Airline turbulence can be terrifying, but is it dangerous?

Basically, turbulence is an irregular motion of the air, according to the National Weather Service. Vertical currents and eddies (swirls) cause aircraft to bounce, shudder or momentarily go out of control. In extreme cases, structural damage can result.

Despite the occasional scary stories or videos, turbulence is usually not very dangerous at all.

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Damage to the aircraft may happen if the turbulence is extreme, but that is uncommon. Pilots and flight attendants are trained to handle it in all kinds of conditions.

While deaths due to turbulence are rare, injuries do happen. The NTSB reported 146 turbulence-related injuries from 2009 through 2021. Most of those were crew members, who are usually up and about in airplane cabins, and not in a seatbelt.

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Turbulence will not cause a plane to crash. Experts agree that the phenomenon is normal and that how we feel it tends to be subjective. We may overestimate altitude changes we experience as a result, for example.


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