If it seems like there’s been extra turbulence on your flights lately, it’s not just in your head. Bumpy plane rides are on the rise.
Earlier this year, 30 passengers were injured due to turbulence aboard a Turkish Airlines flight. Prior to that, Delta Airlines landed a flight in order to get three passengers to the emergency room due to turbulent conditions. The list goes on, but you get the picture — tumultuous flying experiences are becoming more ordinary.
So why is this the case? A 2017 study from the University of Reading predicted that climate change could lead to a 149% increase in severe turbulence. The same year, research was published in Geophysical Research Letters stating that clear-air turbulence (aka “potentially hospitalizing in-flight bumpiness experienced by aircraft”) could increase threefold in 30 years, also due to climate change.
A more recent study in the journal Nature confirmed both of these predictions: Wind shear (which occurs when winds vary in direction/speed with height) is increasing, and is one of the most prominent causes of clear-air turbulence.
The science doesn’t lie — the climate is indeed dramatically changing. And we are seeing a tangibly frightening result of this aboard a myriad of aircrafts.
How to fly safely
Both the thought and the experience of turbulence is terrifying for many. Simon H. Lee, the lead author of the 2019 Nature research, told Science Alert that though he studies turbulence every day, “that doesn’t make me immune to the fear of flying through it. It seems to grab a very primitive part of your brain and override all your rational thoughts.”
Rest assured: Despite turbulence-induced anxiety, you’re quite safe on your flight. In fact, if you’re only factoring in turbulence as a cause of a flying disaster, you’re almost certainly safe, as turbulence is not a typical cause of airplane crashes. “The chances of your plane going down due to turbulence are really nil,” Lee told Science Alert.
Still, it’s imperative to keep your seatbelt fastened throughout your flight in order to reduce the risk of turbulence-related injury. Of the 44 people injured by turbulence in 2016, the majority were people without their seatbelt fastened.
Help is on the horizon
Silver linings are ahead: According to Reader’s Digest, Boeing is working on developing a laser that attaches to the nose of an aircraft and gives pilots an extra warning about clear-air turbulence. This would give pilots extra time to avoid rough air and secure the cabin so as to prevent injuries.
And while nifty new technology is definitely seductive, there’s nothing sexier than the thought of beginning to reverse climate change — no, it’s not too late. Here’s what the experts recommend we do to address climate change and its dangerous consequences.