am 20 and used to fly at least a few times a year apart from, like this person above, one flight that I scared myself on and have now convinced myself something terrible will happen. However, as the nurse said, what have you really got to lose? If the most unlikely situation arose and something were to happen, the people that surround you are trained and paid to ensure your utmost safety and comfort. With this in mind, I will not let the fear take hold of me any more. The only person causing it is me, there is nothing to be scared of.

        • Ale says

          I know! This is a phobia place and I come t find people posting terrifying comments that have made me MORE NERVOUS! Unbelievable, what a lack of brains! >:(

          I have been a nervous flier but after my flight from Mexico to UK I am extremely afraid because we flew when there was a tale of a hurricane. That turbulence made me very stressed and now my teens don’t want to fly ever again so how will I go back to Mexico to visit my family :( I am extremely pressured and very afraid to fly into hurricane winds every time I need to travel.
          Help please :(

          • Sheree says

            Hi Ale,

            I’ve been unfortunate enough to be on a plane during severe turbulence & hit air pockets many a times. Like you, i’m a very nervous flyer now as well and tend to panic before flying, especially since I need to take 2 flight home as I fly from London to Sydney, Australia or Auckland NZ.

            The best thing I can honestly say that has helped me on my flights is calling the doctor before you fly, the nurse can arrange to give you a mild dose of valium to help you with your nerves. It worked a treat for me last year when we hit bad turbulence last year, it seemed like a walk in the park and no panic at all. If you do choose to fly with this providing the doctor agrees, please remember talking from experience Nicotine and Coffee do not help and often reduce the calming affect of the medication

  9. mel says

    Your article says that you’ve never experienced extreme turbulence, and that most crews never will, and that you’ve had severe turbulence only once & it’s rare. I fly to the US every two years for a family reunion, and of my last 8 flights (that is, 4 return journeys) there was only one flight where the turbulence was less than severe!

    Surely I can’t be that unlucky, and I’m certainly not imagining it – in each case, the captain gave the instruction ‘Flight attendants, fasten seat belts!’ with urgency in his voice, trolleys slid down the aisles, and in the worst cases all the overhead bins sprang open.

    I think severe turbulence is far more frequent than you say! Maybe it’s worse over the US in areas like the Rockies?

    • says

      Hi Mel,

      Ok, severe turbulence is more prominent in certain areas, however, the captain asking Flight Attendants to sit down does not necessarily mean it was severe. Of course it may have been, I don’t know as I wasn’t there.

      When I say that I have only experienced it once in 3000 flights it is the truth. The fact remains though that severe turbulence is not dangerous to the aircraft, but I understand it can be a little uncomfortable. Keep your seatbelt on and there is nothing at all to be concerned about

    • Robert P says

      Exactly – I fly about 12 times a year, and experience the Extreme Turbulence of “Sit down Attendants” almost every time. So, the original poster seems misguided.

      I was also on a flight through Texas when we hit extreme turbjulance. The pilot on a 767 had the wrong switch on and thought he was talking to Control Tower and he was talking to us! Niner whatever, we hit blah blah blah – have to go down x thousand feet, request, blah blah blah. He had extreme frustration and anxiety in his voice! Then, 10 minutes later he came on and apologized and said all was better now.

      Seriously, I’ve had extreme turbulence going to Hawaii, London, Athens, Madrid and even through Texas and Utah! It IS common and the pilots are not doing crossword puzzles during this.

      • says

        Ok… have you read that I am a Flight Attendant who has operated 3,500 flights?! Trust me, I am more experienced at flying than you will ever be and I have experienced turbulence that meant I had to sit down just twice.

        Pilots will request to change altitude if turbulence is thought to be bad enough, but that is it. They do not panic or get anxious about it. You can choose to disbelieve what I am telling you if you want, that is your choice. But, to say I am misguided when I am experienced as I am is simply not true.

        I guess you have been unlucky, or talking rubbish. Have you been in the cockpit whilst experiencing turbulence? No, didn’t think so… Guess what, I have, many many times. So, I KNOW how pilots treat turbulence. I also have many friends who are pilots… So do not call me a liar!!

  10. Anonymous says

    I fly with four kids, and my eldest 12 , became disabled when he was four from encephalitis.
    I developed fear of flying since then when I had to ambulance my son from hong kong to London. The turbulence was so bad ( always the Bay of Bengal in monsoon) that the crew were seated belted in for 6 hours. My son became brain damaged.
    Since then, I can’t fly without the staff holding my hand in the jump seats ( where they sit). the last trip even the copilot came to sit and telll e of his worst flight ever! (great comfort).
    Next week I have to fly over bay of Bengal again, this time with my four kids and no husband. And I will have to warn the staff how bad I get and pray they are really nice and help me hide my selfish unreasonable fear from my kids!!!!! Last flight two weeks ago I took a Xanax but was just as scared and cried o much throughout the four hour turbulence that the co pilot came out! At least my kids never witnessed that.
    Words of reassurance please?????

