For many, the fear of flying, or aviophobia, is intensified by the unpredictable nature of turbulence. In a recent report, aviation experts shed light on the prevalence of turbulence anxiety and offered valuable insights into understanding and managing this common concern.
Here, we explore the expert advice provided by David Rimmer, CEO of AB Aviation Group, and Mark Debus, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick.
Turbulence, often referred to as “rough air,” results from the irregular movement of air. Causes range from thunderstorms to changes in air pressure and air currents around mountains. While turbulence is unsettling, experts emphasize its minimal threat to modern aircraft, with Rimmer highlighting that contemporary planes are designed to handle even moderate turbulence with ease.
Categorizing turbulence by severity — light, moderate, severe, and extreme — experts explain that most commercial flights experience only light turbulence, felt as slight bumps. While severe turbulence is rare and can cause injuries, advancements in weather forecasting and communication among pilots mitigate these risks.
Rimmer stresses the importance of passenger safety during turbulence, citing FAA data that reveals 163 severe injuries attributed to turbulence between 2009 and 2022, with flight attendants being the most affected. He advises passengers to stay seated, buckle up, and avoid standing when the seat belt sign is illuminated to prevent turbulence-related injuries.
Strategies for Coping with Turbulence Anxiety
For those grappling with turbulence anxiety, experts provide practical strategies to alleviate concerns and enhance the flying experience.
- Choose Your Seat Wisely: Rimmer recommends avoiding seats in the back of the plane, where turbulence tends to be more pronounced. Opting for seats closer to the front can reduce the impact of bumps and side-to-side movement.
- Listen to Your Pilots: Paying attention to pre-flight weather briefings and following the instructions of flight crews during turbulence is crucial. Pilots communicate effectively to ensure passenger safety, and heeding their advice fosters a sense of security.
- Practice Grounding Techniques: Debus suggests grounding techniques to shift focus from anxious thoughts. Engaging multiple senses — sight, touch, smell, and hearing — can help. Techniques include focusing on an object, lightly touching a solid surface, identifying scents, and listening to surrounding sounds.
- Rhythmic Breathwork: Employing rhythmic breathing, such as the 3-3-3 method, aids in calming the body. Debus recommends inhaling slowly for three seconds, holding for three seconds, exhaling for three seconds, waiting for three seconds, and repeating.
- Engage in Light Conversations: Initiating a conversation with a seatmate, particularly if they seem anxious, can be mutually beneficial. Distracting each other from turbulence through friendly dialogue helps alleviate anxiety.
As the aviation industry continues to prioritize passenger safety, understanding and managing turbulence anxiety remains crucial. By implementing these expert-backed strategies, passengers can empower themselves to navigate through moments of turbulence with resilience and composure.
Whether choosing the right seat, staying informed, practicing grounding techniques, or engaging in friendly conversations, these approaches contribute to a more positive and anxiety-free flying experience.