Ask some travelers the worst thing about flying and topics like delays and lost luggage won’t come up.
But turbulence will.
Many passengers dread that feeling of helplessness when the plane starts to shake at 35,000 feet.
Some researchers believe turbulence will get a lot worse in the years to come.
Last December, Hawaiian Airlines flight 35, bound from Phoenix to Honolulu, was rocked by severe turbulence. About 20 passengers and crew members were injured. Many of them were rushed to the hospital.
“The plane shook and then it went into a sudden drop, like how you would go into a drop on a roller coaster,” said one passenger.
“My life flashed before my eyes,” said another. “I was scared.”
Most turbulence is light or moderate. That’s when the fasten seat sign lights up and food service is usually halted.
Severe turbulence is much stronger and can cause serious injuries.
There are several circumstances that create planes to encounter turbulence.
First, consider that planes are flying fast at altitudes that often exceed 30,000 feet and are interacting with a jet stream which moves at more than 200mph.
Sudden changes in air flow, from wind eddies, the collision of warm and cold air masses, and powerful thunderstorms disrupt the air around the plane and can make it lose thousands of feet of altitude in a matter of seconds.
“There’s a possibility it could get a lot bumpier,” said Mark Prosser. He’s part of a team at the University of Reading in Great Britain that has been studying the link between climate change and turbulence. They are now among the world’s top experts on this issue.
“Obviously the more temperatures rise, the more likely it is that the turbulence will increase by a greater amount,” explained Prosser.
He added that by 2050 - 2080 there could be three times the amount of turbulence in the atmosphere.
Pilots try to avoid turbulence by going around it or changing altitudes.
Those measures can make flights longer and require more fuel.
“The cost is always going to be passed along to the customer, so whatever adjustments the airline needs to make in the interest of safety and efficiently, they will find a way to balance those needs with the cost of a ticket,” said Loren Herren, a pilot who teaches aviation at Bridgewater State University.
He says flying commercially is still the safest way to travel and that pilots are well-trained to handle turbulence.
“Folks generally would be, I think, impressed with the level to which aircraft are designed and built to withstand stresses that come naturally to flight, and turbulence is one of the stresses that are absolutely designed and planned for in any aircraft,” added Herren.
Still, that’s little consolation to some travelers at Logan Airport.
When asked what goes thru his mind when the plane starts to shake, one man said “I’m glad that I took my Dramamine.”
A woman said turbulence makes her feel nauseous.
Another woman told Boston 25 News it’s “super unsettling.”
Herren said the North Atlantic region is expected to be one of the areas with the most increased turbulence because of where the jet stream is located.
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