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How turbulence will change the way you fly: Airlines are tightening rules for passengers including fewer hot meals, more seatbelt time and no more ‘lap babies’ as phenomenon gets worse

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Airlines around the world are tightening their rules for passengers in a bid to manage the rise of turbulence as the phenomenon becomes alarmingly worse. 

Companies are clamping down on in-flight safety measures after two shocking incidents of turbulence took place last week, resulting in the death of a 73-year-old man as well as dozens of people injured. 

Passengers on a Qatar Airways flight were rocked by turbulence as it approached Dublin Airport, which saw 12 people injured, eight of whom were taken to hospital. 

In the same week, Singapore Airlines announced it will halt meal services when planes fly through turbulence after musical theatre director Geoffrey Kitchen died  during a period of turbulence on a flight from London last week.

One aviation expert predicted other airline companies will likely follow suit, with further ‘technological and procedural’ changes on the way as the industry becomes more informed about the increasing risks of turbulence. 

Technological advances could also see pilots given more advanced warnings about difficult conditions and therefore utilising the seat belt sign for longer while one industry union is also campaigning for a ban on ‘lap babies’. 

Ambulances gathering around the plane which landed safely in Dublin airport at around 1pm. Eight passengers were taken to hospital after being checked over by medical staff

Ambulances gathering around the plane which landed safely in Dublin airport at around 1pm. Eight passengers were taken to hospital after being checked over by medical staff

The interior of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21

The interior of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21 

Passengers of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok on its flight from London to Singapore, arrive at Changi Airport in Singapore

Passengers of Singapore Airlines flight SQ321, which made an emergency landing in Bangkok on its flight from London to Singapore, arrive at Changi Airport in Singapore

Damian Devlin, lecturer in aviation at the University of East London, told The Telegraph: ‘As awareness and understanding of this phenomenon improves, the aviation sector will inevitably seek to minimise the impact through measured technological and procedural innovations.

‘The sector will undoubtedly study the adjustments to service made by Singapore Airlines to better understand the influence it has on issues like passenger confidence and passenger compliance with crew instructions.’

Singapore Airlines said it has adopted a ‘more cautious approach to managing turbulence in-flight’ after the Boeing 777 jet heading to Singapore hit extreme turbulence over the Andaman Sea last Tuesday. 

‘In addition to the suspension of hot beverage service when the seat belt sign is on, the meal service will also be suspended,’ the airline said in a statement. 

‘Crew members will also return to their seats and secure their seat belts when the seat belt sign is on.’

One union has also urged for children under the age of two to be banned from sitting on a parent’s lap while on a flight and instead should be provided with their own seat. 

A spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union told the Washington Post: ‘We’ve seen [planes] go through turbulence recently and drop 4,000 feet in a split second.

‘The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It’s just physically impossible.’

Musical theatre director Geoffrey Kitchen , died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after the Singapore Airlines incident

Musical theatre director Geoffrey Kitchen , died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after the Singapore Airlines incident

The plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin. Pictures show the scale of the destruction with panels seen ripped off the ceiling of the plane

The plane was buffeted by turbulence that flung passengers and crew around the cabin. Pictures show the scale of the destruction with panels seen ripped off the ceiling of the plane

Passengers are seen in the cabin after the incident today, with belongings strewn across the floor and oxygen masks dangling from above

Passengers are seen in the cabin after the incident today, with belongings strewn across the floor and oxygen masks dangling from above

In pictures of the aftermath, one air stewardess was seen with blood over her face

In pictures of the aftermath, one air stewardess was seen with blood over her face

The Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 is seen on the tarmac at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok following the incident

The Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 is seen on the tarmac at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok following the incident

Technological advances could also see seat belt signs on planes illuminated for longer as pilots become more aware of potentially hazardous routes.  

What causes turbulence?

Mountains

  • As wind currents hit mountains they can produce ‘mountain waves’.
  • These are regions of turbulent air which can shake nearby planes.

Storms

  • Large storms create huge vertical air currents which cause planes to rise or fall. 
  • Passing aircraft can rise or fall between 600 and 1830 metres (2,000-6,000ft) at a time.

Jet streams

  • In clear air turbulence passing planes can be caught by high speed winds.
  • These may become worse as climate change affects weather patterns.  

More sophisticated weather monitoring systems will allow air traffic controllers to identify rocky jet streams, while communication systems between pilots will enable them to give each other advanced warnings about such conditions as well. 

Although this may lead to longer flights as planes are rerouted, with the increasing costs from greater fuel consumption likely to come back on passengers. 

Retired pilot Captain Mike Jenvey told The Telegraph that people should be wearing their seat belt at all times any way due to the deadly risks of turbulence. 

He said: ‘[Hitting turbulence] can cause passengers who do not have their seatbelts fastened to rise up very quickly out of their seats and be pushed back in very hard. 

