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Understanding how turbulence forms and whether it is a danger to you can help make your flight more relaxing. The sudden change isn’t often a reason to cause panic attacks. Let’s look at how to deal with a bumpy flight:
Anyone who has spent time on any commercial aircraft has probably heard a warning from the cockpit to buckle up as that fasten seatbelt sign lights up because the plane was experiencing turbulence. In many cases, the jolting or shaking motion of a turbulent flight is barely enough to spill a little of your drink, but sometimes it can cause injuries.
Sometimes a better understanding of what is happening may ease fears of not having a smooth flight. Turbulence includes any unexpected air movement that shakes or shifts an airplane while it flies through a rough patch of air.
Turbulence is a common occurrence with planes and in most cases is not serious; however, some types of turbulence can push a plane upward or downward 6,000 feet. When an airplane hits turbulence, it can roll from side to side or bounce up and down.
In some cases, those high winds or those air pockets cause the plane to experience a sudden drop and create a bumpy ride. It may be light turbulence that has you grabbing your drink to keep it from spilling, moderate turbulence that has the cabin crew pulling that beverage cart back into the kitchenette, or that very rare occasion when the oxygen masks drop from the ceiling.
Causes of Turbulence
There are three different types of turbulence. Thunderstorms are a major source of turbulence, but since large storms can be identified beforehand, this type of turbulence is also usually avoidable. Those cumulonimbus clouds are easy to skirt around thanks to the National Weather Service. Pilots simply try to fly around major thunderstorms that are likely to cause problems such as this convective turbulence.
The air patterns around a large mountain range can also cause turbulence, but most commercial pilots are aware of the danger and avoid the areas most likely to disrupt air patterns when flying over mountain ranges.
A third source of turbulence is clear-air turbulence caused by the interaction between the rapid-moving jet stream and slower air patterns around the globe that come in contact with it. This type of turbulence occurs without warning because the jet stream boundary shifts unpredictably. This usually occurs at high altitudes and is something that every commercial pilot is trained to understand. They do predict this option to increase as global warming progresses.
The biggest concern regarding turbulence is the possibility of major or minor injuries. Crew Members are at higher risk than passengers, both because of the amount of time they spend flying, and the higher likelihood they will not be wearing a seat belt when a patch of rough air strikes.
While some passengers worry about turbulence causing structural damage to the plane, modern airplanes are built to withstand even extreme turbulence. Turbulence may be uncomfortable or dangerous inside the plane, but it will not cause plane crashes.
Let’s look at the numbers. According to statistics, roughly 60 people a year are injured by these annoying bumps, two-thirds of them being flight crew or people who didn’t have their seatbelts on. That leaves roughly 20 people, out of 800 million to be injured for random reasons. That is 1 out of every 40 million passengers.
Seriously, you are much safer in the air than you are in your own car.
That being said, take the dang car seat for your kids. Some airlines require them, but it is much safer to have your little peanut strapped into a secure car seat than sitting on your lap if things get rough.
Planes Are Tough
Just like pilots are trained to deal with how to fly and experience turbulence, modern aircraft are built to withstand those gusty winds. There is even a rumor that laser technology is coming to smooth the path ahead of a flight. Doesn’t that sound like something out of a science fiction novel? It might soon be a science fact!
Wearing your seat belt is the best protection against injuries due to turbulence. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advises keeping your seat belt on during takeoff and landing, as well as whenever the fasten seat belt sign is lit. Weather forecasters use computer imaging to predict weather patterns and where turbulence may occur and warn pilots ahead of time. As this technology improves, the likelihood of experiencing severe turbulence while in flight becomes smaller and smaller.
Turbulence is that roller-coaster feeling that can make even the calmest airline passenger a bundle of nerves. While we happily pay for that same sensation at theme parks, on a plane it can be a frightening experience. But there are ways to deal with it.
That bumping, shaking and bronco riding movement caused by turbulence usually occur without warning. A change in atmospheric pressure outside the plane from various weather conditions, like thermals, strong winds in thunderstorms, mountain waves, and jet streams, can affect a plane’s altitude and attitude, and even wind speed.
