The Real Reason Flights Are Experiencing More Turbulence

You're not imagining it: Your flights really are getting bumpier. Here's why.

This week 30 passengers were reportedly injured when a Turkish Airlines flight landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport encountered turbulent conditions. Injuries included bruises, bloody noses, and broken bones. In mid-February, a Delta Airlines flight made an emergency landing to assist three passengers in getting to the nearest hospital after some sudden and unexpected turbulence. Doctors treated 15 passengers after a flight from Miami to Buenos Aires last October for everything from severe bruising to nosebleeds after the plane caught some rough winds over Brazil. In 2016, 23 passengers were injured on a United Airlines flight after severe turbulence threw people into the cabin ceiling.

The list goes on. Turbulence has been become increasingly common, with painful outcomes for those on board. And more costly to the airlines, too. Forbes estimates that the cost of turbulence has risen to over $500 million each year in damages and delays. And there are no signs the increase in turbulence will be stopping anytime soon.

“The prevalence of transatlantic wintertime clear-air turbulence will increase significantly in all aviation-relevant strength categories as the climate changes.” A study from Advances in Atmospheric Sciences concludes.

How significantly? Experts from the University of Reading predict a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence.

So how can you avoid being injured? “Always keep your seat belt fastened.” Dr. Paul Williams, a research fellow at Reading University studying the phenomenon said. “I never used to bother until I started studying incidents of turbulence and the injuries involved. Of course, that won’t protect you from someone else getting thrown in the air and landing on you, but it will substantially minimize your chances of getting hurt.” This pilot gives an inside look at what causes turbulence and what you can do as a passenger to handle it.

In addition, flight experts suggest adhering to your airline’s carry-on restrictions, using approved child safety seats for young children, and most importantly, listening to your flight attendants to help keep you and your family safe during rough skies. Turbulence can be nerve-racking, but here are some facts about flying that will help you stay calm.

As flights get bumpier there’s help on the horizon to help passengers steer clear of further injuries. Boeing is working on developing a laser that, when attached to the nose of an aircraft, would give pilots an extra warning about clear-air turbulence, the type of turbulence they currently are not able to detect until they’re right in the middle of it. This technology could give pilots the extra time they need to avoid the rough air and give flight attendants enough forewarning to secure the cabin to avoid potential injuries. Next, take a look at 11 things traveling on a plane does to your body.

Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy is the newsletter editor at Reader’s Digest. She writes and reports on home, culture, and general interest stories. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse in 2017 with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Writing.