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The Truth About Turbulence: Should Passengers Be Concerned?

23 May 2024

The Truth About Turbulence: Should Passengers Be Concerned?

Multiple Singapore Airlines passengers are currently in hospital being treated for severe injuries after the plane had to make an emergency landing in Bangkok, following severe turbulence on a flight departing from London. This has led to the death of a British man in his seventies, Mr. Kitchen, who died from a suspected heart attack.*

With turbulence back in the headlines, questions are being raised about plane safety and whether advice about seat belts should be changed.

In light of this, we thought we’d do a deep dive on what turbulence actually means, and whether we should be worried about it when jetting off around the world.

  • What causes turbulence?

Most people will have experienced turbulence at some point in their lives whilst flying. Those familiar bumps and jolts have become a feature of modern flying, but it’s likely that most of us don’t know a lot about it and why it happens.

There is a lot of complex science involved in explaining what turbulence is and why it occurs, but essentially, it occurs when you're travelling through a rough patch of air and there are three main reasons why it happens.

  1. Thermal: when warm air rises through cooler air
  2. Mechanical: mountain or man made structures which disrupt the flow of air
  3. Shear: when the border of two pockets of air move in different directions**

These conditions can set the ideal breeding ground for turbulence, and it’s easy for a large aircraft to encounter them all or some of them whilst flying, making for a bit of a bumpy ride.

With recent news headlines, it can be easy to fall back into the trap of feeling anxious about flying but it’s important to remember turbulence is normal, and the kind of turbulence experienced on the Singapore Airlines flight is very rare.

  • Why you shouldn’t worry about turbulence

Although incidents like these remind us of the importance of in-flight safety procedures and the purpose of using seat belts when prompted, it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion and put us off flying altogether.

Flying is still the safest form of travel and turbulence is very normal. Occasions like this one in Singapore are incredibly rare, which is why it has made every news headline in recent days.

It’s worth reminding yourself that modern aircraft are designed to withstand a huge amount of turbulence and pilots are well equipped to handle these conditions. Although it’s important to be aware of it and how you can help protect yourself whilst on board, it isn’t worth losing sleep over a night before you jet off abroad.

  • How flights could change in the future

When a pilot can predict a patch of turbulence, the signs on an aircraft usually come on for passengers to put their seat belt warnings on. Additionally, flight attendants are usually on hand to make sure passengers adhere to these instructions.

However, in some cases, passengers may refrain from putting their seat belts on, or the aircraft could encounter sudden turbulence that’s difficult to prepare for.

In light of what has recently happened with Singapore Airlines, in the future we may see stricter regulations on flights for wearing seat belts, but this would be a small price to pay to guarantee the safety of all passengers.

If you’re feeling nervous about your next flight why not book in for a Flying Lesson to make you more comfortable in the skies? Alternatively, Gliding Experience is a reminder of how peaceful floating through the skies can be. At FlyDays, we have a range of Flying Experiences on offer throughout the UK.

-Sources: *BBC News, **The Independent.

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