Buckle Up: Researchers Say Trans-Atlantic Flights Could Get A Lot More Turbulent

I’ll be the first admit that when a flight gets bumpy, my insides do a flip-flop and my brain scrambles to focus on anything it possibly can (cheese/bearded men/song lyrics/chicken vs. egg question) to stop thinking “Whatifwhatifwhatif?” on a crazy loop. And if you’re like me, well, a new study that says turbulence over the Atlantic could get stronger and more frequent is probably not going to help ease your mind.*

Bumpy flights are bound to get bumpier, according to researchers who published a study in the journal Nature Climate Change (via the Los Angeles Times) on how greenhouse gases could affect air travel in the coming years.

See, turbulence occurs when atmospheric pressure, jet streams, weather fronts, storms and whathaveyou get together and generally just get things whirling in the air.

The scientists say that if carbon dioxide emissions double by 2050, in turn, heating up the atmosphere, that change could increase the likelihood of hitting turbulence over the Atlantic by 40% to 170%. Turbulence strength might also rise by 10% to 40%.

And some of the damage may have already been done, partly due to emissions from commercial airline jets.

“Our results suggest that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century. Journey times may lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions may increase,” says the study. “Aviation is partly responsible for changing the climate, but our findings show for the first time how climate change could affect aviation.”

Beyond frazzling nerves, turbulence is a serious matter — the Federal Aviation Administration says bumpy air is responsible for 58 passenger injuries per year on average.

*If you are a fraidy cat like me, just remember what my dad says and maybe you’ll feel better without a large dose of a soothing drug: “An airplane is like a car, and when there’s turbulence, that just means the air is like a road with potholes in it. Just like cars are equipped to handle potholes, airplanes are built to withstand turbulence.”  Dads are the best, right?

Intensification of winter transatlantic aviation turbulence in response to climate change [Nature Climate Change]
Climate change will make flights bumpier, study says [Los Angeles Times]