If turbulence makes you nervous, you’re certainly not alone. It is one of the many contributing factors to aviophobia, or the fear of flying. Aviophobia is not particularly well studied, but in 2015 EconomistA YouGov poll found that 40 percent of Americans are “somewhat anxious” about flying, while 15 percent are afraid.
“I’ve never met anyone who likes turbulence, and surprise turbulence is worse for those who worry about it,” said AB Aviation Group CEO David Rimmer. Travel + Entertainment. Rimmer is not only an airplane safety advocate, but also a mid-air plane crash survivor. Although turbulence is a concern for nervous fliers, it poses very little safety risk to modern aircraft.
Here’s everything you need to know to help manage your turbulence anxiety.
Meet the expert!
David Rimmer is the CEO of AB Aviation Group, an advocate for aircraft safety and a survivor of the 2006 mid-air crash.
Mark Debus is a licensed clinical social worker and clinical manager of behavioral health services at Sedgwick.
Turbulence, sometimes called “rough air” by pilots, is simply air moving in an unusual, unexpected, or chaotic way. This can be caused by a number of phenomena, from thunderstorms to changes in air pressure, air moving up and around mountains, and it can happen when conditions look perfectly clear.
According to the National Weather Service, turbulence is typically classified into four levels of severity: light, moderate, severe and extreme. Light turbulence is the most common, and in commercial aircraft it is felt only as slight bumps or oscillations. Moderate turbulence is significantly less common, and this type of turbulence can be a bit more intense before your drink spills.
Strong turbulence is very rare, but when encountered, it can injure passengers or crew who are not seated in the seats; this is the type of turbulence that often circulates on social media. Extreme turbulence is almost never felt, but when it is, it causes violent movement inside the cabin and loss of control of the aircraft. Severe turbulence is said to be most commonly found around severe thunderstorms, which planes now avoid thanks to advanced weather forecasting technology.
While turbulence can strike unexpectedly, pilots communicate with each other in the air. If someone senses turbulence, the message is relayed to whoever is flying behind them, allowing other planes to change course to find smoother air, often at a slightly different altitude. If turbulence is unavoidable, the captain will ask passengers and flight attendants to buckle up.
Of course, that method isn’t necessarily foolproof, which is why pilots (and air traffic controllers) also analyze weather reports and radar data in flight. In addition, more advanced detection systems are under development. NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Wisconsin, for example, are developing a program that uses satellite data, computer weather models and artificial intelligence to better predict areas of turbulence.
Related to: 33 tips to make a long flight more comfortable
turbulence and safety
Turbulence has never been the only factor in a plane crash, although in the earlier days of aviation it was a far greater threat than it is today. Airplanes are designed to handle light to even moderate turbulence with ease, just as a car is designed for bumpy roads or a ship is designed for rough seas.
While you don’t need to worry about the structural components of the plane, you do need to worry about your own safety inside the plane during turbulence. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), between 2009 and 2022, 163 people were seriously injured by turbulence, including 129 crew members. “Flight attendants are the most common and severe in-flight injuries because they spend the least amount of time sitting and bending over,” Rimmer says. He advises passengers to “stay seated as much as you can, always wear your seat belt and never stand when the seat belt sign is on” to prevent turbulence-related injuries.
Related to: These are the safest seats on the plane, according to aviation experts
Strategies for coping with anxiety
If the thought of turbulence makes you anxious, here are some steps you can take before and after your flight to ease your worries.
Choose your location wisely.
Avoid sitting in the back of the plane. “The turbulence at the back will be much more extreme, including bumps and side-to-side, or pitching,” Rimmer says.
Listen to your pilots.
Most pilots give passengers the weather before takeoff, so listen to all announcements made while on board. When you are in flight, always heed the warnings of the flight crew when it comes to turbulence;
Apply reasoning techniques.
“Grounding techniques are one of the most helpful anxiety-relief tactics because they allow you to focus on your body and less on the thoughts in your head,” says Mark Debus, clinical manager of behavioral health services and a licensed clinical social worker. T+L. “So you’ll want to engage as many senses as possible: sight, touch, smell and hearing.” He recommends focusing on an object in front of you, such as a curtain or an exit sign, and then lightly touching something solid, such as an armchair. As you do so, see if you smell anything around you, from snacks to passenger perfume. Then listen to any conversation around you, paying more attention to the tone than the words.
You can also use repetitive breathing to ground yourself. “In addition to being a reminder to breathe, rhythmic breathing can have a calming effect on the body, where a person typically begins to feel more relaxed within 30 seconds of starting the exercise,” says Debus. He defends the 3-3-3 method. “First, you breathe in slowly through your nose for three seconds, hold your breath for 3, breathe out through your mouth for three, wait for 3. , then repeat.”
If you have a nervous partner, start a light conversation with them.
A conversation with a neighbor can help distract you both from the commotion. “One of the benefits of helping someone else is that it also helps with the immediacy of your own anxiety,” says Debus. If your seatmate is a stranger, introduce yourself in a soothing voice. “Maybe talk about your travel destination. Ask them what they plan to do upon arrival. Ask if they have pets or children,” says Debus. “If you find that they are not ready to talk, tell them about you and your plans. This allows them to focus on your voice and focus on something other than the turbulence.”
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