Speed bumps in the sky – turbulence explained
Published on 31st March 2017

Keeping lookout. Pilots monitor conditions ahead – including talking to other aircraft on the same route – to detect and avoid turbulence the best they can. But even in clear flying conditions, sudden wind changes can cause some unexpected bumps. Seat belts are always buckled up on the flight deck.

Turbulence is one of the most talked about elements of flying among passengers. But for cabin crew and pilots, it’s simply part  of the job and certainly not something to fear (provided you’re buckled up).

That said, it can be uncomfortable. And it’s a leading cause of spilt drinks in-flight. So, a lot of effort goes into minimising the amount of turbulence we encounter.

Here are some facts about turbulence and how we manage it, plus an interview with our Chief Technical Pilot, Alex Passerini, about what he has experienced in more than 20 years of flying.

What causes turbulence

There are three main causes of turbulence.

  (Pro tip: If you listen carefully as the aircraft climbs, you’ll be able to hear the wind noise around the aircraft increase. This is usually the aircraft   reaching a jetstream, which run like currents in the upper atmosphere.

Planning a smooth flight. Pilots receive charts like this as part of their flight plan, giving them an indication of weather conditions en route. The white numbers in the black circles show the intensity of wind changes (or, shear rate) that create turbulence.

Reducing turbulence

There are a few ways we work to reduce turbulence, in the interests of giving you a more comfortable flight.

Nothing to fear

Aircraft are designed to deal with turbulence many times more severe than anything you would realistically encounter. For instance, you might notice the wings flex up and down when it gets bumpy but they are designed to bend much, much further. And you might hear some of the cabin fittings creak, but the structural integrity of the aircraft is engineered for all sorts of turbulence. The biggest risk from turbulence is being tossed around – so whenever your seated, we recommend having your seatbelt done up.

Watch Captain Passerini below as he explains more about turbulence.

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