When Turbulence Strikes … Don’t Panic, Go With It

The topic of turbulence and the anxiety surrounding an airplane bouncing around seems to come up often.   For some people turbulence, no matter how minor, causes instant panic, for others, no matter how severe it doesn’t bother them at all.


For those who have anxiety there are a few things to keep in mind to try and get through the bumps in the sky.


The first thing to keep in mind is that any airliner you’re sitting on is extremely durable, certified by various international government aerospace administrations, has a wing flex that is massive and nearly impossible to exceed the design specifications for in a natural environment, has redundant back up systems and the aircraft must adhere to the laws of physics.


Once in your seat, keep your seatbelt on. The vast majority of turbulence related injures are related to people not keeping their seatbelt on.  If you hear the pilots announce that flight attendants need to take their seats … and your seat belt is not on …take that as a sign to buckle up.   This is also a good time to put any sizable loose items away that may be out of your grasp and put your headsets on to let some music distract you.  Keep a magazine, iPad or Kindle in your hands, they give you something to draw your attention and are very easy to place in a seat back pocket in a hurry if you feel you need to.


The chances of heavy turbulence causing your items, such as a laptop or DVD player, injuring you is minimal, but the less items you have out the less you have to think about as the bumps begin.


When you start to feel some turbulent bumps relax. Your instinct may be to tense up, but instead make a conscious effort to control your breathing. Take slow deep breaths and loosen your grip on the armrest.  Yanking on the arm rest makes you more tense and does not assist in controlling the direction of the aircraft,


As you feel your body tense up, try to go limp. The more limp your body is, the more you move with the flow of the aircraft. Moving with the aircraft uses less energy and will reduce your anxiety.


If you have an analytical mind and science relaxes you, keep in mind that even though there is turbulence, the laws of physics and gravity do not cease mid-flight.  If the engines are turning, the plane is well above stall speed and the wings are attached you’ll keep flying. Even if one engine falls off but the wings are attached and the other engine is turning … you’ll keep flying.


If you want to have some fun during turbulence or a bumpy crosswind landing or take off, simply throw your hands up and yell “Wheeeeeeee,” pretending you’re on a roller coaster.   I did this in the back of the plane during a very bumpy cross wind take off with an executive from a major global airline … other passengers gave us some unusual looks, but we were having fun.


If nothing else, remember this. You cannot control the aircraft or the weather … what you can control is you.


Happy Flying!





  1. Personally, if I am lying down in a flat bed, then turbulence feels like being in a rollercoaster or being rocked to sleep. Not unpleasant at all.

  2. Thanks for posting the article.

    I tense up when turbulence happens amid a flight. And unfortunately, I need to fly transpacifically once a year and coast to coast every now and then. I always try hard to relax or render my mind and body to move with the flow (like you said, riding rollercoaster), and it does help. Still, I am anxious when my flight is bumpy and I never fall asleep (even fly business class with that spacious seat). My ultimate goal is to fall asleep in turbulence. Guess I can never enjoy flying.

  3. 20 years of flying, and I still have not come to peace w/ turbulence.

    Hopefully one day.

    Bose QC-15s, due help though with noise passing over the wing!

  4. @harold, I can not sleep on domestic flights, but can sleep through it all on International Flights every single time! The secret? I pop 2 dramamine prior to boarding and ask the FA to please not wake me for food/drinks.

    Almost always out before wheels-up and wake up upon landing.

  5. Once, with a long approach in severe cross winds, me and the gal I was with decided to put our arms above our heads and yell out ” no hands, no hands”, just as if you were on a roller coster. Some people immediately smiled and at baggage claim, 5 different people came over to tell us “thanks for doing that” as it totally relieved their tension. It’s all a matter of how you perceive the turbulence. The gal I was with wanted the pilot to go around and do it again.

  6. Nice post. Personally, I rather enjoy a little turbulence. It keeps people in their seats and there is more sense of flying. If you’ve ever seen a video of destructive wing testing you’ll know how difficult it is to break off parts of a plane. If you have a window seat, it’s always distracting to predict turbulence from the land mass changes as you fly over them. On United, you can listen in to the cockpit and hear pilots steering each other to different altitudes around bumpy airspace.

  7. Nice article, Fysh.

    If any of your readers have anxiety issues with flying they might like to take a look at http://www.dragonsofthinair.com for a bunch of Fear of Flying resources (blog, book, course list, resource links etc.). There are plenty of ways to tackle the problem and take the misery out of flying (or at least reduce it to a manageable level).


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