Global climate changes likely to produce more ‘choppy air,’ not less; ‘lap babies’ at risk

Yahoo News

Recently, airborne turbulence reminded anyone who has ever flown on a plane that it can do much more than spill drinks or mess up handwriting. At its worst, it can be deadly.

United Airlines Flight 1676, a Boeing 737 en route from Denver to Billings, experienced “pandemonium” when it encountered severe turbulence in late February. What one expert called “26 seconds of hell” injured six passengers and two crew members; one flight attendant was hospitalized after striking her head so hard she cracked a ceiling panel.News reports noted that an unsecured baby flew from its mother’s arms, but thankfully, landed safely in another row.

Despite technological advances in detecting and avoiding it, turbulence remains a threat to anything that flies, including civil, military and commercial aircraft of any size  and a range of experts believe global climate changes will be producing more incidents of turbulence.

Just three days after the United incident, eight people were hospitalized after a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747 hit turbulence over Japan. In January, another wide body — a Boeing 777, also operated by United — had to return to Newark Airport after five crew members were injured by turbulence.

What is turbulence? Irregular or disturbed airflow in the atmosphere. There are several categories, as well as subcategories. Airline passengers are most likely to encounter the low-level variety, in or near thunderstorms. But additional factors can create unstable conditions, including jet streams, heat, other aircraft and mountains. And pilots, airline dispatchers and air traffic controllers particularly fear clear-air turbulence (CAT), since it is difficult to detect by sight or even via radar.


• Two words: Buckle up. Experts say you should be strapped in at all times. As the Association of Flight Attendants says, “Passengers should keep seat belts fastened during the entire flight — even if the seat belt sign is off.”

• Don’t leave overhead bin doors open; if you need to retrieve something, close it afterwards.

• If you’re lucky enough to have an empty seat next to you — a statistically challenging proposition in these days of 83 percent passenger load factors — don’t leave large objects such as carry-on bags unsecured.

• If you leave your seat, airline manufacturer Boeing advises: “Hold on to the seat backs or overhead bins when walking in the cabin.”

• Don’t even consider holding your baby in your lap rather than using an FAA-approved safety device. Unless your name is Clark Kent, you aren’t stronger than the G-forces generated by turbulence.

• If you do encounter turbulence, listen to announcements and follow instructions. Later, be careful when opening the bins.

William J. McGee, the lone consumer advocate on the Department of Transportation’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee, is the author of “Attention All Passengers.” He teaches at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens, N.Y.

Full story, with video report at YahooNews.

At Brodkowitz Law, we represent airline passengers who are injured due to airline negligence.  Every year airline passengers are injured when flying commercially.  When an aircraft does not pressurize normally passengers suffer ruptured eardrums and loss of hearing. When airstairs or other boarding devices are not used safely by an airline passengers suffer fall injuries. Sometimes equipment within an aircraft breaks, injuring passengers. Turbulence injuries are another common occurrence.  Many of these injuries are preventable.

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