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Friday, April 10, 2009

Terrible Turbulence

Dear Flight Deck, I've been reading whatever I can find on the web that is published as truth and fact, rather than these fear of flying sites which are no where near factual enough for me. I was an AirCadet as a kid and never had a fear of flying. However, at 36,000ft approx. 1.5hrs into the flight coming back from Mumbai to London on the 5th April 09, I had the worst experience of my life that has left me deeply concerned for my safety and Im not sure I will ever fly again as a result. I can only assume our flight went through clear air turbulence because the sky was clear and bright blue. I have been through turbulence many times before but nothing like this. I know that wings can safely flex up to a metre, but I saw the wings easily reaching this and the fuselage at front twisting to the left and the back (tale) twisting the right, like huge hands were chinese burning the aircraft body, people were thrown everywhere, afterwards all 3 pilots left the cockpit (one after another) to inspect something towards to the rear of the craft. Nothing was ever said to us from the pilots for the duration of the flight. I have completely lost faith in pilots. You see; I transfer my life into their trust and I expect that to be respected permanently. Was this just bad luck, bad crew? Or even scared crew themselves? I thought air clear turbulence could be avoided now? Please help, I need facts and explaination for what happened. Regards Lucy


From the Flight Deck said...

Lucy. Sorry for the late reply, but I just got in from four days of flying. Sounds like you had a ride of a lifetime! I don't like turbulence either, but sometimes
it's inevitable. A case in point, today I flew from Toronto to West Palm Beach, Florida and back. The flight down was uneventful, but during the return flight thunderstorms had developed along
our path. They stretched for a hundred miles, but luckily most of the cloud tops were about 35,000 feet. We flew over them at 37,000 feet but we still encountered continuous light occasional moderate
turbulence for about 20 minutes. Many planes were in the area and they were getting the same rides.

After we passed them we encountered bumps from strong winds (jet stream) blowing at about 100 mph. This would be deemed CAT (Clear Air Turbulence). Jet streams
are fast flowing rivers of air corkscrewing around the globe like meteorological snakes. They are hundreds of miles long, tens of miles wide and a few thousand feet thick.
Again, sometimes they can't be avoided. If we do encounter them, and like most other types of turbulence, the seat belt is immediately turned on and we slow down to ride it out.
Plus we are on the radios talking to air traffic control to get "ride reports" from other aircraft. We pilots want to supply smooth flights but sometimes mother nature wants to
make it a challenge.

I hope this explains things a bit more.

Feel free to email again.

Happy flights and smooth flying.

Captain Doug

Richard said...

I comment as one who was returned to duty after failing to go solo in thirteen hours in a Chipmunk!

The point that you do not take up is that of "customer contact"! I would say that the Captain should have made a comforting announcement as soon as it was convenient for him to do so. Lucy does not identify the aircraft type, so I doubt that you can comment on the inspections by three uniformed "pilots", but, again, such (doubtless entirely necessary and proper) activity should have been (at least partially) explained.

The difference between the Master of an Oil Tanker, and of a Luxury Liner - both Master Mariners, but one has to charm the customers, and the other needn't bother!

lemon.puff said...

Thank you both for responding. I now understand that sometimes turbulence is sometimes unavoidable. But I do think that if every passenger went through the experience we all had on my flight, I doubt anyone would ever fly again. I am feeling a bit better now, decided it was a one off and now mostly angry with the lack of comfort from the Pilots. As you say Richard, I do believe there should have been a partial explaination at minimum and some reassurance. We passengers after all are not stupid.

My flight was with Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy. After the incident; we climbed for just over an hour, seat belt sign left on, cabin crew were not allowed to continue duties. So assume we must have rised in altitude from 36k to 42k or more... I believe this should have been know prior to take off, or why the change in altitude? Someone didnt do their homework before take off!

Oh well! I shall never be flying with Virgin ever again!

Thanks again for the explainations and confirmation that Virgin Pilots should have at least said something.

This is a good blog, very good idea to re-open the flight-deck. I used to ask to talk to the pilots on every flight as a child. :)

Kind Regards


lemon.puff said...

Richard; 13 hours in a Chipmonk...? Ouch! ;-)
Great fun for acrobatics though!!

From the Flight Deck said...

Richard, again great points! I agree, there should have been a follow up announcement. Last summer I encountered heavy turbulence from Halifax to Saint John’s, Nfld. I made a P.A explaining we transited a jet stream blowing 150 mph. Although, I didn’t get any feedback at all while saying goodbye.

We pilots debate whether to make a pre-turbulence announcement. At least 30 to 40 percent of passengers are uneasy about flying. Ten percent have a down right phobia. Because of it, should we make an announcement especially on the ground that we will be flying through an area of turbulence” This may even cause some to request to deplane. We are told to be very diplomatic about our announcements. For example, we must say “mist” instead of “fog”, “showers” instead of “thunderstorms” “bumps” instead of “turbulence” etc.

Lucy, you made a very good point. Most passengers are well informed and a recent study found passengers want the facts, the truth.

Richard, a chipmunk? That must have been many moons ago!
Both of you posted some great points. Thanks.

Captain Doug