Common Questions About Airplane Turbulence and Passenger Safety

by Terry Bryant

Airplane Turbulance & Passenger Safety | Terry Bryant Law Firm Houston, TXMany Americans were frightened by the recent JetBlue airplane turbulence that led to more than 20 passengers and two crew members being taken to a hospital for evaluation and possible treatment. After all, many of us have flown on planes during our lives that began moving up and down in a rather haphazard fashion. When you experience this, you can’t help but feel concern about your safety and whether it’s a small, isolated bump or something that might be more serious.

The Alleged Injuries Tied to the JetBlue Airline Episode

According to several news reports, the JetBlue plane was planning to fly from Boston to Sacramento, California. However, once the plane hit major turbulence, the pilot decided to cut the flight short and land in Rapid City, South Dakota. In a CNN article published on August 12, 2016, one passenger said the period of turbulence unfolded “like a bad dream.”

Another passenger said the flight felt like a dangerous Disney amusement park ride. The extremely rapid drops in altitude were especially frightening. One other report indicated that a passenger who didn’t keep her seatbelt fastened during the air turbulence flew upwards out of her seat, hitting her head on the airplane ceiling. Others are reported to have experienced bruising and other minor injuries.

A weather expert said that the turbulence the JetBlue encountered that day was caused by the rapid shifting of air within a thunderstorm.

How Common Are Serious Air Turbulence Episodes?

A 2014 Huffington Post story reported that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said that between 2002 and 2013, air turbulence led to 430 injuries – but no fatalities. Nevertheless, that same story said that most airline pilots will never encounter any deadly air turbulence during their careers.

Since this type of conflicting information leaves many people unsure of what to expect when flying in the future, here are some additional facts that influence public safety on airplanes.

Are Most Pilots Trained Well Enough to Handle Air Turbulence?

Overall, licensed pilots are properly trained for a broad range of flight conditions. However, various news reports may always worry some travelers. One reason is that airplanes themselves can increase clear air turbulence just by passing by much smaller planes in the sky.

Fortunately, the FAA requires pilots of all large airplanes to master its Wake Turbulence Mitigation for Departure system. And all commercial aircraft must be built so that they can handle forces far greater than those normally experienced during heavy turbulence.

How Can Individual Passengers Maximize Their Safety?

  • Keep your seatbelt fastened the majority of the time – even when it’s not required. No one every knows exactly when air turbulence, wind shear and other forces are likely to effect a specific plane’s flight. You can often remain safest by always keeping your belt securely fastened except when walking back to use the lavatory;
  • Double check the expected weather conditions for the day you’ll be traveling. If heavy thunderstorms, snow or ice are predicted, it may be best to wait for a better weather day. Some travelers might prefer to buy tickets with features that allow them to reschedule their flights without incurring additional change fees;
  • Listen and learn all you can during the flight attendant’s initial safety lecture. Although it’s unlikely that you’ll personally experience severe air turbulence in the future, you should be prepared to duck your head or follow any other instructions from the crew during the flight;
  • Obey all rules regarding luggage placement. Keep items properly locked in the bins above you and make sure all other items are kept under the seats whenever possible. When you fail to do this, all larger items left out on the floor or in empty seats can quickly become dangerous projectiles — capable of hurting you and other passengers.