Everyone loves to travel but the experience of turbulence on flights is one of the most unpleasant aspects of flying.
Most people have experienced this sensation to a degree, so how do you avoid it?
We look at which seats feel the most turbulence, so you can book yours with full knowledge of how to reduce its impact on your flight.
What Is Turbulence?
Turbulence is the disturbance of airflow which results in chaotic swirls of air around an aircraft. It happens when calmer air meets something that causes it to become disorganized.
This could be jet streams, objects such as mountain ranges or thunderstorms.
It can happen anywhere, from ground level to tens of thousands of feet in the air.
Inside the airplane, turbulence is felt as a sudden drop in altitude which causes the aircraft to shake and vibrate.
While it is an unpleasant experience and can be frightening it is rarely dangerous.
Types Of Turbulence
The three most common causes of turbulence felt by airline passengers are the disorderly airflow from jet streams, thunderstorms and passing over mountain ranges.
When air hits a mountain it’s like a wave breaking against a rock. The ‘wave’ of air breaks up into smaller tumultuous currents. This causes turbulence.
Jet streams are the bands of air that circle the globe near the poles. The differences in wind velocity around these areas can create shear regions which in turn cause turbulence.
Finally thunderstorms are another culprit. The clash of warm and cold air is a classic cause of turbulence.
However a new phenomenon known as clear air turbulence or CAT, has shown that thunderstorms many hundreds of miles away can cause turbulence too.
Degrees Of Turbulence
There are four degrees of turbulence; light, moderate, severe and extreme. Light is the slight change in altitude, moderate is a more obvious change, but the aircraft is still under control.
Severe turbulence is when there is an abrupt change in altitude with a momentary loss of control. Passengers may be thrown about the cabin if not strapped into their seats.
Extreme turbulence causes the aircraft to be out of control, and it is violently tossed about. This is very rare but if it happens can cause structural damage to the aircraft.
Worst Seats To Feel The Most Turbulence
All of these scenarios sound unpleasant and luckily most of us will only ever experience light to moderate turbulence.
But if you are concerned enough to want to choose a seat where you feel less movement then you will need to know where in the plane to sit.
Rear Of The Plane
The worst seats to feel the most turbulence are in the rear of the plane. This is because this part of the aircraft moves the most.
The stabilizer and elevator are both located in the tail of the plane and these control a lot of the movement of the airplane.
Turbulence is worse at the back of a plane as it is the least stable part of the aircraft. So if you want to avoid the worst of any turbulence don’t take a rear seat.
Sitting in the middle seats of a plane particularly over the wings will give you the smoothest ride.
As you will be closer to the center of the mass of the aircraft the effects of lift, torque, gravity and wind among other things will be felt less.
While your view may be compromised the flight experience will hopefully be better should the aircraft encounter any turbulence.
This is the most stable part of the airplane which should make you feel calmer if there is a storm or other causes of turbulence.
Front Of The Aircraft
There should be less turbulence towards the front of the plane as this part of the aircraft moves the least, apart from take off and landing.
These are the times when a flight can experience turbulence as airflow can be shakier at low altitudes.
Although the difference between sitting in the middle or front of the plane may be slight when it comes to feeling turbulence there is a psychological benefit.
If you feel like you are in a more stable part of the plane you are less likely to worry.
Is Turbulence Dangerous?
Commercial airliners are built to withstand anything they would experience during a flight. They are designed to cope with extreme situations and have been vigorously tested.
However turbulence does happen and can occasionally cause minor injuries such as bumped heads or ankle injuries.
This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of turbulence is very difficult to predict so passengers and aircrew are often taken by surprise.
Technology is being developed by companies such as Delta to try and make it easier to predict when and where turbulence will occur during a flight.
Fear Of Flying
Many people have a fear of flying. Some don’t like the loss of control while others don’t enjoy being encapsulated for long periods of time. The added complication of turbulence doesn’t help.
There are things you can do if you suffer from a fear of flying. Book your seat in advance to make sure you are in the middle or front of the plane and not at the back.
On your flight, inform the flight crew of your fears, and they will do everything they can to help. During the flight try to distract yourself with a movie, laptop or tablet.
Does Sitting In First Class Help Reduce Turbulence?
Sitting further forward in the plane can help reduce the effects of turbulence. As first class is typically in the front of the aircraft this means that it can help, even a little.
However, sitting above the wings is the most stable part of the airplane, so this is potentially a better option. And kinder to your wallet.
Take an eye mask and earplugs and make yourself as comfortable as possible. If you sleep during your flight you may not even notice any slight turbulence.
Choosing Your Seat
Try to book your seat online so that you are not sitting at the rear of the plane.
If you can’t reserve a seat then turn up early for your flight so that you are one of the first to board, and you can choose your seat.
During the flight try not to move around the cabin too much and always keep your seat belt loosely fastened.
This should help you to avoid bumping your head on the overhead bins if there is moderate or severe turbulence.
If you often fly, then you will have experienced turbulence, and you know it can be an unsettling experience. Fortunately, the risk to the aircraft is minimal, and it is usually over quickly.
Try to plan your seat and how you will spend your time during the flight to reduce your anxiety. Remember you are more likely to be injured in a car than in an airplane.
Finally, check out some flying apps such as Soar or My Radar to inform yourself about what is likely to happen with the weather.
Then relax and enjoy your flight!