Air Turbulence and Its Danger to Passengers and Planes

According to scientist turbulence or turbulent flow is fluid motion characterized by chaotic changes in pressure and flow velocity. It is in contrast to a laminar flow, which occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers, with no disruption between those layers. Though mathematicians and physicists have not been able to solve the turbulence mystery yet, Turbulence in air is commonly referred as chaos. It occurs when bursts of energy get into the air a plane is flying through. This energy causes changes in the pressure and speed airflow which leads to powerful air currents that move in different directions.

It is never considered as a pleasant experiences for the passengers onboard, when the aircraft cabin is shaking as if you are sitting in a car that is driving on a bumpy road. However, the main reason why turbulence causes so much fear among passengers is that most of them don’t understand what causes turbulence. The travelers might not be well aware of how the pilots are trained to manage it, and how the airplanes are designed and built to handle it.

Factors that Cause Air Turbulence

Shear, such a turbulence occurs when two adjacent areas of air move in different directions. The border between them can be a turbulence hotspot. A common cause of shear is jet flow from another airplane, also called wake turbulence.

Thermal turbulence is caused by the heat which rises and heads up through the cooler air. Thermal turbulence could be related to clear-air turbulence, which is considered one of the most dangerous as it is impossible to predict or notice.

Mechanical turbulence is caused by large structures on the ground, such as mountains.

Planes usually experience turbulence when flying through pockets of raising and falling air called eddies. They are formed along the edges of the thunderstorm front, which the plane is trying to bypass. These eddies are not visible on the radars, and it is hard to determine the boundaries of the turbulence zone in advance and correct the route on the ground.

Turbulence can also occur during landing when the plane encounters strong headwinds and side winds. It is felt more strongly at lower altitudes, and weaker at higher altitudes. The larger the airliner, the less noticeable the turbulence.

There are varying degrees of turbulence depending on its intensity:

Weak, that can cause a little discomfort but does not disrupt the normal course of the flight.

Medium – more uncomfortable that makes walking around the cabin difficult as you can hit something or somebody by accident or even get injured. Just like on a bus during hard braking or cornering. To avoid accidental injury, the captain turns on the signal “Fasten your seat belts.” In case of moderate turbulence, we will also ask for seats and flight attendants.

Severe turbulence is the only category of turbulence that can be considered dangerous, as pilots might temporarily lose control of the machine. (

What to Do During a Turbulent Flight

Planes are made to withstand turbulence, as you might see from a wingtip moving up and down in the event that it gets a bit bumpy. So the first tip is not to panic.

Second tip is to fasten your Seatbelt: The flights crew are trained to keep you as safe as possible, so the real danger is if you or other folks, things fly around the cabin. That’s why airlines recommend you keep your seatbelt fastened whenever you’re seated, why sometimes flight attendants will be sent back to their jumpseats if a bumpy ride is predicted, and why sometimes hot drinks won’t be served.

Make sure you and anyone you’re traveling with is strapped in, and try to avoid leaving things around your seat that might fly about and injure you or someone else.

What Planes and Pilots do to Manage Turbulence

Thanks modern technology, forecasting is improving providing systems that pinpoint the location of planes and accuracy of turbulence reporting by pilots. This allows nearby planes to either avoid the turbulence or stow the trolleys and have the flight attendants sit down.

In the future we’re likely to see automated sensors on planes feeding data back into massive algorithms that give us a much better idea of where turbulence happens. Once we have that information, other calculations can suggest more accurately where turbulence might occur.

And the smart folks at airplane manufacturers are looking into how to reduce the impact of turbulence when it happens. One future option is biomimicry, or replicating what happens in nature, with birds in this case. An albatross’ wingtips, for example, flap freely up and down. That might look pretty odd at airplane scale, but Airbus is working on a scale model to see what can be learned for the flights of the future. (

In a discussion a child once asked if turbulence can cause a plane crash. The Plane Isn’t Going to Crash anyways because they are built to withstand most turbulence.  And in the case of more extreme turbulence, which would ideally be navigated around, the pilot will be able to bring down the plane’s speed to a safe velocity, so your plane won’t be damaged but passes through the disturbances.

Have you encountered air turbulence while flying, what was your experience like and did your pilot manage the situation? Please share with us at the comment box.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *