Murray, who specializes in computers, not atmospheric science, pools information from NOAA, weather reports, pilot reports and other sources. The information updates every 20 minutes. On Monday afternoon, for example, a map of the States showed some rough air in Florida, between 27,000 and 41,000 feet, and Southern California, at 9,000 feet. In addition, Murray moonlights as the Dear Abby of turbulence-phobics. Visitors can submit a question about the conditions of an upcoming flight.
A recent posting:
Concerned flier: “Once again chicago to the NY metro area . . . thursday, 10/25 . . . . hoping for a smooth flight as always! thanks for all you do here!”
Murray: “Some bumps out of MDW, but the rest is looking nice!”
Murray (again, the next morning): “Looks very nice! Some bumps on your takeoff and landing.”
Relieved flier: “It was totally fine! thanks for the forecast.”
The traveler ended the message with a smiley face.
Calming the nerves
If you’re a nervous passenger, you’ve most likely heard this one before: Flying is safer than driving.
Don’t argue with the prophet, because it’s true.
“Commercial air traffic, in terms of turbulence, is pretty darn safe,” said Cornman. As evidence, he cited the last crash caused by turbulence — in 1966 near Mount Fuji in Japan.
In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 9,442,000 car accidents, including more than 22,000 fatalities and almost 2 million injuries. The same year, the National Transportation Safety Board documented one major accident and 14 injuries on commercial planes, and no fatalities.
But don’t be so quick to unbuckle your seatbelt and freely roam the cabin. Turbulence is the No. 1 cause of in-flight injuries, with crew members often suffering the highest number of bangs, bruises and broken bones. The FAA reported that turbulence injured five passengers and 28 crew members last year. Over the same period, the NTSB investigated 10 turbulence-related accidents.
“If people followed the rules,” said Smith, “the statistics would be even lower.”
Protecting yourself is as easy as insert, click, adjust. Even when the pilot turns off the sign, keep your seatbelt on. If the plane suddenly jolts, you don’t want to bump heads with the ceiling.
You can also reduce the intensity of turbulence with a little planning. Larger jets provide more stability than smaller planes. For example, in the same wily patch of air, a passenger in a 747 might feel a mild bounce, while a traveler in a six-seat Cessna might complain of moderate bumps. Also, choose a seat in the middle rows, over the wings, instead of in the front or back of the cabin.
“Imagine a soda straw. Hold it in the middle and see how it flops,” explained Tillotson of the phenomenon. “Air pushes on the wing. The nose and tail bounce.”
Most important, remember that the rockiness will pass. With this as your mantra, sit back and enjoy the short ride on the atmosphere’s waves.
“Instead of the seatbelt sign,” said Cornman, “the pilot should turn on the ‘wheee!’ sign.”
I’ll throw up my hands to that.