What Should You Know About Turbulence and In-Flight Injuries?

Turbulence is an issue that can cause problems when you’re traveling in different ways, even though it’s normal and affects flights everyday throughout the world. Turbulence can be mildly bumpy and maybe a little scary, or it can be highly dangerous and lead to serious in-flight injuries.

People often have questions about turbulence itself, such as what causes it, and they also wonder what actions they can take if they’re injured in-flight and who’s liable. Some people may even question if they can hire a personal injury lawyer if they receive injuries in-flight, and the following gives you a breakdown of some of the most important things you can know about turbulence.

What Causes Turbulence?

First, what is turbulence, and what causes it?

Turbulence is a rough patch of air. It can be caused by many factors such as storms, the jet stream, wind, and being near a mountain range when you’re in the air.

For the most part, turbulence is harmless, although it might create anxiety.

Pilots often know when they’re going to hit turbulence, and as a result, if they anticipate you’re going to encounter it during a flight, they’ll activate the fasten seatbelt sign. Some of the ways a pilot may be alerted about impending turbulence include weather reports, the cockpit radar, and reports from other pilots who are flying in the same area.

There is something called clear air turbulence that’s different.

Clear air turbulence occurs on a beautiful day when there’s not a cloud in the sky, and it can be most dangerous. Clear air turbulence occurs when the visibility is impeccable so it’s not detected on the radar.

As a result, a plane can hit it without warning, and that can lead to in-flight injuries.

Some scientists believe clear air turbulence is going to increase in prevalence and more commonly affect flights in the coming years.

Pilots view turbulence as a convenience problem, but not a safety issue.

If a pilot changes altitude to find smoother air, they’re not doing it because they think the plane is going to crash, but instead to make everyone else more comfortable.

If you’re someone who feels less anxious when you know what to expect, you can check out the turbulence expectations before a flight, although as you might expect, that’s still not going to show you the potential for clear air turbulence.

According to the FAA, in 2019 only nine passengers were seriously injured in turbulence and eight crew members for a total of 17. That was a significant drop from 2016 when 29 passengers and 13 crew were injured. That doesn’t include relatively mild injuries, however.

How Does Turbulence Affect the Plane?

No matter how much it feels like it, turbulence isn’t going to rip the wing off a plane or anything like that. You may also feel like your plane is dropping quickly during turbulence, but it’s really not moving much at all.

Planes are designed to withstand the effects of turbulence far beyond what you’re going to experience on a flight.

In-Flight Safety

Even though turbulence isn’t likely to crash or destroy a plane, that doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous inside the plane.

The FAA has guidance for how passengers can stay safe during turbulence.

The most important thing you can do is keep your seatbelt on anytime you’re seated, and make sure your children do the same.

If your child is under two, you should use an approved child safety seat as well.

Make sure you follow the instructions of flight attendants at take-off and throughout your flight, because much of what they’re telling you is for your safety, including if you are to hit turbulence.

One of the most common reasons for injuries during turbulence is because luggage falls from overhead bins. It’s estimated that around 4,500 airline passengers are injured each year from this.

Rolling food carts can cause mild injuries as well, and sometimes turbulence can cause falls if you’re up and about when it hits.

In-Flight Turbulence and Legal Considerations

If you’ve experienced injuries from in-flight turbulence, you may wonder if there are legal options available to you, and the answer is sometimes.

The actions of the crew play a major role in whether or not you might have grounds for a legal claim.

For example, if your claim is based on negligence, you have to show the crew’s carelessness led to an injury.

An example of in-flight negligence might include an employee who leaves something in the aisle, or not having latched an overhead bin properly. The airline may be found negligent if they don’t provide adequate training to crew members as well.

Airlines are subject to the requirements of a common carrier, which means they have a higher duty of care since they transport the public and charge a fee for doing so. Airlines are required to operate with a high level of vigilance to protect passengers.

If you were to be injured because of turbulence but you were walking around the cabin after the fasten seatbelt sign was turned on, you’re probably not going to have a claim. On the other hand, if no instruction was given and you were injured, you may have a claim for those injuries.

If you are injured on an international flight, it may actually be easier to get compensation because there is a treaty called the Montreal Convention. Claims that arise under this treaty allow passengers to receive compensation if they’re injured on an international flight, and they don’t have to show much to prove it.

If you do receive an injury in-flight, you should first submit a complaint to the airline within 60 days, because federal law requires this. You can also report it to the FAA, and if you were seriously injured and you think it’s the fault of the airline, you might consider contacting a personal injury lawyer to figure out what to do next.