Travelers Terrorized by Turbulence

September 20, 2011

in Weather Stories

It was January 2004 and I had just boarded an Emirates flight from Dubai to Düsseldorf to visit my family in Germany. I am not a happy flyer and hate watching take-offs, so I always ask for an aisle seat. On this flight I was seated in the aisle seat on the left side of the middle row in the back of the plane, surrounded by a German group of young business people. They asked me if I would like to switch seats so that they could all sit together, even offering me a window seat. I politely said no thanks, but I don’t do window seats for these and those reasons, and I specially requested an aisle one; they accepted my explanation without further ado.

Upon taxiing to the runway, the captain announced that we would experience turbulence when crossing Iran, but nothing too serious. So we took off and while climbing into the skies above the Gulf and reaching Iran we were served breakfast – something more than one person would regret later!

Now, I am one of those people who can’t take any movement without turning green in seconds and puking my guts out, so I had taken a travel-sickness pill which always has a nice kiss-my-bootie effect and keeps my nervousness under wraps (especially when combined with a small bottle of red wine and cabin pressure, though it was much too early for booze). My direct seat neighbour was a guy from that business group, a Palestinian, who I rather quickly fell into discussion with, including about the conflicts between his people and Israel. I was especially interested since I once dated someone from Palestine years back.

With this rather interesting talk time flew until all of a sudden we hit the first rough spot. In the beginning it was just some normal rocking and slight shaking, nobody cared, talking continued, as did service. This, however, changed very quickly when the rocking and shaking became harder and harder and the plane really swayed from side to side and went up and down. People were ordered to their seats and to buckle up and it got much more quiet.

My seat neighbour turned slightly whitish, telling me he isn’t the most courageous person. He said he doesn’t mind flying when it’s calm, but as the turbulence was getting worse and worse he was getting really nervous. I tried to calm him by telling him things a friend (a FA with Emirates) had told me and what I had read in a book and it did seem to help for a while. Until we hit rock bottom, that is.

All of a sudden the hard rocking turned to severe uplifts and downfalls, the plane plummeted a few hundred metres and lifted up again, the wings swayed up and down, and the plane swerved from side to side. People started to gasp and scream with each plummet, children cried, and the captain announced via intercom that the service should stop and the FAs must sit down immediately, which they did in a breeze.

It had become totally quiet, the only noise was the screams when we hit another air pocket and fell down like a rock. My seat neighbour had grasped the back of the seat in front of him with both hands which were chalk white. I was mysteriously calm, which was definitely due to the little pill I had taken before the flight and all the info about how planes function and so on that I had soaked up. The worse it got, the more relaxed I was.

Not so well though was a young Indian woman in front of me. She started throwing up when the turbulence got worse, and every so often her husband, whose turban I could see bobbing up and down with the movement of the plane, went and disposed of a bag of sickie, returning with a fresh one. The poor woman! I considered offering her a pill but knew it would be useless, as it would come out right away. Still I asked the man if he would like one for his wife, quickly explaining what it does as he clearly had never heard of something like a travel sickness pill before. He accepted my offer and, when the plane hit a slightly quieter patch, his wife quickly swallowed the pill and things went much easier for her once the plane went downwards again, this time with even harder plummets and more swaying.

This whole ordeal lasted from somewhere over Iran, and all across Turkey and the Black Sea, but once we reached Romania/Bulgaria it became totally calm again. Service, which had stalled for 3 hours, picked up again and shortly afterwards chatter filled the cabin again. The only thing left from the heavy turbulence was that we had climbed higher and higher to get out of it as much as possible, so descending started at Nürnberg  instead of Frankfurt.

We landed smoothly in Düsseldorf and I bid farewell to my friendly seat neighbour and the Indian couple. To this day I sometimes think of this flight and how the cabin crew rushed to their seats – you know it is getting rough when service is stopped and the FAs are asked to buckle up.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

steve September 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm

There's no such thing as an air pocket. Just air moving at different speeds and/or direction.


thisisanairpocket July 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm

air pocket
A downward air current that causes an aircraft to lose altitude abruptly. Also called air hole.


talashea February 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Wow Steve, are you one of these people that feel the need to call fail before doing research. Sheesh!


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