Fear of Flying in Bad Weather: Rain

There are two reasons why I have written this article. Firstly, a reader who completed the fear of flying survey suggested it and secondly, a passenger boarded my aircraft a few weeks ago in torrential rain, and asked me;

Have you ever flown in rain like this before? Is it safe?

Never before had I thought that rain could cause fear amongst airline passengers. But, it does. The following information should help you to understand why it is nothing to be concerned about.

It appears that the main concern with regards to flying in rain is the take-off and landing on a wet runway.

It may look as though the runway is as flat as your average road, and therefore susceptible to surface water. As this possibility enters your mind, you find yourself instantly thinking the runway is slippery and unsafe. Thoughts of aquaplaning (no pun intended) aircraft and impending doom fill your mind.

What you can’t see is that runways are designed to ensure surface water drains off via a grooved surface, therefore improving grip during and take-off landing. Further to this, constant improvements in runway design ensure safety standards are increased year by year – it’s the just in case factor once again.

In poor weather conditions (rain, snow and/or ice) Air Traffic Control receives information from pilots regarding the braking action on the runway. Normally the runway is ‘split’ into three parts, and a pilot would report braking action for each individual part – i.e. poor, average, poor.

This information is then passed on to pilots on final approach to the runway to enable them to be better prepared for poor conditions.

It’s important to note that a ‘poor, poor, poor’ braking action report does not mean the runway is unsafe, but simply ensures pilots are prepared. This may simply mean that reverse thrust is used to aid braking and slow the aircraft down quicker.

Another important note: Just as always, if at any time the runway is deemed to be unsafe it WILL NOT BE USED.

With regards to flying through rain clouds, it is not a problem. In normal circumstances these clouds are not turbulent and feel no different to flying through a standard cloud. In more severe storms the clouds may cause a few bumps, but are by no means anything to worry about.

Finally, in case you were not aware, planes are equipped with wipers allowing pilots to still see where they are going. However, due to the speed at take-off, rain usually moves off the windscreen of its own accord – just like driving a car at 100mph forces the water to move upwards and to the side.

Comments

  1. Sandie Reed says

    Thank you for allaying my fears. Today it is pouring with rain and will continue all day, my son is due to take off from Bristol airport and I was concerned about this. After reading your very informative words, I do not feel so concerned. Thank you very much.

    Regards
    Sandie Reed

  2. Maria says

    Thank you for this article, it definitely helps but I still have my issues where rain clouds are concerned. A couple of months ago I was 100% convinced that the plane I was on was about to plummet down and never be seen again. We were landing for some 10 minutes through the worst rain clouds I’ve experienced. There was non-stop turbulence, dark gray/blue clouds and many sudden lurches and flying tilted (I suppose the plane was turning for AGES). I have never been so terrified during a landing before. I can safely say I wasn’t the only one either. Even before the plane touched down, it was very unstable which is often not the case. Once landed I was tempted to ask if the pilots actually knew what they were doing or were just hoping that they would land in one piece. I know that’s a terrible thing to say but when you’re afraid of flying, you always suspect such things!

    I guess what I’m asking is, how can landing during such conditions be safe? It feels like the plane is thrown around like a leaf. My mum is supposed to visit me in London for a few days during December and then we’re meant to fly back home together. I am terrified because the weather is always horrible during that month and I can’t cope with another such landing or takeoff. :(

    • admin says

      Hi Maria,

      Well, I have just returned from another day in the sky and landed in gale force winds and torrential rain. Was I in danger – no. But the question you asking is why. So here goes…

      The most important fact to remember is, if the weather conditions are not safe to land in, then a pilot will not land. If at any time a pilot is not happy with the approach, then he will go-around and either divert to another airport, or approach again. There are many restrictions on weather conditions and they are always adhered to. Truth be told though, weather very rarely affects a landing apart from making it a little bumpy.

      A go-around can happen at any time – even if the plane is just about to touch the runway. It is perfectly capable of climbing back up again, and pilots are always prepared to do this – especially so in bad weather.

      Another important point: Even when you think you are being thrown all over the place, the aircraft is barely moving more than a few feet. I’ve just been watching other aircraft land in the weather I experienced, and you can barely see any movement at all – even though my landing was incredibly bumpy.

      It feels as though you are moving around so much as a result of the aircraft moving a split second before you. As the aircraft is pushed a couple of inches in any direction, there is a tiny delay before you move in that same direction. This causes the sensation of ‘being thrown around like a leaf’. Does that make sense? I promise you, the plane is not moving anywhere as near as much as you think.

      The most important point to remember though is the go-around. If at any time a pilot is not 100% happy with the landing conditions, he/she will climb back up. No pilot EVER risks compromising safety.

      Hope that helps…..Let me know.

      • kathy says

        I also am afraid of flying and only do so when necessary. I have been very scared by very bumpy rides. Do these big bumps during cruising not pose a threat and why are there bumpy rides but some smooth?

        Also thanks so much for the other information you have supplied, on the ground it makes me feel better, we will see next time I fly if it does in the air as well.

  3. Amanda Crowe says

    I’d like to thank you as well. I have a 16 hours flight ahead of me, but i feel a lot more comfertable about it after reading your article. Thanks

  4. haque says

    Thank you your reply make me comfortable, however just want to know is bigger Aircrafts like 747 and A380 are much more smoother in rain than B-737 or there is only slight difference.

  5. Dsw3131 says

    Another great article. I would like to suggest that the website authors put up an article about how pilots deal with bad weather and how they can fly an airplane when they can’t see anything outside the windows. I’m a pilot myself, and I’ve had many people ask me how in the world the pilot knows where he/she is going and how to fly the plane when all you see is clouds and rain. An overview of some of the avionics in the jet might set people’s minds at ease.

    Thanks for this great site!

  6. says

    Thank you for the article, it has helped me feel calmer about my flight next week. It is Friday now and i have just looked at the weather forecast for my destination and it is supposed to be torrential rain and storms! I am frightened but i will try to just remember the key points in this article. I am flying with my 3 children so it makes me even more anxious……. :(

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