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Home > Air Turbulence > Have you ever experienced side to side turbulence?
Have you ever experienced side to side turbulence?
Weather - Air Turbulence
Tuesday, 23 October 2007 06:57

Dear Captain Lim,

Just came across your website and have started reading the section on turbulence. There is much good information here. I am a frequent flyer and have learned a great deal from your explanations. If this question has been asked already, please disregard.

I was a First Class passenger on a Northwest B747 that left Honolulu en-route to Seattle. It was an afternoon departure with an arrival in Seattle at about 1230 am. Shortly after it got dark over the ocean, we stated to experience moderate turbulence that did not bounce the plane up and down, no - this turbulence bounced us from SIDE to SIDE. It would start and go for awhile and then stop. Then start again for about 15 minutes and then stop. This kept up until we were within 30 minutes of Seattle.

The turbulence was so bad the crew had to suspend the meal service! Most of the passengers were scared to death as none of us were prepared for this kind of turbulence. It would have been more reassuring had the captain explained what we were going through.

My question of course is - have you ever experienced side to side turbulence instead of the more common up and down type? What would cause this?

Many thanks,

TM

Hi TM,


You get the up and down type of turbulence when the plane experiences updrafts and downdrafts. This is where you can get them in a thunderstorm or a massive frontal system. The severity of the aircraft motion caused by such turbulence will depend upon the magnitude of the updrafts and downdrafts.

The side to side kind of turbulence is mainly attributed to the currents of wind moving in a different direction from the main flow of wind. The direction of wind changes at different level of the atmosphere. When an airplane flies into this kind of weather band, the plane may shake from side to side. This kind of turbulence is less frequently felt but, oh boy, once you hit them, they are most uncomfortable!

As I have said many times in the past, turbulence is not really a safety issue but rather one of discomfort. As long as one is strapped in, one has to bear with the discomfort till the pilot gets out of the turbulence.

It would have been nice had the captain come onto the PA (Public Address) system to explain about the “roller-coaster or side-to-side ride”. Perhaps he was thinking that it was fairly normal in that kind of weather as he must have experienced such turbulence hundred of times in the past.

If you are still unhappy with the service, choose another airline on your next flight if it makes you feel better :-)

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