Alex Gervash Pilot. Psychologist and fear of flying specialist.
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What is a turbulence zone in an airplane and is it dangerous

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What is a turbulence zone in an airplane and is it dangerous

“Dear passengers, our airplane enters the turbulence zone…” these words ruin the good mood even for the experienced air travelers. Turbulence is a main disturbing thing during the flights, which is the reason for most of the anxiety and worries; because when you are several thousand feet over the ground, every disturbance is perceived much more painfully. But is the turbulence really such a danger?

What is turbulence and where can we meet it?

Pilots as well as many passengers call it a “bumpiness”. Simply to say, it’s a shaking in a cabin, sometimes pretty strong, the sensations can be compared to a car ride on a bumpy road. Anyway those sensations are not very pleasant for the already worried passengers who try their best to toss away the thought that those bumps are omens of the forthcoming catastrophe.

The cause of turbulence are strong wind flows and air currents that the airplane encounters on its way. When you get into such a flow, it seems that the plane is falling down (that’s an illusion induced by the speed, in fact the change of the altitude barely totals several meters) or bouncing at an extremely steep bump.

  • Turbulence often occurs while passing through clouds, which generate swirling flows that hit the wings.
  • Those flows are much stronger in storm fronts, that’s why airplanes never fly through them but bypass them. Although at the edges of the fronts, swirls emerge, which affect the bypassing airplane and make it shake. Unfortunately, those swirls are not visible on the locators, which means it is impossible to define the borders of the turbulence zone in advance and to correct the route before the takeoff to assuredly bypass the obstacle at a significant distance and not to snag even on its edge.
  • Sometimes the “bumpiness” happens with the clear sky. Alas, it is also impossible to forecast.
  • The turbulence often happens during the landing, when the plane meets strong counter and cross wind gusts.
  • The “bumpiness” feels stronger at lower altitudes, where the ascending air flows from the ground interfere with the scene, and weaker at higher altitudes. The bigger the airliner is, the less noticeable the turbulence feels, since its size and mass are much harder to sway for the airflow.

One way or another, this phenomenon is quite widespread and it is mandatorily taken into account during the preflight preparation: experienced passengers must remember those warnings about the possible turbulence, which are announced before the start.

In fact, the pilots get weather reports before the takeoff, to take measures in advance; and the flight route is plotted on the ground considering the fronts. Also, during the flight, the monitoring of the weather doesn’t stop for a second to provide immediate reaction to unexpected turbulence zones encountered on the way — that is also possible, especially during the long-haul flights.

Does turbulence represent a danger to the plane or to the passengers?

No, it does not. Passing the turbulence zones is a totally regular routine; not getting into an unstable zone at least once during a flight is rather an exception than a rule. Therefore, the impact of turbulence is considered as early as at the stage of engineering a plane, together with many other factors affecting flight safety. The toughness of aircraft is designed to endure significantly more serious impact than that of the strongest turbulence ever seen.

Is turbulence dangerous for passengers? Perhaps only indirectly — the risk of losing balance and even get injured while walking within the cabin does grow. That’s exactly why it is very important to follow the instructions of flight attendants, as long as their job is to provide safety and comfort for the passengers during the flight. Together with the announcement about entering the turbulence zone the passengers are always asked to return to their seats and to buckle up, while the attendants perform an additional check of the hand luggage shelf to make sure it does not fall out from the poorly locked box on a steep air bump.

In other words, turbulence during a flight is an inconvenience, not a threat. All that a passenger needs is to sit, buckle up and just wait until the plane passes this zone.

However, what to do if you are still scared? First, fear of flying is a natural thing. Air travel is an everyday reality of our time that has brought much benefit — speed, convenience, safety. It’s impossible to imagine both work and recreation without air travel. However, it’s not so simple to overcome a subconscious mindset that has been maturing for tens of thousands of years of human evolution.

Lack of reliable support underfoot, being in a closed space, loss of control over the situation at a great altitude — these factors are more than enough for stress, and the common human reaction to stress is fear, which is hard to remove by appealing to logic and by autogenic training. However, the fear of flying is irrational and useless. Instead of the task intended by evolution to warn about danger and to mobilize forces of your organism it only increases discomfort, that’s why you can and you need to fight this fear and defeat it with professional help.

How to teach yourself not to be afraid to fly on airplanes?

Fear of flying follows people since the very times when passenger air travel became routine and tens of thousands of people every day found a need to go on board an airplane and to cross distances by air. As statistics show, more than half of all passengers are afraid to fly and the reasons for this are very different like the people themselves. We in the center “Flying Without Fear” have developed methods to fight fear of flying — a variety of programs involving professional flight simulators, allowing you to experience all kinds of flight sensations on earth and to work over any situation. Every client is unique, and we will pick the right course for you, which will help you to get rid of the fear of flying forever.

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