Flight turbulence: How does it happen?

  • September 21, 2022

Flying is undoubtedly one of mankind’s greatest achievements. But although we have been able to travel to lofty heights with the help of airplanes for more than 100 years, this form of transportation is anything but standard for many people. So it’s hardly surprising that some airline passengers are still afraid to fly. One cause of spontaneous anxiety attacks on board is turbulence. In particular, people who rarely fly are frightened by the sudden shaking of the aircraft. In most cases, however, turbulence is caused by simple physics. Today, we would like to introduce you to the topic of flight turbulence.

Have you ever experienced turbulence during your flight?

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Airplane turbulence explanation

Anyone who has ever flown in an airplane will certainly be familiar with it: Turbulence. Here, your quiet sitting on board is disturbed by violent wobbling and jerking. No one really likes that. But if you consider how turbulence occurs, this at least reduces the fear. While turbulence is quite common, there are also many flights where it doesn’t occur. Moreover, not all turbulence is the same. Rather, the disturbing wobble can vary from flight to flight. While light turbulence usually passes after a few seconds, strong turbulence can last for minutes.

Anyone who is afraid of turbulence should simply consider why turbulence occurs in an airplane. But how does turbulence occur? The answer to this question can be found quickly if you take a look at what happens in the air. An apt comparison would be to look at a ship sailing on the ocean. It is not air masses that are the ship’s undoing, but water masses. To be more precise, waves cause even large ships to wobble. The counterpart to waves on the high seas are air vortices at lofty heights. These cause the aircraft to wobble.

The vortices are particularly strong when the currents come from different directions. The collision of the air masses then causes additional air turbulence. Unfortunately, the pilots themselves cannot specifically avoid turbulence. After all, they cannot see them. For this reason, the turbulence comes completely unexpectedly in most cases. However, since many of the turbulences are weak, this bothers only very few. In contrast to light air turbulence, there is also strong sudden turbulence. In this case, we speak of air pockets, because the aircraft falls into a kind of hole, so to speak because the air isn’t sufficiently stable.

Air turbulence has various causes. For example, turbulence is completely normal in an airplane during a thunderstorm. This is because two completely different air masses meet here. While warm air masses rise, the cold air masses sink. When these two collide, strong, jerky wobbling occurs. But turbulence also occurs independently of weather phenomena. For example, when the aircraft flies over mountains. This is because the differences in altitude cause air vortices to form.

Dense cloud formations can also be the cause of turbulence. Once again, temperature differences play a major role. These affect the air masses around the aircraft wings. Since experience shows that temperature differences are higher in summer than in winter, turbulence is more frequent at this time of year than in winter. In addition, the air is denser in summer than in winter. And thunderstorms are more frequent

Are turbulences normal when flying?

Many passengers will have had to endure the sudden sinking of the aircraft. However, the very fact that turbulence is very common should make it clear to many that severe aircraft shaking is anything but unusual. While airplane turbulence is an unpleasant experience, there is really no need to worry about it. At least if you follow the rules of conduct on the plane. Thus, you should fasten your seat belt when the appropriate symbols appear on the plane.

After all, severe turbulence may cause you to fall. Ideally, you should keep your seatbelt fastened at all times. After all, turbulence is often unpredictable, so pilots and cabin crew sometimes can’t tell you to buckle up fast enough. If you follow the instructions to buckle up, you don’t have to worry about serious injuries, either. In severe turbulence, however, these can sometimes occur. In some cases, the sudden gusts of air can cause unbelted passengers to be thrown first to the ceiling and then to the floor of the cabin. Besides this risk, however, there is no real need to worry about the effects of turbulence. Unfortunately, this looks different in the minds of people with a fear of flying.

They usually have a negative mental image of the plane crashing and smashing to the ground, like in a Hollywood movie. However, there is no need to worry about this. On the contrary, it is extremely unlikely that turbulence can lead to such a horror scenario. Even if the strong wobbling inside the aircraft feels as if the plane would break apart, this is by no means the case. Even severely bent wings and wobbling turbines are no cause for concern. One must always keep in mind that airplanes rely on a resistant and lightweight construction. In fact, wobbling wings are actually a concept in aircraft design. After all, they balance the aircraft body to reduce the effects of turbulence.

What to do in case of airplane turbulence?

Unfortunately, anyone who enjoys traveling by air (whether it’s a direct flight, non-stop flight, or long-haul flight) has to put up with turbulence. While you don’t have to endure it every time you fly, there’s also no guarantee that turbulence won’t occur. Accordingly, you should simply follow a few rules of conduct. Dealing with turbulence in the right way not only protects you from injury. On top of that, dealing with the issue openly can ensure that you are less afraid of flying.

