Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Turbulence - Eek

I have reproduced below, one of the top ten reasons why people dislike flying. Turbulence freaks out alot of the people that come to see us. I hope that you find this article a nice reminder...

Questions about Turbulence come up on each and every fear of flying course that we have run since November 1997.  It is one of the biggies for people.
The content for this blog is cribbed from listening to our pilots describe in terms that we all can understand. 
It is divided into two parts. 

The first part looks at the reality of what Turbulence does to an aircraft and you. 

The second part looks at what is Turbulence is in normal speak.

By the way, I was watching a programme on the TV last night and saw this scene which involved Turbulence.  I thought to myself, If Turbulence was like that I wouldn't get on an aircraft ever!

It was absolutely untrue how they portrayed it with flashing lights and lots of weird engine noises.  If you watch anything like this, please remember it is television not real life!  Come on our course and you will know that for true!

First things first.  There is no danger to the aircraft from Turbulence.  Aircraft do not fly into tropical storms as they have sophisticated systems that can detect thunderstorms, heavy turbulence, volcano ash in fact anything that you can think of.
Pilots will fly around anything that would be too uncomfortable for our passengers.  But, make no mistake, modern aircraft are not bothered by turbulence.  It is humans that don't like it because it is uncomfortable.
It is uncomfortable but not dangerous.  Provided, you are strapped in when asked to be.
Why do the Cabin Crew not have to sit down - do they have special gravity footwear?!?  (Real question from an ex-nervous flyer we helped)
Cabin Crew are used to walking around in aircraft that would feel wobbly to non Cabin Crew. 
To repeat, the aircraft is not in danger.  You are only in danger if you are not seatbelted when the Captain asks you to be.

So, what is Turbulence then?
Have you ever played Pooh Sticks?  Pooh sticks is when you lean over one side of a footbridge, drop a couple of twigs into the stream below.  Then, you rush to the other side of the bridge to see which Pooh stick won. Not played?
Anyway, as you watch the twigs you will notice that they bob about, speed up, slow down and generally move around due to the currents in the water.  The currents are caused by different speeds of water molecules coming together.  Sometimes, the different bits of water are slightly different temperatures so rub together as they meet. 
Well, guess what.  Air behaves and has all the properties of water. 

Did you at any point see the twigs plummet to the murky depths because the water didn't feel like supporting it any more?  No? Of course not.  This is not meant to be patronising but it is a key point that we need to tell ourselves because it is easy to talk ourselves into thinking unhelpful thoughts. 
It is also worth mentioning that pooh sticks don't have sophisticated navigation systems like aircraft do.  The sort of systems that effortlessly keep the aircraft completely on track at all times.  Not so for Pooh sticks.
Ah, but you can see water!   You say. 
Yes, that is true. Plus, when you are in aircraft you often have no idea where we are flying as it is difficult to be precise when looking at a big fluffy cloud.  Like as precise as a building or even a coast line.

Aircraft like air movement.  Coming back from America, you will shave about one hour off your journey because of the air blowing us from behind.
Air is a strong thing.  Go outside on a windy day and notice the trees bending in the wind.  You can't see it like water but there is sheer power and energy there.
Air is good.  It is always there.  It has energy and potency in it.  Aircraft stay up because of the air passing over the wing.  The engines give the aircraft thrust but they don't keep the aircraft up there once it is flying.  The wings with the air passing over them do that.  Aircraft are just like big gliders using the air to their advantage.

Have you ever looked at a stream and seen absolutely no movement whatsoever.  Nothing at all?  No, because there is always some movement. 
Same with air.  Even on the calmest of days, the air is always moving.  Turbulence is just a name for moving air.  It always moves and that is good.  Wherever there is air there will be some movement or Turbulence.
It is normal and it is safe to aircraft and safe to you if you have your seatbelt on.  Did you know, pilots always keep their seat belts on during the whole flight except for essential visits!

When the air moves quickly it can take us by surprise.  Here is your challenge:
Every time you hear yourself say Turbulence or someone else says it.  You have to NO!!  It is movement of air and it is okay.
Turbulence has too many negative connotations now and it does not deserve them.  Just like Air Pockets which is the subject of another blog.

Until then, keep practising managing your thoughts and your breathing.

Take care
Paul Tizzard & Richard Conway
Virgin Atlantic Flying Without Fear Team


  1. Hello. I'm Jess, I am 22 years old and attended a fear of flying course 2 years ago. Since then, without any hesitation, I have flown to Amsterdam, Turkey and even as far as the USA as well as an internal USA flight to NYC!!! I am so incredibly thankful for that 1 day as it truelly turned my life around. Not only am I a keen flyer but I have grown in confidance in so many areas of my life due to over coming this fear. Last year, I went on a Skiing trip to Courcheville and I did things I never imagined myself doing =). It's amazing how one small change can lead to a life time of achievements. Thankyou to all the guys at Virgin x

  2. Turbulence, from a flight crew perspective, comes in two main varieties...

    1) Imminent - we THINK it may get a bumpy shortly. The kind of warning we give to the cabin is interpreted by the cabin crew as "we have a little bit of time to secure the cabin (trolleys, trays etc.), and then we, too, will sit down and fasten our seatbelts."

    2) Immediate - that means we want everyone to sit down immediately as we believe it is sufficiently bumpy that walking around would be difficult. It's not because it is any worse than any other kind of turbulence, rather it's just that EVERYONE is safer with a seatbelt on if it is bumpy.

    So sometimes you will see flight attendants walking around while the seatbelt sign is on, but they are putting things away prior to sitting down themselves. Yes, cabin crew are adept at walking around when it is bumpy, but we want everyone to be as secure as possible in the bumps.

    The description of pooh-sticks is good... the airplane will fly just fine through the bumps (and is designed by brilliant engineers to do this with style!), and turbulence cannot hurt you if you have your seatbelt fastened!

    Turbulence can be a little disconcerting, however. Just remember... pooh-sticks, but you can always change your trousers when you get there!

    And get there you will!