Potholes, choppy waves, a change in airflow. There are many ways to explain airplane turbulence and relegate it to the relatively benign phenomenon it almost always is.
But, as passengers aboard Hawaiian Airlines flight 35 experienced, sometimes turbulence is serious business.
The flight, bound from Phoenix to Honolulu on Dec. 18, encountered unusually bumpy air during its descent. The islands were being battered by a strong storm; the winds were high, the air was unpredictable.
“Everybody was panicked,” passenger Jodette Neely told the Today Show. “People were hitting their heads on the ceiling and I was grabbing the seat in front of me, even though I had my seatbelt on.”
By the time the plane landed, 20 passengers and crew members were sent to the hospital, 11 in serious condition.
The bulk of the injuries were lacerations and bruises, indicating the individuals were out of their seats and/or not wearing their seatbelts, though Hawaiian confirmed the “fasten seatbelt” sign was turned on.
So there’s your lesson: buckle up. It may seem like a formality or an inconvenience. Most flights are relatively smooth, with a few modest bumps. Every once in a while, though, you encounter real turbulence, the kind that can slam you back in your seat or even against the overhead compartment.
This is especially crucial if you’re traveling with an infant or toddler. Either pay the extra bucks to get him/her a ticket and secure it with a child seat, or at the very least ensure he/she is buckled securely in your lap.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, 146 people have been seriously injured by turbulence since 2009. Those are pretty good odds. Still, if flight 35 reminded us of anything, it’s that a placid trip across the sea can turn into a bloody nightmare in a moment.