  11. stuartmlambert says

    Hi – while i appreciate turbulence is not usually in itself dangerous to a plane, it’s not true to say it is only ever a matter of inches. Planes in significant turbulence can rapidly gain or lose thousands of feet of altitude e.g. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/safety/4327148

    Neither is is strictly true to say turbulence is not by definition dangerous. It can be structurally dangerous to a plane if that plane has not been maintained. Or if flying mistakenly into a big thunderstorm.
    http://www.guidetopsychology.com/airfacts.htm

      • says

        There is a line of text in this article you have linked to here that backs up my knowledge;

        Aviation experts expressed doubts that turbulence was the sole reason for downing a large, modern airliner.

        This was an article that appeared in a national newspaper speculating on the cause of the Air France Flight 447 disaster. All media outlets blamed turbulence and thunderstorms for the incident, but as anyone who knows about aviation already knew that was never going to cause a huge modern commercial airliner to come down.

        Investigations have now concluded that the aircraft came down due to icing of the pitot tubes meaning the wrong speed was being indicated in the flight deck. This was the primary cause, not turbulence.

        The person who says in this report that turbulence brings down an aircraft once per decade is talking utter rubbish. With aircraft design as good as it is now, turbulence does not cause aircraft accidents.

        • Stuart says

          There’s also this section, which is far more explicit.

          The BOAC flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong flew into extreme turbulence and crashed in March 1966, killing 113 passengers and 11 crew. An investigation reported that the likely cause of the disaster was that “the aircraft suddenly encountered abnormally severe turbulence which imposed a gust load considerably in excess of the design limit.”

          My point being that turbulence, if severe enough, can cause structural damage – but, as you say, this is highly, highly unlikely on a modern airliner, as long as it has been maintained well.

          • A Ross says

            In both, the Air France and the BOAC cases, pilot error played a significant role. The pilot of the BOAC flew too close to Mount Fuji, trying to give passengers a better view, and got caught in the turbulent wake of a 70 knot wind flowing around the mountain. The crew of the Air France failed to execute standard safety procedures used when wind-speed readings are not reliable (due to icing for example) and apparently did not realize they had stalled the plane, or if they did not perform the correct recovery maneuver. So did nature inexorably doom those flights? NO WAY

    • says

      Whilst I don’t doubt that you are trying to be helpful, please do not believe every fact you come across is true. I can promise you this, planes NEVER drop or climb thousands of feet during turbulence… NEVER. As I said, it is usually a matter of inches but feels like more due to the aircraft moving a split second before you. In particularly severe turbulence it is possible for the aircraft to drop a a few feet and maybe up to 100ft in extreme turbulence. This is only likely to happen if flying into a violent thunderstorm, and commercial plots wold not do that as they appear on radar and can be actively avoided.

      ALL commercial airliners are strong enough to withstand the forces of turbulence. A commercial airliner has never broken up midair due to flying through turbulence. Light aircraft may suffer structural damage as a result of violent turbulence, but any plane with a radar fitted will be able to avoid these violent storms.

      The articles you have linked to here actually back up my point rather than act as evidence for yours – if you read them properly!

      • Stuart says

        Hi – I’m afraid you are simply incorrect here. A basic understanding of fluid dynamics dictates that if an airliner moves from an updraft to a downdraft it’s going to descend a lot more than a few inches, I promise you. But I agree – that doesn’t make it dangerous, which is the real point. Anyway, you don’t need to take my word for it – listen to the official Civil Aviation Safety Authority:
        http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_91477 = note the reported incident at the end where the plane dropped “300 feet”.

        And here, an official press release about training crew to handle passengers during turbulence – http://www.casa.gov.au/scripts/nc.dll?WCMS:STANDARD::pc=PC_92135. Note the line “Occasionally, aircraft experience severe air turbulence that quickly change altitude by as much as 1000ft and make food service and walking impossible.”

        An airplane in turbulence can and does move a lot more than a few inches (happened to me just last week in Vietnam, in fact). It happens, but it isn’t necessarily dangerous.

        • says

          I am not incorrect… The report you have linked to that mentions dropping 1000ft is blatantly a misprint. If a plane changed altitude by 1000ft the result would do more than make ‘food service and walking impossible’. Dropping 1000ft would cause death and severe injuries.

          The 300ft drop could have happened.. but that’s pretty severe and very rarely happens. Read this response from someone’s question on Yahoo Answers. The response from the Regional Airline Pilot is the most useful;

          The worst turbulance I’ve ever faced as a pilot was 40-50ft changes and that was wild… I hadnt ever seen anything like it from the cockpit or my hundreds of hours as a passenger…

          Or read this from Patrick Smith at AskThePilot.com;

          In the cockpit we see the altimeter jiggle ever so slightly while the anxious flier perceives a free-fall, overestimating the roughness by orders of magnitude. “We dropped like 3,000 feet in two seconds!” In truth altitude, bank, and pitch will change only slightly, and inherent in the design of airliners is a trait known to pilots as “positive stability.” Should the aircraft be shoved from its position in space, its nature is to return there, on its own and with no drastic input from the crew………….

