Aircraft turbulence is a major nuisance to flying. It is not a safety issue and there is no recorded accident due to turbulence but it increases the stress on the aircraft, pilots and passengers.
Pilots and frequent flyers usually distinguish between these categories of turbulence.
Light: Causes slight, erratic changes in altitude and/or attitude, and rhythmic bumpiness as occupants feel a slight strain against seat belts.
Moderate: Similar to light, but of greater intensity, with rapid bumps or jolts, and occupants feel a slight strain against seat belts.
Severe: Turbulence that causes large, abrupt changes in altitude and attitude, and large variations in airspeed, with the aircraft temporarily out of control. Occupants are forced violently against their seat belts and objects are tossed about, with food service and walking impossible.
Extreme: The aircraft is tossed about so violently that it is practically impossible to control, and structural damage may occur.
Turbulence is often unpredictable and occurs during even during clear cruising conditions (called CAT for ‘Clear Air Turbulence’). However certain situations and areas are more prone to turbulence than not.
Table of Contents
Most turbulent areas for flights
In my experience (and when asking frequent flyers) these seem to be some rather rocky stretches:
– Japan, especially East of Japan (it’s almost impossible to not have turbulence around Japan)
– South/ South-West of Hawaii
– Cascades (nothing major but always a few rough bumps)
– Thunderstorm alley east of Male, Maldives (nothing major, but there are so many thunderstorms along the equator)
– Pacific in Winter (that is usually a jet stream phenomenon)
– Many flights in/out of Denver (the valley air gets hot and the air over the mountains does not)
I had only had a few encounters with severe turbulence:
– over Scotland in a random spot with some major drops
– East of Hong Kong during an approaching typhoon
– just one but very deep, sudden bump between Iceland and Norway
Least turbulent areas for flights
These areas usually have very little turbulence:
– clear ‘California type’ weather areas with no clouds and low humidity
– Polar routes above 55 degrees north
– continental flights over India, Asia, Europe
– Many tropical destinations have had very little turbulence despite their reputation.
– I have flown in out of typhoons that had lots of rain and wind on the ground but once at flight level they produced almost no turbulence.
What is your experience? Where did you experience severe turbulence? Where did you never find turbulence?