An American Airlines flight attendant reportedly suffered serious injuries due to turbulence on a recent flight. The flight encountered strong turbulence while flying from Cancun to Dallas on Monday, prompting a change in altitude.
Air Turbulence: the invisible danger
Air travel is fun, but it also asks for precautions. Passengers are too much complacent about the impossible to happen on a flight. As a result, most of them do not wear belts during the flight, even when the seat belt’s lights are ‘ON.’
Whenever the seat belt sign is ‘ON,’ you should stay seated, buckle up, and not call for the flight attendant (they need to think about their safety, too). However, if you’re staying in your seat and the seat belt sign is off, you should still keep it buckled for your own safety. You never know when it’s going to happen, and it happens, even when the sign is ‘OFF.’ That is what is called clear air turbulence. Turbulence is no joke. People get hurt.
Read more: What Is Turbulence?
The accident occurred on American Airlines flight AA1601 from Cancun, Mexico to Dallas, Texas, on 15th March. The accident was 18:24 UTC (13:24 Dallas/Cancun time), a few minutes before the aircraft increased its altitude, possibly due to turbulence.
The serious nature of the flight attendant’s injuries means the event has been classified as an “accident” by the FAA. While turbulence does not usually cause severe structural flaws to the aircraft (though it can affect wear), it can impact those inside the cabin.
If a crew member or passenger is not wearing their seatbelt when the flight encounters turbulence, the risk of injury can be extremely high. Cabin crew is also at a higher risk of turbulence injuries since they usually work around the cabin rather than being seated for most of the flight. Depending on the turbulence severity category, the impact is likely higher on those inside the cabin.
While pilots can predict some turbulence, others can be notoriously elusive and severe. This means passengers are recommended to keep their seatbelts on at all times during the flight, regardless of the light. It’s not uncommon for the crew to suspend cabin service and even take their seats in case of severe turbulence. However, for cabin crew, turbulence remains an occupational hazard.
Safety Standards in Pakistan
The two aircraft that crashed while attempting to land in bad weather have created ripples in the Pakistan aviation history pages and for the residents of the twin cities in particular – let alone the relatives of the victims who lost their loved ones. The AirBlue flight 202 crashed with Margalla hills on July 28th, 2010, on a mighty-monsoonal-rainy-morning. It must be noted that both aircraft actually encountered severe turbulence before attempting to land at Islamabad International Airport.
Similarly, on April 20, 2012, Bhoja Air’s flight BHO 213 departed from Karachi at 5:00 pm and was due to land in Islamabad at 06:50 pm. The plane crashed only 5.6 km short of its destination, near the village of Hussainabad. All 27 people on board were killed. According to reports, the pilot attempted to land during heavy rain and a thunderstorm. The investigative accounts suggested that the airplane was caught in a strong gush of unexpected wind, consequently pushing the plane downwards towards the ground, resulting in the crash.
Boeing 777 Turbulence Suppression System
By design, Boeing 777 is one of the best long-haul wide-body aircraft with an effective turbulence suppression system.
First, due to its size, the 777 tends to ride the bumps better. Think of waves on the ocean — this, in effect, is what turbulence is. A large cruise ship will ride the same waves far better than a small dinghy. You’re better off being on a larger jet aircraft than a smaller propeller aircraft, as these get bumped around more than their heavier counterparts.
Secondly, the 777 can cruise higher than other types of aircraft. Most of the turbulence over the Atlantic tends to be in the low 30,000 feet altitudes. While a fully loaded 767 will invariably fly in the worst of the bumps at 33,000 feet, a full 777 could be up as high as 39,000 feet, where the air tends to be much smoother.
Word of Caution
Even though Boeing 777 or aircraft of similar category are big enough to manage turbulence, safety is paramount. You cannot avoid seat belts on any aircraft during any phase of the flight. Turbulence does more damage inside than outside. Therefore, passengers and cabin crew are more susceptible to the turbulence effect. The injuries could be lifetime damage or even fatal. Incidents and accidents related to turbulence have shown that passengers who used seat belts during turbulence could save their lives. On the contrary, the ones who did not use seat belts faced bad consequences.
It’s always better to be safe and prepared, so think twice before unbuckling just for the fun of it on your next flight.
Featured Image Credits: Basil Lutfi