Air Turbulence: What to Know and How to Protect Yourself
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If you've traveled by plane and experienced air turbulence, you know that sometimes it can be a little scary. While no one likes turbulence, sometimes it is unavoidable. It can even occur seemingly out of nowhere on a perfectly clear day.

While turbulence is an accepted part of air travel, there are things you can do to ensure your safety and the safety of those around you should turbulence occur on your next flight.

What is air turbulence?

Clear 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.

What should passengers do to avoid injuries?

Statistically speaking, flying is 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.

Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offers the following tips for staying safe in flight:

  • 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 inflight injuries by adhering to your airline's carry-on restrictions.
Boeing 777 seating
Image: Pixabay

What do airlines do to avoid 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 (see additional reading) 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.

Content Last Updated: Thursday, November 12, 2015
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