However it seems the advice that turbulence is really nothing to be afraid of is true – the chances of dying or being injured are beyond minuscule.
Flight attendant Heather Poole, who wrote Cruising Altitude about her 15-year experience working on planes, says passengers need to stop being scared of bumpy flights.
She told Mental Floss that only three people have died in the USA as a direct result of turbulence since 1980.
Heather said: “During that same time period, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded just over 300 serious injuries from turbulence, and more than two-thirds of the victims were flight attendants.
“What do these numbers mean? As long as your seat belt is on, you’re more likely to be injured by falling luggage than by choppy air.”
She also revealed that “extreme turbulence” is very rare indeed.
This is defined as when the captain loses control of the plane, or the plane’s structure is damaged by it.
Heather said: “A friend of mine who works closely with airline management said he’s never seen a pilot label rough air as ‘extreme turbulence.’
“So the next time you’re nervous about some mid-flight bumps, just take a deep breath and remind yourself, ‘This isn’t extreme!’”
While turbulence isn’t ever much fun, it is very common.
What causes turbulence during flights?
There are many kinds of turbulence that can occur during a flight, from the most common “clear air” type to “wake turbulence” which happens less often.
Most of the time weather conditions such as thunderstorms are the cause of disruption during flights, but jet streams caused by large aircraft can also impact a journey.
With Clear Air Turbulence (CAT), jet streams from planes can stretch for thousands of miles long and a few miles deep.
Often pilots will try to either avoid these areas (if they are flying into a headwind) or use them (if they are flying into a tailwind) to help reduce fuel usage.
However, when a plane transitions from an area of fast jet stream to slowing moving area, or vice versa, turbulence can occur.
Wake turbulence occurs from vortices that spin from the wingtips and typically are created when a plane is lower in the sky so the wings are working hard to “lift” the aircraft.
Is turbulence dangerous?
Turbulence is relatively common and is usually harmless, but that doesn’t stop it being an unpleasant experience at times.
Writing on askthepilot.com, the author of Cockpit Confidential pilot Patrick Smith said: “For all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down, thrown into a tailspin, or otherwise flung from the sky by even the mightiest gust or air pocket.
“The pilots aren’t worried about the wings falling off; they’re trying to keep their customers relaxed and everybody’s coffee where it belongs.
“Planes themselves are engineered to take a remarkable amount of punishment, and they have to meet stress limits for both positive and negative G-loads.
“The level of turbulence required to dislodge an engine or bend a wing spar is something even the most frequent flyer—or pilot for that matter—won’t experience in a lifetime of travelling.”
The main concern for pilots will be the comfort of passengers, so often will result in them slowing down or rerouting to escape any wind tunnels.
However injuries have occurred in the past on planes experiencing turbulence.
In May a video emerged of the horrific scenes on board an Aeroflot plane as turbulence threw passengers all over the cabin en route from Moscow to Bangkok.
At least 20 people – including three babies – suffered major injuries including suspected broken bones in the carnage.
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