Whenever you experience turbulence say to yourself that, “Turbulence may be uncomfortable but that’s not the same as dangerous.” As long as you have your seat belt securely fastened, you will not come to any harm. However, it may be uncomfortable, in fact, it may be very uncomfortable, but uncomfortable is not the same as dangerous.

Important Questions

Is it hard to fly the plane?    No, it isn’t hard to fly the plane during turbulence.  The plane is designed to be stable in flight so the pilot needs to make just small control movements.

Is the plane strong enough?   Yes, the plane is more than strong enough. Although the plane seems to be thrown around during turbulence the fact is that it’s only moving a few feet up and down. Planes are enormously strong and are able to withstand forces far greater than those of any turbulence you might experience.

Is it uncomfortable?   Yes, it can be very uncomfortable.

Important Things to Remember

The plane will not fall out of the sky because of turbulence.

The plane does not move up and down more than a few feet in turbulence. 

Remember that you’re travelling at 600 miles an hour. Try going over a bump in the road at that speed…it’ll feel very bumpy too! 

The Pilot's View

Most passengers think that encountering turbulence is a surprise to the pilots and crew. In fact, before we fly our weather maps will tell us where the likely areas of turbulence will be.  The air is constantly moving so we expect a little turbulence on most flights. This wouldn’t be reported to us any more than waves would be reported to a ship’s Captain. When the seat belt signs are illuminated you mustn’t see this as an indication of danger … it is a precaution … however when you put your belt on tighten it as much as you can bear, and during the time that you have it on, keep pulling it tighter and tighter.

What CausesTurbulence?

The difference in air pressure causing winds.

Heating of the ground which causes moist air to rise and become clouds. 

Winds hitting obstructions like hills mountains or buildings.

When winds blowing that move in different directions collide it causes turbulence   

When wind hits a  hill or a mountain range it is lifted up when it runs out of energy it falls back towards the ground, and if it’s going fast enough it’ll bounce back up again, and it can do this for hundreds of miles from the mountains. So you can feel turbulence even when the sky looks clear and calm and you are miles from any mountains. 

The Plane and You in Turbulence

It’s quite understandable that someone who is anxious about flying and who knows very little about planes will think that the plane may not be able to withstand all the forces on it and that the wings might fall off.

As you know, the wings can’t fall off because they’re made in one piece … they’re not attached to the side of the cabin … one wing goes all the way through to connect with the wing on the other side. Because the plane isn’t actually moving as much as you think it is, it means that to fly a plane in turbulence, is simpler and easier than you imagine.  Of course, the controls are designed to deal with anything that the plane is likely to encounter so that helps! You would be very surprised to see how little you have to move the controls to keep the plane flying steadily. 

It is a fact that the feeling of falling is more noticeable than the feeling of going up so it’s not surprising that most people feel that the plane is always falling during turbulence. In fact, it might be a good idea to have a look at the section on sensations and physiology elsewhere on this site.

Types of Turbulence

Clear Air Turbulence 

Most fearful flyers have heard of CAT Clear Air Turbulence and have great misgivings about it. For some reason, there are all sorts of myths and tales about CAT as if it were different from any other sort of turbulence. I think that the press and media generally like to mystify CAT as something to be feared and most certainly avoided.

Convective turbulence 

The air will rise because it is warmer than the surrounding air, this happens when the sun heats up a small area like a town, or sometimes you can see a cloud has formed over a power station. After a while, this cloud will decay and the air will cool become heavier and move down towards earth again.

It’s when you fly through the air as it goes up or down…that you feel a bump!

Wake Turbulence

When you stand by the side of the road, waiting to cross you can often feel the blast of wind that accompanies a passing vehicle. The bigger the vehicle and the faster it’s moving will determine how big the blast is. It’s the same with planes. As they go through the air they leave a trail of disturbed air behind them. As the air meets the wing some air goes over the top and the rest goes under the wing. The result of all this air coming back together again is an enormous swirling and mixing of the air. If you happen to fly through this air … you’ll feel a really sharp but short movement of the plane.  That’s wake turbulence.

Here is an audio file about Turbulence (4Minutes). There is a more comprehensive audio (16 minutes)  on the First Class Membership pages 


Best wishes,

Captain Keith

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