Air Turbulence: What to Know and How to Protect Yourself on Your Next Flight

air turbulence is unpredictable, but you can take a few steps to protect yourself in case you have a bumpy flight

Air Turbulence: What to Know and How to Protect Yourself
Image: Pixabay
June 5, 2018

There's no denying that experiencing a turbulent flight can be unnerving to even the most seasoned air traveler. The worst part is that it's completely unavoidable, even creeping up on your flight on a perfectly clear day. But while air turbulence is an accepted part of air travel, there are some things you should do to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you on your next flight should sudden air turbulence rear its ugly head.

What is air turbulence?

Air turbulence is air movement created by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air around mountains, cold or warm weather fronts, or thunderstorms. It can be unexpected and can happen when the sky appears to be clear. As the name suggests, air turbulence can often be quite jarring and seemingly chaotic. It's almost impossible to detect with the naked eye and extremely difficult to detect with conventional radar.

What should passengers do to avoid injuries?

Statistically speaking, flying is still the safest way to travel. Passengers can easily prevent injuries from unexpected air turbulence by keeping their seatbelt securely fastened at all times while seated and by following these tips during flights:

  • Listen to the flight attendants. Pay attention to the safety briefing at the beginning of your flight and read the safety briefing card.
  • Buckle up. Keep you and your family safe by wearing a seatbelt at all times.
  • Use an approved child safety seat or device if your child is under two.
  • Prevent in flight injuries by adhering to your airline's carry-on restrictions.

What do airlines do to avoid air turbulence and prevent passenger injuries?

Working together with the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST), the FAA developed guidance material to help air carriers and other operators prevent injuries caused by air turbulence.

CAST develops an integrated, data-driven strategy to reduce the commercial aviation fatality risk in the United States and promotes government and industry safety initiatives throughout the world. Some of the material responds to investigative work from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The focus of the material is to help air carriers avoid the conditions that cause turbulence and minimize the risks when airplanes do encounter it. This impacts the operations and training of flight crews, flight attendants, dispatchers and managers.

The FAA recommends that air carriers:

  • Improve dispatch procedures by keeping communication channels open full-time;
  • Include turbulence in weather briefings;
  • Promote real-time information sharing between pilot and dispatcher;
  • Reinforce the air carrier's turbulence avoidance policy through dispatcher training;
  • Consider rerouting using automation, atmospheric modeling, and data displays; and
  • Use all applicable weather data as well as reporting and forecasting graphics.

The FAA also encourages air carriers to use operating procedures and training to prevent turbulence injuries, emphasize the importance of flight attendant's personal safety, promote communication and coordination, and gather data and review the air carrier's history of turbulence encounters and injuries.