When there is anxiety about the uncertain outcome of some event, we naturally seek some means of control, so that the matter works out to our benefit. When seeking control as the means of securing a good result, anything that seems to defy control can feel threatening. That seems to be a factor in fear of turbulence. It seems, to the anxious flier, that turbulence is out of control and could throw the plane out of control.
No. Turbulence is not out of control, nor can it throw an airliner out of control. Turbulence is controlled by Mother Nature. Think about the temperature of the air outside. Some days it reaches almost 100 degrees, and some days it is below freezing. But, though the temperature – like turbulence – is not controlled by you or me, it always falls within a certain range. In the U.S., it rarely goes below minus 25 or above plus 125.
Because we know the temperature falls within a certain range, and that range is limited, we have learned how to deal with all the temperatures we may encounter. The same is true of turbulence. It is never above a certain level. But I suspect an anxious flier doesn’t really understand this, and thinks it might become so great it could threaten the plane.
No way! We know the most intense turbulence can become and we build airliners with twice as much strength as is needed for the most intense turbulence possible.
So you understand WHY turbulence is limited, consider this. Turbulence – the kind you get at cruise altitude – is called Clear Air Turbulence, or CAT. It is caused when the jetstream, which is a stream of fast-moving air, scrubs alongside air that is not moving. The speed of the jetstream is limited. How? Consider what causes the jetstream: the earth’s rotation. Since the earth’s rotation is constant, the maximum speed of the jetstream is restricted to what that constant speed of rotation can produce. And, since turbulence is caused by the interaction of fast-moving air and air that is not moving fast, the amount of turbulence has to fall within a certain range, a range that is not controlled by humans, but is in fact controlled by the earth.
That certainly should help you understand that turbulence is, in a way, very much controlled, and thus is not a threat. Though this information can help you understand, it may not change the way turbulence feels. We can — indeed — change how you feel when you fly, even in turbulence, but doing so requires specialized methods. To learn how you can both know flying is safe and feel safe when you fly, see the free video I have put together to explain both the cause and the cure of flight anxiety.