Travel

Fasten Your Seatbelts: What You Need to Know About Turbulence

Countless travelers have experienced the distinct anxiety-inducing sensation of turbulence on flights: Eyes squeezed shut, hands clamped to the armrests for dear life, bracing for the roller coaster to come.

It can be intense and cause injuries during flights. From 2009 to 2022, 163 passengers and crew members on aircraft registered in the United States were seriously injured by turbulence, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Though deaths are extremely rare, they do happen. On Tuesday, a 73-year-old man died after a plane flying from London to Singapore encountered severe turbulence and plummeted 6,000 feet in minutes. Another 18 people were hospitalized and an additional 12 people were being treated for injuries, Singapore Airlines said in a statement.

Other incidents in the last few years have also left dozens of passengers with injuries. In March 2023, seven passengers on a Lufthansa flight from Texas to Frankfurt were hospitalized with minor injuries after their plane encountered severe turbulence. And in December 2022, about two dozen people, including an infant, were hurt on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Phoenix to Honolulu that hit rough air shortly before landing.

The recent reports raise questions about whether turbulence is getting more frequent and intense.

We spoke to a handful of experts to learn more about the tricky-to-predict weather phenomenon. Here’s what they said.

What is turbulence?

Turbulence is unstable air movement that is caused by changes in wind speed and direction, such as jet streams, thunderstorms, and cold or warm weather fronts. It can range in severity, causing minor to dramatic changes in altitude and air speed.

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