The Truth About In-Flight Turbulence

From Popular Mechanics

DALLAS (AP) – At some point during many flights, the captain will calmly announce that there could be some bumps ahead and so passengers must be seated with their seat belts on.

The plane might seem to bobble or bounce a bit, but rarely does it turn into a serious threat to safety. That, however, is just what happened to an American Airlines flight last weekend, when 10 people were injured as the plane plowed through turbulence on its way to landing in Philadelphia.

A rundown of statistics, recent incidents, and what pilots and airlines do to avoid hitting potholes in the sky:


About 40 people a year are seriously injured by turbulence in the U.S., according to Federal Aviation Administration figures from the last 10 years. The FAA counted 44 injuries last year, the most since more than 100 were hurt in 2009.

But the official count is almost certainly too low.

The National Transportation Safety Board requires airlines to report incidents that result in serious injury or death, and FAA uses those reports to tally the number of people hurt by turbulence. But airlines are not required to report injuries unless they require a 48-hour hospital stay or involve certain specific injuries such as major broken bones, burns or organ damage.

Saturday’s American Airlines flight to Philadelphia likely won’t meet those standards – the injured people were released from the hospital within a few hours and didn’t suffer the types of injuries that trigger a report to the federal safety board.


The American Airlines flight from Athens hit severe turbulence over the New York coastline. Seven crew members and three passengers among the 299 people on board were taken to a hospital for treatment. American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the seat-belt sign was on but none of the injured people were buckled in.

Feinstein said the plane was inspected and suffered no damage. After the interior was cleaned up – coffee and other drinks went flying, even splashing the ceiling – the plane was put back in service Monday, he said.

It was the latest in a string of scary turbulence incidents.

– In June, 10 people on a United Airlines flight from Panama City to Houston were injured when their plane was shaken over the Gulf of Mexico.

– In May, more than two dozen passengers suffered injuries including broken bones when they were tossed around the cabin of an Aeroflot plane headed from Moscow to Bangkok.

– More than 20 people were injured in August…

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