          I remember we hit some pretty rough air one night on the way to Europe, about halfway across the Atlantic. It was the kind of turbulence people tell their friends about. It came out of nowhere and was bad enough to knock over some carts in the rear galley. I had my seatbelt on, as pilots always do, but reflexively put my hand against the cockpit ceiling to brace myself. During the worst of it, to the sound of crashing plates, I recalled an email. A reader had asked about the displacement of altitude during times like this. How many feet is the plane actually moving up or down, and side to side? I kept a close watch on the altimeter. Fewer than 50 feet, either way, is what I saw. Ten or twenty feet, most of the time. Any change in heading — i.e. the direction our nose was pointed — was all but undetectable.

          I stand by my comments that usually when you fly through turbulence the plane is moving a matter of inches, but if severe turbulence is experienced it can be up to 100ft. But, severe turbulence is not experienced regularly as it is usually associated with storms that appear on radar. There is so much false information regarding turbulence.

  12. Stuey says

    I have just returned from a flight where we attempted to fly into Chambrey in the French Alps. The pilot was on his final approach and the turbulance was extreme. There were several weightless moments. You could hear the engines surging or feathering as the pilot attempted to maintain the glide path. We were at a few hundred feet and the pilot aborted and we ended up at a much calmer Lyon. The pilot on the return flight mentioned that this was amongst the most severe turbulance in Europe and the worst any of the cabin crew or pilot had ever experienced. He quoted that there was an updraft of 6500 ft per minute interspersed with downdrafts of 3500 ft per minute. I’m no scardy but I thought me and my family were going to die…..I think this qualifies for extreme turbulance????????

  13. says

    Over the last 3 years since I moved from London to South Africa I have flown a total of at least 15 times, mostly short 2hr journeys between cities but one long haul flight from Joburg to London. I hate flying, always have, but I think sometimes we make up scenarios in our heads & let other factors creep in to your mind mid take off which is completely normal. I have proved to myself that flying isnt as bad as I thought but there are some things I have realised in the last few weeks after an awful flight home from London. These are some of the things I find make my fear double or trebble;

    1)the noise of the aircraft – especially after take off where the plane is at full throttle then backs off once up safely, the immediate cut in engine noise always gives me immense fear but simply that is all it is so I think I can get over that
    2)your own comfort – on the way to london 2 of us moved to a 4 seater in the central isle so I had room to lay down & sleep for a few hours (which I can never normally do) I watched a few blockbusters & before I knew it we were there however the way back was another story, I was dressed to warm for the flight, we were on a crowded plane stuck in a 2 seater & worst of all the entertainment system was down for the whole 11hours.

    The best advice I have given myself is that I know & have known people that have flown for business or personal since I can remember & I am 30! I have heard a few stories of missed landings but when you think about it I am sure you have heard more of your friends or family tell you about a car crash they had……

    I will endeavour to make myself as comfortable as possible whereever possible, check in early & get good seats & take a change of clothing on board. I will also take one of those crap looking neck pillow things as the on board pillows may aswell be tissues! I will also ensure next time on a long haul flight I pay a bit extra to go with a top airline thats entertainment system works, and as a back up take films on an ipad or something to keep me busy.

    These posts are mostly about turbulance so I will cover that quickly, the way to London was smooth but the way back all over europe was what I call bad however if a plane couldnt handle bouncing around in the air even if its 100-500 feet then it wouldnt be flying would it – yet people drive around all the time with poorly serviced cars & under-inflated tyres which could kill them & others in an instant but we dont drive around thinking ‘i wonder if those tyres are at the correct pressure!’

    Bottom line, & I hope I can help someone else;

    1) there are lots of noises on a plane that I dont & wont understand & that is because its a mechanical masterpiece – if you hear noises just remember it is something that the plane is doing to stay safe etc…..(like when air-con comes on in a car)
    2) Next time you take off just think of the 1000000 planes that just took off in front of you (that are fine) & the 1000000 or so other people that sat in the same seat as you!
    3) Stay comfortable
    4) when turbulance strikes think of all the friends & families & other passengers in the world that fly through it everyday that are fine
    5) golden rule – the pilots & cabin crew would have to be mental to take on that job if turbulance was as bad as we think & will do everything they can to ensure not only yours but their safely.
    6) when landing think of every other plane in front of you that landed safely – your plane is the same!

    Thanks

  14. Anonymous says

    I am also very frightened by planes, but then again I think : Friends in Fear, even for as bad as your experiences might have been, You lived to tell. That means the HUGE HORRIBLE TURBULENCES the airplane had, it OVERCAME THEM! It is planned to sustain all those pressures! So it really is a safe, even if misterious and frightening vehicle. Imagine: the Pope does it, Madonna does it, your friends do it, You neighbours do it, your Boss does it, lets do it, let’s have a flight!!! ;-)

  15. eccemariofischer@gmail.com says

    thank you Kevin for helping us with this page. it really helps. thanks!
    (flying to Australia tomorrow, wuaaa!)

  16. Lilli says

    I am also scared of flying, especially turbulence. However, I found these comments comforting because even though everyone seems to have had a rough experience with turbulence they are all alive and well and able to share their thoughts on this website. At the end of the day all I want is to be safe so if I have to endure a bumpy ride I think I’ll be okay.

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