The One Trick You Need To Get Through Airplane Turbulence

Photo: Getty Images.
Severe turbulence cannot bring down a plane, and flying is statistically a lot safer than driving.
But no matter how much we tell ourselves these facts, turbulence still freaks us out. And we're not alone; millions of people suffer from the fear of flying.
The Today show segment "Rossen Reports" had host Jeff Rossen visit a turbulence simulator to test if it could cure the show producer's own flying anxiety. It's part of a program called FearlessFlight at Air Hollywood, which helps people manage their flight fears. The simulator looks like a real airplane, and can mimic light, moderate, or severe turbulence.
Advertisement
Capt. Ron Nielsen, a pilot and 40-year veteran of the airline industry who teaches classes to help people conquer their fear of flying, offered an unexpected trick during the Today show's visit:
"Put [a] pen in the opposite hand than what you normally use, and write your name. Just keep writing your name," he advised the producer who has flight anxiety.
This does two things, he said. "It first causes her to focus extra-hard on what she's doing, because she doesn't normally write with her other hand...and not on the turbulence. And the second thing is, it's actually crossing over her motor function in her brain, using the other side of her brain from what she would normally do. We're disrupting the thinking."
The producer noted that it helped, pulling her attention away from the turbulence.
We are likely to hear about more and more tricks like this in the near future. A recent scientific study found that bumps and drops are about to take a turn for the worse thanks to climate change, with a projected increase this year of 149% in heavy turbulence, 94% in moderate turbulence, and 59% in light turbulence.
"For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous flyers even light turbulence can be distressing," study author Dr. Paul Williams said in a press release. "However, even the most seasoned frequent flyers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world."
Advertisement
Reports of passengers suffering from severe turbulence on flights worldwide have increased. Just a few days ago, nine people were injured on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. Eight of them were hospitalized with minor injuries, and one passenger even described the sensation as a "free fall." Last month, severe turbulence on an Aeroflot flight left 27 people injured.
What if writing your name over and over doesn't help?
"Here's what you do," said Capt. Nielsen. "You grab a drinking straw. Start breathing through it." This restricts your air flow, preventing you from hyperventilating — which could make you feel even worse when you're already anxious.
Advertisement