Does Turbulence Happen on Every Flight?


You might have experienced turbulence on a previous flight and discovered that you’re not a fan. If you’re afraid of turbulence, you may find yourself wondering what the probability of encountering it on your next flight is. Does turbulence really happen on every flight?

Turbulence doesn’t happen on every flight. Though rare, it’s possible to have a smooth plane ride without any turbulence. For this to happen, you’d have to go the entire plane ride without encountering any of the conditions that cause turbulence, like jet streams and bad weather. 

We all know turbulence can be uncomfortable and can cause serious injuries. However, it’s not something that should stop you from flying as it doesn’t happen on every flight. Keep reading to learn more about what causes turbulence and how to avoid it. 

How a Flight Can Avoid Turbulence

Turbulence doesn’t happen on every flight because the conditions necessary for turbulence aren’t always present. A flight can avoid turbulence by going around, above, or below the conditions that cause turbulence.

Turbulence can be caused by various reasons, from the collision of jetstreams to the thunder of storms. You’ll have a smooth ride if your plane does not encounter any of the conditions that cause turbulence. You can’t be certain that you’ll encounter turbulence just as you can’t be sure that you won’t encounter it. 

If you do encounter some turbulence, however, your flight’s pilot does have a few ways to try to get out of it. Let me illustrate with the following example:

Having a flight without turbulence would be like going on a boat ride without any waves. If you’re going in the ocean, it’s very unlikely that you won’t encounter any waves. However, if the sea is choppy, the ship captain should seek alternate routes where the waves aren’t as rough. 

The same is true for an airline pilot. If your flight does encounter a patch of rough air that causes turbulence, the pilot will almost certainly try to get out of there as quickly as possible. With some luck, the pilot may be able to find calmer skies at a different altitude.

Pilots can also avoid some forms of turbulence before they even encounter them. For example, a pilot approaching mountains can expect to encounter turbulence if flying too close to them. The pilot can then reroute the flight to avoid turbulence going over the mountains. Other forms of turbulence, however, are difficult to predict.

Understanding What Causes Turbulence

Knowing what turbulence is and what causes it may help you stay more calm next time you experience a bumpy airplane ride. Though it may not completely eliminate the fear of flying, having an understanding of how turbulence works can help put your mind at ease.

What Is Turbulence?

Weather.gov defines turbulence as the irregular motion of air resulting from eddies and vertical currents. This pilot likens turbulence to waves in the sea. 

Turbulence is the irregular and mixed-up air flow that results in a bumpy airplane ride. You can compare it to waves in the sea or water currents in a river. It occurs due to the interaction of streams of air that are moving in different directions and have different speeds. 

Air is a fluid, just like water. The air in the atmosphere is a gaseous substance made up of different particles. Although water is the most common fluid, gasses are fluids too. 

Airplanes fly when there’s enough air flowing over their wings. That’s why an airplane has to speed down a runway before it flies—it has to get enough air flowing over its wings.  

When air is flowing smoothly over an airplane’s wings, the flight is smooth. But when you encounter air flowing against the plane or from the sides of the plane, the air flying over the plane’s wings will be irregular and the ride will become bumpy. It’s like getting off a paved highway and into a rough country road. 

A Brief Look at What Causes Turbulence

To understand whether it’s possible to avoid turbulence, you need to know what causes it. Fluid dynamics in the air can get complicated, but here’s a simplified look at the causes of turbulence. 

The smooth flow of air is disrupted when it encounters an obstacle. This obstacle can be artificial, like a building, or natural, like a mountain. When air flows over an obstacle, “waves” are created. These are called eddies. Eddies can be carried upwards, sometimes growing in intensity as they move. Eddies, then, can cause turbulence when they encounter a plane. 

The “waves” that cause turbulence can be caused when a wind stream changes its direction and speed. They can result from the uneven heating of the earth’s surface on a sunny day. They can be caused by a collision of two streams of wind, known as jet streams. The interactions of air streams around the atmosphere result in the formation of turbulence. 

How To Avoid Turbulent Flights

While there’s not a lot you can do to reduce turbulence in-flight, there are some things you can do to reduce your chances of encountering it in the first place. 

You can protect yourself against turbulence by:

  • Avoiding routes known for turbulence, 
  • Flying in the morning when the air is cool, 
  • Sitting near the wings of a plane, and 
  • Keeping your seat belt on during flights. 

If you follow these four steps, you will be much less likely to suffer from turbulence in one of your flights.

Taking Less Turbulent Flight Routes 

Some routes are notorious for turbulence. For example, you can expect turbulence over a route that goes over mountains or that flies through stormy regions. 

At the same time, some routes have a lower probability of turbulence. For example, routes over large bodies of water statistically experience less turbulence. Taking a route that spends a majority of time overflying large bodies of water will reduce your chances of encountering turbulence during your flight. 

Flying in the Morning 

When the sun comes up, it heats the earth. Differences in the earth’s surface cause different regions to be heated at varying rates. As a result, the air next to the ground is heated differently. The interaction of air streams with different temperatures results in “waves,” which are transmitted upwards and can cause turbulence. 

Flying in the morning when the sun hasn’t begun heating the earth reduces the chances of encountering turbulence. 

Sitting Near the Wings of a Plane

Seats near the wings of a plane experience less rocking when turbulence hits. Conversely, seats towards the back of the plane experience a lot more rocking. You should pick a seat towards the middle of the plane if you want to minimize the feeling of turbulence.

Keeping Your Seat Belt On

When the unpredictable kind of turbulence hits, the pilot won’t have much time to warn you. You may be injured if you’re not in your seat or don’t have your seat belt on. Try to minimize the time you spend away from your seat and without a seatbelt to prevent any injuries from turbulence.

Conclusion 

Turbulence occurs when air irregularities or “waves” interact with airplanes. Turbulence can be very unpredictable, so you can’t really tell if your flight will experience turbulence or not. 

However, not every flight experiences turbulence. If you haven’t yet, you may be lucky enough to experience a turbulence-free flight soon!

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