How Risky Is Flying Through Turbulence?

The best answer to any question.
March 20 2014 8:37 AM

Is Turbulence Dangerous?

Seat belts securely fastened?

Photo by Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Eric Silski, airline transport pilot, airline captain, aviation enthusiast:


They are risky in that, should you decide to unbuckle your seatbelt, you might get thrown and hit your head or otherwise injure yourself. There are hundreds of flight attendants who get injured every year due to turbulence-related incidents.

You have to remember the airplane seatbelt is not there for crashes but to keep you in your seat. They started putting them in in the days of open cockpit biplanes: When you inverted the aircraft, you could fall out of it!

There is almost no turbulence that any pilot would willingly fly through that would cause structural damage to an airliner. Sure, heavy thunderstorms, but there's no way I'm flying through that purple blob on my radar.

* * *

Answer by Tom Farrier, retired U.S. Air Force command pilot, current aviation safety contractor for the government, chair of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators' unmanned aircraft systems working group:

Captain Silski is right on target, especially about the flight-attendant injuries. They're often required by their job to be exposed when passengers have no business being out of their seat or even unbuckled. They're at risk—not always willingly—to make passengers' flights a little more comfortable, so please stay out of their way and let them do their work and get seated themselves.

It seems like every flight I take these days there's some idiot hopping out of his or her seat with the seat belt sign illuminated, getting stuff out of the overhead, going to the bathroom, or whatever. Turbulence will result in that passenger or his stuff being thrown on me, and I don't appreciate that.

And, by the way, if you hear the announcement from the captain that the flight attendants have been asked to discontinue cabin service, snug down the belt a little tighter ...

More questions on Air Travel Safety:



The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

I Went Hunting for Ebola in 2004. (What I Found Was Bats.)

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Ben Bradlee’s Fascinating Relationship With JFK


The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

Move Aside, Oxford Comma, the New Battle Is Over Single or Double Quotes

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 11:57 AM Why Wasn't the WHO Ready for Ebola?
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 22 2014 12:03 PM Colonia Fara: An Italian Summer Camp for Happy Little Fascists
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Oct. 22 2014 11:30 AM Where Does Ebola Hide? My nerve-wracking research with shrieking bats.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.