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21 February 2014

Advice on how to prevent injuries from inflight turbulence

Turbulence happens on just about every flight, but most of the time the amount of turbulence is very small, and the level of risk is very low. Two turbulence events that happened earlier this week, one involving a Cathay Pacific 747 and the second a United Airlines 737 both led to injuries, and also received quite a bit of media attention.

These two events served as a reminder reminders of just how serious students can be, and the need for passengers to be aware of the potential danger.The following insights and advice should keep you from becoming one of those statistics.

Airline turbulence basics
You can experience turbulence for many reasons, typically due to weather conditions such as thunderstorms. Severe turbulence can happen in any phase of flight, but it's most likely to be hazardous during cruise when passengers and crew may be out of their seats and not belted in. In most cases a passenger experiencing turbulence will feel nothing more than a slight vibration. At the other extreme are those rare events that are severe enough to throw passengers around the cabin.

What causes turbulence?
Turbulence is air movement that normally cannot be seen. While it may sometimes be associated with weather conditions like thunderstorms, it can also happen in the following situations, which could happen even on a clear day.

  1. Thermals - Heat from the sun makes warm air masses rise and cold ones fall.
  2. Jet streams - Fast, high-altitude air currents shift, disturbing the air nearby.
  3. Mountains - Air passing over mountains can lead to turbulence as the air mixes above the air mass on the other downwind side.
  4. Wake turbulence - If an aircraft travels too close to another aircraft, the trailing aircraft may pass through an area of chaotic air currents caused by the lead aircraft.

How bad can it get?
Turbulence effects can range from the barely noticeable to the potentially dangerous. What you may feel can range from feeling a slight strain against your seat belts, to being forced violently against your seat belts, and having unsecured items (including yourself if you are unbuckled) being being tossed about the cabin.

Reducing your risks from turbulence
When the flight crew expects turbulence, they will work with the cabin crew to make sure that passengers are in their seats and belted in, and that serving carts and other loose items are properly secured. Even when turbulence is not expected, you should take a few basics steps before and during the flight to ensure your safety:

  • Follow the instructions of the crew - If the crew suggests that passengers return to their seats, do so as soon as you can.
  • Wear your seat belt at all times - Turbulence events can happen even during a smooth flight on a cloudless day. Turbulence is not always predictable and may arrive without warning.
  • Be aware of your overhead bin - If you are sitting under an overhead bin, make sure that the door is properly closed. Also, avoid sitting under a bin that is heavily packed or that contains one or more heavy items. If you can, move to a seat that is not directly under a bin.

Turbulence injuries on a United flight out of Denver - 18 Feburary 2014 turbulence information
Passengers killed by turbulence
FAA turbulence information
How to measure turbulence while you fly
Using child restraints on aircraft
Airline pilot Patrick Smith weighs in on turbulence

Photo credit: Civil Aviation Safety Authority of Australia

18 February 2014

Turbulence injuries on a United flight out of Denver

17 February 2014, United Airlines 737-700, flight 1676, near Billings, MT: Yesterday, several passengers and crew members were injured in a turbulence event involving a United Airlines 737-700 that was en route from Denver, CO to Billings, MT, with at least one passenger hitting the ceiling hard enough to damage a panel. According to the FAA, the captain declared a medical emergency, and the aircraft landed without further incident. The event took place in the early afternoon, and the aircraft was reportedly in clear skies at the time of the incident.

United 737-700 in Billings, MT after turbulence event

The aircraft apparently encountered turbulence during descent that caused several flight attendants and unrestrained passengers to be tossed in the air. Most of the the injuries were minor, and only one victim, a flight attendant, required hospitalization.

Among those tossed in midair was an infant, who landed in a nearby seat and was not injured. According to United, there were 114 passengers and five crew members on board, and three flight attendants and two passengers were injured. Since the 737 has two flight crew members, this implies that all of the flight attendants who were on board were injured.

Turbulence events are not that rare, with the NTSB noting hundreds of such events in their online database. The FAA notes that in the 10-year period from 2002-2011, a total of 110 passengers and 219 crew members were injured by turbulence. has extensive background information on inflight turbulence at, including advice on how to reduce turbulence risks and a link to a mobile phone app that will allow you to measure turbulence while you fly.

While significant turbulence events that lead to injuries occur several times a year, fatal events are much more infrequent. The last turbulence event that led to a passenger death was in 1997 on a United Airlines 747 that was on a flight from Japan to the US.

Fear of flying and turbulence
Capt. Tom Bunn of the SOAR fear of flying program offers insights into what causes turbulence, and shows passengers a method for controlling the anxiety that turbulence causes some passengers.

Get help NOW from the fear of flying experts at SOAR

Download's fear of flying resource guide

Resources turbulence information
Passengers killed by turbulence
FAA turbulence information
How to measure turbulence while you fly
Using child restraints on aircraft
Airline pilot Patrick Smith weighs in on turbulence

Photo credit: Caleb VanGrinsven

07 February 2014

Dr. Curtis Interviewed by iCannabisRadio on 3 February 2014

Dr. Curtis was interviewed by on 3 February 2014 about airline travel issues for passengers who plan to fly to Colorado or Washington state to legally purchase and consume recreational marijuana.

The hosts Georgia Edson and Jeremy DePinto have had an ongoing involvement with medical and recreational marijuana issues in Colorado, and had a number of insights about how the recent changes in Colorado state law has led to an increased public debate on a number of issues surrounding marijuana legalization, including the kinds of air travel issues discussed by Dr. Curtis.

Watch the video below, or listen to the MP3 of the same interview

Additional resources
Air travel issues and marijuana
Restricted and prohibited items