We all know the feeling. When the airplane starts to bump and jump as you fly through the air and you are rattled back and forth in your seat. You feel the unnerving floating sensation in your stomach like you are on a roller coaster and the tiny cup on your tray table rattles like an earthquake is rumbling through.
You feel anxiety course through your body – what if this means that the plane is struggling and is in danger of going down? Turbulence makes many people nervous, but the truth is that it’s not that big of a deal. As for most fears, the best way to tackle your anxiety about turbulence is to understand what it is and know that it cannot hurt you.
Turbulence is just part of the job for an aircraft pilot and it’s not a sign that the plane is about to go down.
A modern plane is designed to withstand much more force than a little bit of turbulence, so you don’t have to be concerned that the plane will fall apart. The shape and design of the aircraft is made for turbulence and disturbances in the air, so there would have to be quite severe turbulence for there to be an effect – which is very rare.
A plane going through turbulence is similar to your car going over a small bump in the road, you might feel it but it won’t affect you in any way. Flying through clouds causes turbulence because the variations in temperature causes the air to move around. Turbulence can also happen when structures such as mountains and buildings disrupt the air currents – which is also easy to predict and avoid.
Turbulence is just a disturbance in the air, similar to waves in the ocean. According to pilot Patrick Smith in this article for Men’s Health, turbulence is rarely dangerous and the plane is usually only displaced in altitude less than 10-20 feet. It might feel like the plane is dropping a huge amount, but in reality it is barely moving.
Also, the other thing to know is that flight paths are constantly being monitored. Any storms in the way of the aircraft would be spotted well ahead of time so that they can be avoided. Pilots will always fly around thunderstorms rather than through them, even if it means your flight will take a little longer. The plane probably could fly through the thunderstorm, but the pilot doesn’t want to disturb and alarm the passengers with excessive turbulence.
So, if you find yourself nervous when the plane gets a little bit wobbly on your next flight, just remember that it’s really nothing to worry about. Just make sure that your seatbelt is fastened, watch a movie to distract yourself or listen to some calming music. It will be over soon and you’ll be flying through smoother skies before you know it.