Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Sorry, travelers — science says air travel turbulence is only going to get worse

It's not just you. Flying is bumpier these days — here's why, according to scientists

an airplane mid-flight
Pixabay

Buckle your seatbelts — science says air turbulence is about to get even more turbulent. Turbulence is a commonly discussed part of air travel. When flying, your pilot may see it on the horizon or predict if thunderstorms are in the forecast.

Now, scientists are predicting it’s going to get worse. Dr. Paul D. Williams, a researcher from the University of Reading in the U.K, published predictions in 2017 based on a forecasting algorithm he built. Williams’ key findings varied based on altitude and were larger at 39,000 feet in the air compared to 34,000 feet in the air. However, he believed clear air turbulence would double in some locations by 2050-2080. Severe turbulence increases would likely be more than light and moderate turbulence. 

What is clear air turbulence? It’s a type of turbulence that happens when there are no clouds or poor weather. Wind shears (a quick change in speed and direction of the wind) cause this type of turbulence. Clear-air turbulence is troubling because it’s unexpected, though becoming more common. 

NASA is also ringing alarm bells. In a feature published in 2023, NASA pointed to the changing climate as a reason for turbulence. Global temperatures increase because of rising greenhouse emissions, like carbon dioxide. As a result, a jet stream or a narrow band of strong wind in the atmosphere’s upper levels experiences more wind shear. The amount of wind shear has increased by 15% since 1979, the year satellites started observing it, according to research published in 2019.

In 2020, scientists from China published a study that found that higher temperatures in the Earth’s upper atmosphere trigger mid-latitude wind shear and turbulence. 

How might this affect consumers during air travel? Since clear-air turbulence can’t be seen, it’s challenging for pilots to avoid it. 

Experts told NPR that pilots could avoid the four major jet streams, which would lengthen flight times and even contribute further to carbon emissions (longer flights mean more fuel).

Airlines could also reduce loads on a flight, passenger, baggage, or otherwise, a move that could cost them — and perhaps you — money.

Hopefully, the powers that be can devise a solution to reduce bumpy skies — and perhaps solve the climate issue. The effects of climate change were already felt by winter travelers, who experienced less snow in northeast towns and even on the ski slopes in some areas.

We’ll likely continue to suffer from extreme temperatures over the next three decades and beyond.

What can you do? You can’t solve the entire crisis alone. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint, including:

The world’s fate is not entirely on your shoulders, but even small steps can make life less turbulent for future generations. In the meantime, buckle up.

Editors' Recommendations

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
How to get over jet lag quickly — Try these effective tips
Forget about jet lag and enjoy your trip
Inside of plane

Jet lag, the dreaded consequence of crossing multiple time zones, can wreak havoc on your body and shake up your travel plans. From headaches, to fatigue, to insomnia, jet lag can leave you feeling drained, making it difficult to enjoy your vacation. However, with a few simple adjustments, you can minimize the effects of jet lag and start enjoying your travels in no time. This is how to get over jet lag.
How long can jet lag last?

While jet lag symptoms are generally temporary and tend to improve as your body adjusts to the new time zone, the duration of jet lag can vary from person to person. A few factors that influence the duration of jet lag include:

Read more
Don’t pack these 9 TSA-prohibited items in your checked baggage
Some of the items may surprise you
Baggage Inspection

As travelers, we are accustomed to meticulously planning what we can and cannot bring in our carry-on luggage, ensuring compliance with airline regulations and security protocols. However, amidst the focus on carry-on restrictions, it’s easy to overlook the limitations imposed on checked baggage. Surprisingly, there is a long list of TSA prohibited items that are strictly banned from being stowed away in the checked compartment of a plane. So, before you zip up your suitcase and bid farewell to your checked bag, let’s explore what items must remain out of sight during your journey. 

What can you take on a plane? TSA prohibited items
When it comes to packing for a flight, we are often well-versed in the restrictions placed on carry-on items, particularly the infamous 3-1-1 liquid rule. Yet, as we organize our carry-ons, it is crucial not to ignore the contents of our checked baggage. While it may seem like a convenient place to store bulkier or less essential items, several objects should never be put in your checked baggage. From flammable materials to certain liquids to popular foods, the restrictions are broad and varied. These are just a few of TSA prohibited items to consider before packing your suitcase.
1. Wrapped presents
Wrapped presents always run the risk of being flagged by security. These wrapped gifts can trigger suspicion or require additional screening, leading to delays and potential damage to your wrapped items. Additionally, if security officials cannot identify the contents of a wrapped gift, they may need to unwrap it entirely.
2. An abundance of cash
Packing an abundance of cash in your checked baggage is ill-advised for several reasons, particularly concerning security and potential legal complications. While no specific TSA regulations limit the amount of cash you can carry domestically, travelers entering the U.S. must declare amounts exceeding $10,000 to customs officials. However, regardless of the amount, carrying a significant sum of cash can attract attention from TSA agents, who have the authority to question you about the source and purpose of the money.

Read more
Why travel experts think you should expect airline tickets to get more expensive
You will likely see an increase in airline prices this summer
Plane

Amid the fallout from the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, there is a looming possibility of airline tickets becoming more expensive. Incidents like the door of an Alaskan Airlines 737 MAX detaching mid-flight have prompted Boeing to slow down the production of this aircraft.

With airlines facing potential delays in receiving their ordered Boeing planes and some carriers like United even halting orders for certain models altogether, the industry braces for a reduction in available aircraft. These delays, compounded by intensive federal investigations into Boeing’s manufacturing processes, may limit the number of planes available to American carriers. Consequently, this reduction in aircraft availability poses a risk of driving up airline prices for travelers.

Read more