A sudden drop in altitude will result in unexpected squeals from nervous flyers and thoughts of demise, partly due to Hollywood’s influence on airplane disaster movies. While the friendly reminder from the flight crew to stay seated with seatbelts fastened gives little comfort to those passengers wearing their beverages from their bumpy conditions.
Take a deep breath and try to stay focused on what you may be reading or watching to take your mind off the bumping. If traveling with children try to be calm and reassure them that they’re safe. Shift their focus onto something else.
If the thought of turbulence makes your palms sweat, consider a Fear of Flying Course. Look on the Internet and assorted airline websites for a wealth of information on the fear of flying. Also, don’t be shy about telling a flight attendant when you board the plane as they’re trained to assist nervous passengers.
In the Moment
Prolonged periods of turbulence can cause motion sickness. This is when your body’s sense of vision and equilibrium don’t match. The turbulence causes movement of the fluid in the inner ear which gives you that sea-sick feeling. Try to keep your eyes on a fixed object and keep a sick bag at the ready.
Pharmaceutical medications for the relief of motion sickness are available however you should consult with a doctor before taking them. Ginger is a good natural alternative that is available in teas and tablets. Personally? I prefer the motion sickness wristbands – they work for car sickness and even on cruises!
Regardless, avoid drinking alcohol and taking medication when flying as airports worldwide are strewn with passengers who are denied further travel due to intoxication.
As there’s rarely any warning of when turbulence occurs, there’s always the chance of being in that very confined space known as the plane bathroom. Having experienced such a situation with my small child mid-potty, we could only do our best and hang on.
Luckily the turbulence wasn’t severe, unlike the look I received from one of the flight attendants. But when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
Planning for a Bumpy Road
“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!” The famed line is from “All About Eve,” spat out in her typical style by the great Bette Davis. Of course, she wasn’t talking about airplane flights, but more likely commenting on some flighty Hollywood love triangle. However, remembering her line when your airplane is bouncing all over the sky may give you a bit of comfort. (maybe?)
If you have a history of motion sickness, be sure to check with your doctor before your next flight. Medication can often help ease the sickness and the anxiety that often helps to cause it. Another bit of advice is to eat sparingly and simply for the 24 hours before your flight, so your stomach will be more able to withstand the motions and jerking of a bumpy flight.
Ditch the Drinking
I don’t advise booze. Although it could have a calming effect, almost every case of a fellow passenger losing his cookies too close to me during a flight involved loading up at the airport bar before boarding. Go easy on the booze, especially if you’ll be sitting near me.
The same abstinence applies if you’re traveling with other sensitive souls, such as a very old person, a child, or a baby. Go easy on the food and drink. On a recent flight, my spouse was admiring a cute little one who was quietly slurping a milk bottle next to her. It cost $5 to get my spouse’s clothing cleaned after we landed.
Other advice could be of help to some people, particularly those who fear flying … the white knuckle squad … and will be struck with terror every time the airplane lurches a bit. In two words: cool it! Take along something to keep you busy, such as a book, games, crossword puzzles, and, today’s best therapy for turbulence, your laptop. You can work on that upcoming school exam, the next business plan, or watch a DVD. Just make sure the DVD isn’t about airliner crashes…
I like to keep a few books on my phone with the Kindle app or even download a movie or two before a trip from Netflix.
Pick Your Seat Carefully
If this is something that concerns you, when you book your flight, be sure to pick a seat towards the front of the plane, preferably ahead of the wings. This won’t guarantee a smooth ride, but they are the best seats to bring that potential shimmy and shake to lower levels.
Final Thoughts on How to Deal With a Bumpy Flight
The best way of dealing with air turbulence is a positive attitude, moderation in food and drink, and something to keep your mind busy during the flight. Of course, always keep an eyeball on that little barf bag, just in case. I may be sitting next to you…
So it is a good idea to keep your seatbelt on while seated during a flight just in case the flight gets bumpy.