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Is Air Turbulence Worsening?

by Aoife O’Riordan

May 29, 2024

© Siraj Ahmad | Dreamstime.com

eFlyer Lead

Two recent incidents of significant air turbulence on international flights sparked concerns amongst passengers. On May 20, a Singapore Airlines flight left from London’s Heathrow Airport bound for Singapore (SIN). As the plane passed over Myanmar nearly 37,000 feet in the air, the airline experienced extreme turbulence.

The turbulence was so bad, passengers were thrown from their seats, some hitting the ceiling. Eighteen passengers were injured, and a 73-year-old British passenger suffered a heart attack from the incident, passing away on board.

The plane, a Boeing 777-300ER, was forced to divert to Bangkok (BKK) after the pilot declared a medical emergency.

Less than a week later, a Qatar Airways flight from Doha (DOH) to Dublin (DUB) experienced similar extreme turbulence. Emergency services awaited the plane after it landed in Dublin in early afternoon, with six passengers and six crew members reported injured. This flight endured turbulence while flying over Türkiye.

These two recent incidents beg the question: Is air turbulence worsening? Many studies suggest it is. In 2023, a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters found increases in clear-air turbulence between 1979 and 2020, becoming 55 percent more frequent over the North Atlantic.

Causes of increased air turbulence include changes in wind speed at high altitudes due to warmer air from carbon emissions. On average every year, about 65,000 aircraft suffer moderate turbulence across the country; 5,500 experience extreme turbulence.

Professor Paul William, an atmospheric scientist at University of Redding who co-authored the 2023 study, urges passengers to not be deterred from flights because of turbulence.

The FAA lists some ways to avoid injuries in times of air turbulence, including listening to pilots and flight attendants, keeping seat belts fastened when the seat belt sign is illuminated, paying attention to the safety briefing at the beginning of the flight, and adhering to the airline’s carry-on restrictions.

The FAA also continues to work on preventing future turbulence issues by improving data collection and sharing, modernizing the Pilot Report System for pilots to better communicate weather conditions, and encouraging pilots to file more reports.

Have you experienced extreme air turbulence before? Does air turbulence scare you? What are your thoughts on these recent incidents? Tell us your thoughts. Email us at letters@globaltravelerusa.com. Please include your full name and location.

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