A Guide to Coming to Terms with Turbulence

June 22nd, 2018

One in ten people are terrified of flying and turbulence. Yet with flight prices dropping, far flung destinations begging to be explored, flight gift cards on the rise, and global business as the future – air travel is often on the agenda for many of us.

The one thing that manages to strike fear in a nervous flyers nerves are the bumps and grinds that come with turbulence. No matter how many times pilots tell us turbulence is safe and normal, it still causes a fearful flyers heart to skip a beat. To help put you back on a stable flight path, let’s take a closer look at learning to come to terms with turbulence.

What is Turbulence?

Airplanes go with the flow – literally traveling in airstreams. Sometimes, that smooth air can become choppy, exactly like waves and ripples in the ocean. The air choppiness can be caused by thermal changes (for example when warm air rises), it can also be caused by mountains or a structure interrupting the airflow, and finally it can be caused by a pilot getting in and out of jet streams. Unfortunately for fearful fliers, as global warming becomes more and more common, turbulence is going to get worse. Yet, panic not – as turbulence isn’t as terrifying as it feels.

Why are we so Afraid?

For the fearful flyer anything that isn’t a silky-smooth ride will cause your fear sensors to go on red alert. This fear is actually caused by the amygdala part of the brain, AKA the section responsible for detecting fear and prepping for emergencies. When the amygdala feels the slight shift in the plane, it delivers a knee jerk reaction and can release a ton of stress hormones, especially if you are already tense and on alert. Most people are afraid of turbulence because they don’t understand the mechanics of flying. Hollywood doesn’t help – often showing turbulence or airplanes out of control for dramatic effect and feeding the fear cycle.

What’s the Actual Risk?

An estimated eight million people fly every single day and the FAA has worked out that on average 58 people a year are injured from turbulence. However, these are always airstaff and passengers who weren’t buckled in. Pilots are well versed in the world of turbulence and often, they know its coming and go out of their way to avoid it – not because its unsafe but simply because it causes stress and discomfort for passengers. Aircrafts have been designed so that no gust of wind can cause it to fall out of the sky. The truth is when planes hit turbulence they are usually only moving a couple of feet up and down, but because of the speed of the aircraft it can make it feel much more dramatic than it actually is.

Tips for Riding it Out

If you are a fearful flyer than sometimes no amount of sophisticated statistics and safety promises will stop you getting clammy hands and a racing heart when turbulence happens. But, there are coping techniques you can employ to help you ride it out.

Knowledge is Power

First and foremost, learn all you can about flying, turbulence and the mechanics of an aircraft. Often, fear can come from not understanding how things work. If you know the science behind flying and you know what an aircraft is capable of then you can logically talk to yourself while the plane is bumping around.

Check the Apps

Alongside knowledge, having some forewarning can also help. Be sure to check the turbulence report prior to flying. There are also some really cool apps that measure G-Force in the moment. Being able to look at a graph that shows you how much the aircraft is actually moving during a spell of turbulence can stop your imagination spiraling out of control.

Sit Over the Wings

A top tip for those not wanting to suffer the fear of turbulence is to choose a seat over the wings. The back of the airplane is the bumpiest and even the slightest bit of rough air will be heightened. The middle section of the airplane, over the wings will provide the most stability.

Go Big

Bigger aircrafts are less susceptible to turbulence generally because of their size and also because they fly at a higher altitude which means smoother air. When cashing in your flight vouchers, you should take a look at the different airlines and models of aircrafts, so you can choose something a little larger.

Remember the bottom line; turbulence isn’t dangerous and by simply wearing your seatbelt you have nothing to fear.


Related articles