Why Turbulence Is Less Of A Big Deal Than It Feels Like

If turbulence has you feeling anxious during air travel, know that science is on your side. Despite turbulence sometimes being a bit scary for passengers, it's actually not as dangerous as one might think. Turbulence occurs when air masses collide and cause an uneven flow of air over the wings of an aircraft. This can cause the plane to suddenly lose altitude at times and create some shuddering and turbulence in the cabin. However, even in severe weather, turbulence will not cause a plane to crash. 

The main thing that makes turbulence dangerous is when items in the cabin are left unsecured or when people leave their seats during turbulence or unbuckle their seatbelts. This is why bags are placed in secure overhead bins or under seats and why seatbelt signs are turned on when the plane hits some turbulence. Thanks to amazing flight attendants, these rules are usually followed to a T to keep passengers safe.

Even with turbulence, air travel is still the safest option

Unfortunately, turbulence just goes hand-in-hand with air travel, especially if you're a frequent flyer. Almost every time you fly, you'll feel a bit of shuddering and shaking. But this is why it's good to familiarize yourself with what causes it and why air travel is still the safest form of travel! First, turbulence has not caused an airplane to crash for over 50 years. So, the chances of you being on the first plane to do so in almost half a century are slim to none. This is because commercial planes are built to withstand extreme forces and airplane wings can bend to an enormous degree and continue to fly safely. 

The construction of airplanes, the stress testing they undergo, and the thousands and thousands of flight hours pilots put in have massively improved safety standards and led to air travel becoming one of the safest forms of transportation. According to David Ropeik, an Instructor in Risk Communication at the Harvard School of Public Health, you have a 1 in 5,000 chance of being in a fatal car accident on any given day but a 1 in 11 million chance of being in a fatal plane crash! Okay, maybe that statistic doesn't make you feel great about driving, but it should assuage any fears you might when you feel your seat shake. If you want to reduce the amount of turbulence you feel though, you'll want to sit towards the middle of the plane over the wings or get a seat in the back which is statistically the safest place to be in the event of a crash.

Here's what pilots and flight attendants have to say

If the numbers aren't enough to convince you, you should hear it straight from the experts themselves. Here is some insight from Charlie Page, a Senior First Officer with over 10,000 hours of worldwide flying experience. Charlie writes that the safety of the passengers is the flight crew's number one priority. Keeping everyone on board calm during turbulence is also key to a pleasant flight. So, when they have advanced notice of turbulence, pilots will let the cabin crew know that at a certain time in the flight, to expect some bumps. Additionally, pilots will communicate over a special frequency to keep other pilots in the area informed about turbulence so they can prepare. 

Further, when there is turbulence, yes, the plane can drop in altitude but Charlie writes that the altimeter (the instrument which records a plane's altitude) typically shows this merely a few feet. What's their biggest concern during turbulence? Keeping their cup of coffee from spilling! On the other hand, some flight attendants say they actually love turbulence as it gives them a chance to get off their feet and rest for a bit. Sounds like they're really not all that concerned about a little bad weather.