Flight Turbulence

On the news this morning, it was said that because of climate changes, there is more turbulence being experienced on international over water flights. Costs will probably go up because pilots will be working to avoid the turbulence. I don't like to fly in the first place (do it because it's the way I can take these wonderful trips), and being the kind of person I am it's now on my mind as another stresser to be added to the list. Are any of you experiencing greater turbulence than what you've encountered in the past?

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

Nope. Not in more than a dozen trans-oceanics in the last few months. There ain't much turbulence (except for very rare CAT) above the cloud deck. But not to worry about the machine. I've landed with bruise marks from the straps more times than I can count and the recorders never showed that the aircraft even came close to structural limits. Don't believe everything you read/hear.

Posted by Sam
Green Bay
5941 posts

Glass Half Full: Increased jet stream velocity will shave an hour off the flight time to Europe.
Glass Half Empty: Increased jet stream velocity will add an hour to the flight time coming home.

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

This may sound kooky, but I kinda think that US carriers have been training us to be more afraid of turbulence since 9/11. I swear, the tiniest bump and that seat belt light goes on. I think they just want everyone sitting as much as possible. (Maybe because of liability, too? Who knows?) I find my eyes jumping to the seat belt light whenever it's just a little bumpy. Contrast that with our 15 hr flight on Qantas over Xmas. For 7 hrs out of LAX it felt like our A380 was bouncing on a trampoline and they only turned on the seatbelt light twice, when the flight attendants literally could not stand up. Ugh! I can't sleep when it's like that, although the rest of my family doesn't seem to care. It did make me think, though, that American carriers over-inflate the risk of turbulence. BTW, I don't know why pilot costs would go up because of turbulence. They have to be in that cockpit anyway, regardless of the conditions.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
14100 posts

It is not the cost of the pilot going up, it is the cost of aircraft operations. The airline is flying a direct and most economical line from point A to B. Any changes to fly around thunderstorms, changes in altitude, etc. all take extra fuel which adds to the costs. And there are some indirect costs with longer flight times.

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
1146 posts

Frank, that's exactly what they said on the news today as to why costs could go up.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2313 posts

I commute between Seattle and Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines. My next flight is in 16 days. I have been doing this for 27 years now and have experienced all kinds of flying conditions, most caused by flying into or with the jet stream. Ever since I was on an airplane that dropped almost 1,000 feet right after they served food (I had my seatbelt on but some did not and they were sorry) I keep my seatbelt fastened all of the time, light on or light off. I have not noticed any more or less turbulence lately. One of my worst flights for turbulence was maybe 20 years ago and my last flight was SO smooth. These flights average 5 1/2 hours. I also fly to Europe every summer from Seattle which is about 9 1/2 hours flying non-stop. I have a hard time sleeping on any flight regardless of its length. Until such time as the weather up there gets so bad that airplanes start falling from the sky, I will continue to look forward to my next flight. Happy travels.

Posted by Angela
Sammamish, WA
403 posts

Ah--thanks for the clarification. Yes, of course flying around storms costs more. I am grateful that modern technology facilitates that. I agree about keeping your seatbelt on. I have seen an infant in the row in front of me literally fly out of his dad's arms and nearly hit the ceiling when our plane dropped suddenly one time (en route to London.) Needless to say, my kids have always had their own seat ever since.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
6817 posts

My sister, who is a nervous flyer, told me she feels a whole lot more relaxed after it was explained to her that turbulence is just like a boat being tossed on rough seas. Uncomfortable for the passengers, but not structurally dangerous to the aircraft. The danger is to passengers who are not belted and get tossed about. Alaska Airlines has gotten a whole lot more aggressive with the Fasten Seat Belt sign ever since two flight attendants sued for injuries they incurred in a turbulence event in 2007. ( they sued the Weather Service and FAA, not the airline).

Posted by gone
2081 posts

hi, i went over to Europe last march and last october. no bumps that i can remember. my first flight was when a friend took me up in a Cessna 172. when flying into an aiport on an island in the gorge, we dropped about 20 feet or so. that will wake you up. Turbulence dosent bother me. its when the engines cut out. happy trails.

Posted by David
Seattle, WA, USA
1597 posts

Your premise is complete nonsense - and I say this as a pilot myself. "Turbulence" is and will always be a part of flying. It's not caused or made worse by global climate change. At. All. Anyone who tells you that is either yanking your chain, or has no understanding of....pretty much anything. Pilots know how to deal with turbulence. In 99.99999% of cases, it's a complete non-issue from a safety standpoint, it's just a minor inconvenience - a few more people will spill their drinks. That's it. There's no extra training needed. On your list of the top 100 things to worry about, increased turbulence due to climate change should be somewhere about number 250,000,000, right before zombie attacks.

Posted by Ed
9110 posts

The fuel to duck a storm is inconsequential. You top most of them at cruising altitude. The odd one that sticks up higher shows up from fifty miles out and you can slip past it with a two degree heading change. An autopilot doesn't even start to correct until you're a blah degree off. If you're hand-flying, you can't even see a one degree error and, if you're a real hot-shot, you can stab in a slight correction at two degrees. Ducking low altitude squall lines doesn't add much either - - a slight turn and cob the power and you're past them. I've burned a lot of gas working storms in the low altitude structure, but none measurable running high.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

It's much worse going to Australia. The South Pacific thunder storms regularly reach amazing heights so you have to give them a wide birth (at least in military aircraft) rather than try to climb over them. Most of the time, turbulence is only a nuisance. The only turbulence we really worried about was "mountain wave" turbulence which happens downwind from mountain ranges rather than over oceans (look for clouds that resemble contact lenses). The best thing to do when you encounter turbulence is get comfortable in your seat and relax. Passenger aircraft have first dibs on the smoothest air so pilots will generally change altitude or adjust course a little just to make the passengers more comfortable.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
523 posts

My wife just went through the same fears a week ago for no reason at all. What you heard on the "news" this morning is the perfect example of why I hold local news, they handed out the same line of BS in our media here. The minor detail they left out is the the increased turbulence, if it happens, will not happen for 20 to 50 years. So just relax, enjoy your trip and ignore the local media scare mongers who are desperate for ratings.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9473 posts

Angela . I am totally with you on kids having seats and being belted in or in their carseats,, I think most people think it doesn't matter, that most planes don't actually crash( like cars do ) but what they don't realize is how easy it is for an unsecured child to fly out their arms, and turbulence is often not predicted before the first bumps are felt.