Turbulence is one of the biggest triggers behind a fear of flying.
Here, Jay Roberts – who has worked as senior cabin crew for Emirates and who runs the popular Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge network – offers his counsel on the subject, revealing why it needn’t be feared.
He also breaks down what happens in a cabin when a plane is caught in severe turbulence – and outlines just how infrequently it happens…
Do you have advice for passengers who get panicked by turbulence?
Jay tells MailOnline Travel exclusively: ‘One of the first questions we flight crew are often asked once it’s revealed we have a mile-high profession is: “Are you scared of turbulence?” You can imagine the look on people’s faces when most of us respond: “Scared of it – we love it!”
Jay Roberts (above) – who has worked as senior cabin crew for Emirates and who runs the popular Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge network – offers advice on handling turbulence
‘And that is the honest truth. A poll taken on A Fly Guy’s Cabin Crew Lounge, the largest network of airline staff on social media, revealed that most airline crew not only like turbulence, but they also enjoy it! That’s a comforting thought to think about the next time you’re worried when your plane starts shaking.’
He continues: ‘I’m not scared of it because I know the flight history data and know planes don’t crash because of turbulence. I also know from personal work experience the chance of encountering severe turbulence is rare. So often, when I’m experiencing turbulence as a passenger or crew member, my inner child sees the dips and shakes as a rollercoaster, and I enjoy the ride.’
The former flight attendant adds: ‘Also, for operating flight attendants, moderate turbulence often brings a welcome break time where we can sit down and have a timeout from requests. It’s one of the few circumstances during which we can ignore service call bells.’
What are the signs given off by flight attendants that turbulence is getting more and more serious on a flight?
Jay says: ‘In the cabin, we mainly classify turbulence into mild, moderate, and severe, and you can generally use the cabin crew as a good measure of the threat level.’
He explains: ‘Mild is what you typically encounter during flights. A few bumps here or there, and the seatbelt sign will likely come on, but the crew stay active in the cabin or move about in the galley with no change to their demeanour. Depending on the airline’s policy, they probably won’t reprimand passengers for ignoring the seatbelt sign and will continue to serve tea and coffee.’
He continues: ‘In moderate turbulence, the crew’s attitude towards the bumps changes. The expression on their face often becomes more serious. They will put away service items, pause the service of hot drinks, or the service entirely.
‘They will secure the cabin with more attention and tell you to take your seat if you are standing, as walking will become difficult during this time. You will start to feel some pressure against your seatbelt from slight changes in altitude; any service items on your tray might fall, and if your cup is full, the drink will spill. The crew will take their seats after ensuring everything is secure.’
Jay says: ‘In the cabin, we mainly classify turbulence into mild, moderate, and severe’
And severe turbulence? He says: ‘When you encounter severe turbulence, there will be no doubt about the category you are experiencing.
‘Unseasoned crew members might start to panic at this point. A firm announcement from the pilot will probably instruct the flight attendants to be seated immediately, walking is no longer possible, and service will stop instantly. Cabin crew are trained to leave their carts right where they are and to take the nearest seat, even if it means sitting on a passenger to secure themselves. The aircraft will make aggressive changes in altitude, causing any items or people not secured to become projectiles. Damage to the aircraft’s interior can come from carts and passengers hitting the roof. Passengers and crew could experience injuries to their skeletal system during this rare turbulence category.’
When you encounter severe turbulence, there will be no doubt about the category you are experiencing…. cabin crew are trained to leave their carts right where they are and to take the nearest seat, even if it means sitting on a passenger to secure themselves
But Jay is quick to emphasise the rarity of such extreme turbulence. He says: ‘I worked as cabin crew for 13 years on some of the longest flights in the world, crisscrossing areas notorious for turbulent air, and never encountered severe turbulence. However, knowing colleagues whose careers ended from injuries resulting from rare encounters with severe turbulence is the main reason my seatbelt stays fastened when I travel as a passenger.’
Did you get worried by turbulence?
