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5 things to know about turbulence

Confession: I find turbulence soothing in a rocking-the-pram kind of way. But I know that for a lot of travellers, turbulence is terrifying and some don’t take overseas holidays because of it.

So here’s some information to help you get through your fear of turbulence…

Hawaiian airlines wing

Turbulence is common

Air flows are affected by mountains, hot land mass, oceans, clouds, storms etc. It’s an everyday occurrence and one that pilots navigate around wherever possible. They also do a bunch of things like slow the plane down before going through a turbulent area to make the ride smoother – a bit like steering a boat on rough seas.

Turbulence can be spotted early

Thanks to their whizz-bang gadgets, pilots can be prepared for turbulence before it strikes and make sure everyone is belted in and no one spills their coffee – least of all them. They use weather charts, radar and information from pilots up ahead. They can read cloud formations and know how terrain affects the air. New technology using lasers is being developed to help pilots read clean-air turbulence too.

You’re not going to crash

Planes are built for this stuff! While your wine might end up in your lap or an overhead bin might pop open, relax because the structure of the plane will be just fine. Every plane must pass a stress test before it rolls out of the hangar for its first passenger flight. In the 777 wing test, the wing coped with over 150% more stress than the strongest winds it will ever encounter. Here’s a video of the test if you’re as fascinated as me by this stuff.

Keep your seatbelt fastened

Even when I’ve put my eye mask on and popped a cheeky sleeper to drift off, I keep my seatbelt fastened. I actually loosen it right out to its full extent so I can still turn from side to side, but should we experience a sudden drop I won’t hit the overhead bins. The most common victims of turbulence-related injuries are passengers and crew not strapped in when the plane hits an unexpected air pocket.

Watch the faces of the crew

To really get a handle on what’s going, I look at the faces of the crew and I’m always reassured during turbulence. They are professionally trained, they fly most days of their lives and they’ve pretty much been through it all, so if they are calm and chatting amongst themselves while strapped in, then you can sit back and relax. This is just another day in the office.


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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!