‘If walking in the aisle of the aircraft, the sudden rise might cause passengers to hit their heads hard on the cabin ceiling and then fall down.’

Last week’s brutal turbulence, around ten hours into the flight from Heathrow to Singapore, wrought havoc on board and saw British grandfather Geoffrey Kitchen suffer a fatal heart attack, while dozens of other passengers sustained significant injuries.

Speaking to MailOnline, aviation expert Terry Tozer revealed the unfortunate pilots would have had almost no warning of what they were flying into.

He said: ‘There’s no tech that can detect clear air turbulence. The area where they were is pretty renowned for turbulence, but you get a bit of warning. 

‘They were obviously caught completely unaware. They’re still investigating so we don’t know, but I wouldn’t imagine there’s anything more.’ 

Another pilot told MailOnline the plane’s sophisticated weather equipment could have missed the pocket of turbulence with high density clouds in the way – meaning there was no way to know about the air pocket.

The aftermath of the Singapore Airlines incident

The interior of Singapore Airline flight SG321 is pictured after an emergency landing at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand, May 21 

Food and drinks can be seen strewn across the floor of the plane last week

Food and drinks can be seen strewn across the floor of the plane last week

The incident, which aviation experts are calling a ‘freak’ event is the latest tragedy to involve Boeing which has seen its reputation battered in recent years. 

A 73-year-old passenger, named as musical theatre director Geoffrey Kitchen, died of a suspected heart attack and dozens were injured after the incident. 

Standing passengers caught out by deadly turbulence on the ill-fated flight were ‘doing somersaults’ as they were smashed into the cabin ceiling, one shocked passenger said.

Harrowing images taken on board showed how the cabin was littered with debris as distraught passengers tried desperately to stem the blood flowing from severe cuts and blunt force injuries. 

Another passenger named as Jerry, who was travelling to his son’s wedding aboard the ill-fated flight SQ321, said it was ‘the worst flight of my life’.

Speaking to BBC reporters with a bandage covering part of his head, he said: ‘Suddenly the plane plunged… there was no warning at all, and I ended up hitting my head on the ceiling, and my wife did.

‘Some poor people walking around ended up doing somersaults. It was absolutely terrible.’

Then just days later, passengers on a Qatar Airways flight were rocked by turbulence as it approached Dublin Airport, which saw 12 people injured, eight of whom were taken to hospital.   

Those onboard the plane described how staff members were sent flying into the air, adding that they ‘thought it was the end’.

One man, who was on his way back from Perth, Australia, said that food and drink was scattered everywhere after the incident. He told RTE: ‘I had to grab the seat in front, I had to put my seatbelt on.’

Another passenger, Eileen, said that she had never had a worse experience onboard a flight and that her partner Tony was forced to hold her down as she had been taking a nap without a seatbelt on.

‘I am not in a hurry to get back on a plane I can tell you,’ she added.

Firefighters and a fire engine outside the a plane at Dublin airport which experienced turbulence over Turkey resulting in 12 people being injured

Firefighters and a fire engine outside the a plane at Dublin airport which experienced turbulence over Turkey resulting in 12 people being injured 

The flightpath taken by the Qatar Airway plane. IT experienced turbulence over Turkey and 12 people were injured but have been attended by emergency crews ta Dublin Airport

The flightpath taken by the Qatar Airway plane. IT experienced turbulence over Turkey and 12 people were injured but have been attended by emergency crews ta Dublin Airport

The flight experienced turbulence over Turkey a spokesperson for daa, the operator of Dublin Airport said

The flight experienced turbulence over Turkey a spokesperson for daa, the operator of Dublin Airport said

Meanwhile Cathal described how his meal had gone flying off his lap and that the turbulence had caused his shorts to be ripped.

Paul Mocc explained how people had hit the roof during the chaos and that refreshments had ended up scattered all over the cabin.

The passenger added that he had seen flight attendants limping with bandages on afterwards and that they had all handled the situation very well. 

Conor, who was on his way back from Thailand, also described staff going ‘up in the air’ when the plane suddenly dropped.

And Emma recalled the fear and stress in people’s faces during the turbulence.

Kevin Cullinane, Deputy Director of Communications at daa, the operator of Dublin Airport said: ‘The Dublin Airport team continues to provide full assistance on the ground to passengers and airline crew.’ 

In an updated statement at 3pm, Dublin Airport said all passengers were assessed for injury before disembarking the plane, and eight were taken to hospital.

‘Qatar Airways flight QR017 from Doha landed safely as scheduled at Dublin Airport shortly before 1300 on Sunday,’ they said.

‘Upon landing, the aircraft was met by emergency services, including airport police and our fire and rescue department, due to six passengers and six crew (12 total) on board reporting injuries after the aircraft experienced turbulence while airborne over Turkey.

‘All passengers were assessed for injury prior to disembarking the aircraft.

‘Eight passengers were subsequently taken to hospital.’ 



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