Jay admits: ‘Not only has turbulence never scared me, but I also look forward to it. Some areas will have guaranteed moderate turbulence on certain routes, for example, in the airspace around Kuala Lumpur [in Malaysia] or Singapore. I would always plan my break time to be in the crew bunks by the time we flew past this area on the long flights to Australia. The turbulence rocked me to sleep and made me snooze deeper during my break.’
Jay says it’s very rare to experience severe turbulence on a flight – in his 13 years flying as cabin crew, he never experienced it (file photo)
Did anyone you worked with get panicked by it?
Jay reveals: ‘You can generally tell the experience of cabin crew based on how they react to turbulence, like sailors on the open seas. Those with many years riding the waves above the clouds hardly bat an eye when things get choppy.
‘In contrast, the new crew will try to hide their panic to avoid scaring passengers, while others will lose it completely. When I was working as a senior crew member, mentoring and supervising newer flight attendants, a few got scared and upset, mainly because they had never flown before taking a job as a flight attendant, and the whole experience of flight was new for them.’
Any experiences of terrible turbulence?
Jay reflects: ‘The worst turbulence I ever experienced was flying inside the U.S, because of the violent weather that results from the cold air coming down from Canada clashing with the warm, humid air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.’
He adds: ‘Also if you’re on a flight crossing the equator, you can bet on having a fun ride. But in all my years of flying, I’ve never been on a flight that hit severe turbulence or had anyone injured by it.’
What sort of training do flight attendants have in dealing with passengers who are nervous about it?
Jay says: ‘The main training cabin crew get on turbulence is how to prepare for it, what to do during it, and the injuries you will get after it. Much of our medical training deals with head, neck, and spine injuries that often follow severe turbulence. Also, we focus on treating burns caused by hot liquids spilling onto passengers from turbulence.’
Sharing his own experience of dealing with a passenger during a bout of turbulence, he continues: ‘Managing anxiety attacks is a skill we are also taught during this portion of our cabin crew training program. I implemented this skill set on a flight from London to Dubai while operating as a cabin supervisor in economy.
‘A very tall and muscular ex-soldier was travelling back to Afghanistan, where he worked as a military contractor. He sat beside my galley in the exit row on the A380 main deck. We hit moderate turbulence, which triggered his PTSD and resulted in a severe panic attack. At one point, I was kneeling beside his seat, holding his hand. He was squeezing my hand so tight he nearly cut off the circulation of my fingers.
‘I was there speaking to a massive soldier as if he was a scared child, reassuring him he was safe. At the same time, I was working with my other senior to contact ground medical support to authorize us to give him a sedative to keep him calm for the remainder of the flight.’
‘Since we can’t see turbulence and passengers can’t see how the pilots react, their imaginations tend to run away with fear when the bumps start,’ says Jay
Jay reveals: ‘It was the most scared I have been during turbulence because I was unsure if he would turn violent during the PTSD episode. I also had to mentally prepare myself to restrain this man, who could easily overpower me if he acted out violently. In that one situation, I went through roles acting as a therapist, a nurse, and a security officer.’
The former flight attendant continues: ‘Experience is the best training cabin crew get when dealing with turbulence. Over time we learn how to speak to passengers, what to say to explain best what’s happening, and how to best calm nerves.
‘My most useful line was: “You don’t get scared when you hit bumps on the road, so why are you afraid when you hit potholes in the sky?” This reasoning always gives passengers a point to associate with and makes them more relaxed.’
He adds: ‘Human nature is to fear what we don’t see. Since we can’t see turbulence and passengers can’t see how the pilots react, their imaginations tend to run away with fear when the bumps start. I often tell passengers: “You’re probably thinking the pilots are sitting up at the front fighting the controls in a panic because that’s what we see in movies.” But most of the time, they’re not even fazed by it and are just trying to find ways around the bumps by going higher or around the bumpy airspace.
‘They turn a few dials, check the radars for weather, and return to reading their books.’
For more from Jay visit www.instagram.com/aflyguytravels and www.facebook.com/aflyguyslounge.