1. Adhere to the pilot’s rules of conduct

In an airplane, the pilot is in charge. Accordingly, you should always make sure that you listen to the pilot when an announcement is made. In the best case, you should keep quiet so that not only you but also the other passengers can understand the pilot’s information. After all, the information is usually very important. It is not uncommon, for example, for the pilot to announce that turbulence is imminent. We also advise you to sit down again, even if you are already on your way to the toilet.

2. Secure moving objects

In addition, you should secure food and other utensils that are on your folding table. In particular, hot drinks that could lead to scalding are best set aside or finished quickly. Your carry-on luggage should ideally be firmly anchored under your seat or that of the passenger in front of you. Of course, it is even better if it is in the overhead lockers.

3. Stay calm

When turbulence hits, more than a few people aboard the plane become scared to death. There is one thing that can help to counter such fears: inform yourself in detail about turbulence and its origin. With knowledge about the origin of severe turbulence, anxiety attacks usually decrease as well. Take a deep breath during turbulence and keep calm at your own seat. Apart from the fear, the sudden differences in altitude caused by air pockets are also associated with negative physical effects for many people.

After all, these overstrain the sense of balance of some passengers. To prevent ear pressure or dizziness, you should suck a candy or chew a piece of gum. If none of these helps, you should do everything you can to take your mind off things. Here, we can only advise you to use noise-canceling headphones. These block out background noise and help you to temporarily block out the outside world. Meditative sounds such as the sound of the sea allow you to already visit your vacation destination in your head.

But there are also some tips you can keep in mind before you start your trip to limit the effects of turbulence.

4. Seats in the middle are less affected

If you have a choice of seats on the plane, you should opt for a seat in the middle of the plane. This is where the impact of turbulence is the least.

5. Travel in winter

On top of that, you should try to travel during the winter months or the morning hours if possible. After all, the risk of turbulence is lowest at this time. Thus, air masses of different temperatures are less likely to meet here than at other times of the day or year.

6. Calm down

A morning meditation and/or calming tea can help keep you calm on board.

7. Refrain from watching scary movies and videos

If you take a look at video platforms like YouTube, you can see plenty of disturbing content about turbulence. Here, it’s not just the passengers in the video who feel mortal fear. Should you board your flight just after having watched such content, it is not uncommon to feel anxious, and you might even panic if turbulence actually occurs. It is equally important that you, as a person with a fear of flying, do not watch any disaster movies revolving around air travel before starting your flight. In most cases, these do not have much to do with reality and only cause unnecessary stress for the passengers.

Though our advice is aimed at helping you tackle your fear, you might still feel a little anxious. Nevertheless, our rules of conduct will surely help you keep the psychological effects of turbulence at a minimum. Relaxing on board the plane is probably the best solution.

How to brave turbulence when flying

Turbulence is simply a part of air travel. You have to put up with it if you prefer comfortable and fast travel. Since you can’t avoid the sometimes severe wobbles, you have to learn how to deal with them instead. Here’s how you can ensure that turbulence is more bearable with a few small tips. A seat in the middle of the plane is one way to keep the wobble to a minimum. There is some very simple physics behind this. As mentioned earlier, the aircraft’s wings serve several purposes at once.

For example, they not only keep the aircraft in the air and ensure that it glides on the air masses. The flexible design also ensures that the aircraft is kept as stable as possible, even in turbulence. This positive effect is at its best in the center of the aircraft. So anyone who is afraid of turbulence should opt for a seat in the middle of the plane the next time they book a seat. This advice is not only advisable with regard to turbulence. Other negative effects are also reduced by the seat position. For instance, landing is also smoother there.

Have you ever experienced turbulences during your flight?

While traveling by airplane was the exception rather than the rule a few decades ago, this means of travel is now routine for many. For this reason, airplane turbulence will also be no stranger to most. If you have had any experience with airplane turbulence, please feel free to let us know. It might help people with fear of flying to understand that this phenomenon is quite normal. In the end, a cost-benefit calculation must always be made. Of course, when traveling, you could opt for alternative ways such as long car or boat rides. However, these are time-consuming and not necessarily safer. For example, a look at the statistics reveals that traveling by car carries more risks than traveling by air.

Fear of flying is a widespread phenomenon, exacerbated primarily by incidents such as turbulence. We hope that our detailed article could help you to curb these fears. However, we are also happy to help you with other problems related to air travel.

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