A fearful flyer sent us this comment about his fear of flying through turbulence: “I wish that pilots would communicate more with the passengers. For example, that they would explain the turbulence and how long it will likely last. Also I often find that when they say turbulence is coming and to fasten one’s seatbelt, that turbulence turns out not to be as bad as the turbulence they don’t notify you of.”
What’s going on up there behind the cockpit doors? Why don’t passengers always get to hear those “This is the Captain” messages over the PA?
The Captain Announcement
Pilots tend to be more emotionally detached personality-wise and therefore more likely to ignore or not attach the same significance to all but the most significant weather, turbulence, or other irregularities that you as a passenger might notice. This personality tendency, combined with the fact that most pilots will go their entire careers without anything significant happening to them by way of emergencies, makes their day-to-day experience mundane without much to talk about. This doesn’t justify their actions, merely explains them.
I recommend to any fearful flyer with whom I work to ask to be able to meet the pilots. One thing I encourage them to do is to ask for more information about the flight’s route. Nearly everyone who does this reports that they were successful in getting the pilots to be more communicative.
Can Pilots Predict Turbulence?
As far as predicting turbulence, I’m sorry but we pilots are pretty much unable to predict with much accuracy either the intensity or the duration of turbulence. We rely heavily on reports of other aircraft who have flown through the area and reported “ride” information to air traffic control. We strive to always err on the side of caution, and so whenever we get forecasts of turbulence, we always request you fasten your seatbelt in anticipation. The most likely way to be injured on a commercial airplane is to be bounced around by turbulence if your seatbelt isn’t fastened securely.
I understand that the mere announcement of impending turbulence raises the anticipatory anxiety in even the non-fearful flyer. And then when that turbulence doesn’t materialize, you might feel that we weren’t being truthful. Worse, you will notice how many people ignore the seatbelt sign usually because they have heard us cry “wolf” before and choose to ignore it. Unfortunately, I know of folks who have been injured in such cases.
Not forewarning passengers of turbulence that does materialize is the other side of the coin. Since we rely heavily on reports from other aircraft, when there haven’t been any other aircraft through the area recently or they flew through without encountering turbulence, we’re just as surprised as you are by the turbulence. This again reinforces how important it is to remain seated with your seatbelt fastened as much as possible, and certainly when the fasten seatbelt sign is illuminated.
Even if you never hear one word from us in the cockpit, please know that your safety is always our number one concern.
Comment below if you have asked to meet the Captain before, and if it was successful or not.