Report: Climate Change Could Lead to More Air Turbulence

  • Travel Team
Apr 12, 2013

Travelers who plan on flying across the Atlantic may want to buckle up for a bumpy ride - literally and figuratively. While long intercontinental flights are a necessary evil for many jet-setters, some previously unexpected side effects of climate change may alter the way people prepare for air travel.

Climate change affects air travel

A new report published in the Nature Climate Change journal points to the fact that rising levels of pollution and carbon dioxide could potentially increase the amount of turbulence on flights over the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers Paul Williams and Manoj Joshi conducted a series of tests to see what effect rising carbon dioxide rates may have on aviation, and they began by upping the levels 50 percent - something that will likely happen by the year 2050.

Results showed that, at this level, there was a 10-40 percent increase in the median strength of turbulence, The Associated Press reports. Not only was it stronger, but there was also 40-170 percent growth in the frequency of turbulence that can be described as "moderate or greater."

While some routes may be shifted to avoid the bulk of this turbulence, it would be impossible to alter patterns of the nearly 1,000 flights that cross the Atlantic daily. It's also extremely difficult to detect how much turbulence will strike a plane beforehand, with most pilots relying solely on reports from previous fliers, BBC reports.

Beware of turbulence

According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, turbulence is the leading cause of weather-related injuries on planes and regularly costs airlines and passengers millions of dollars each year. As the strength and frequency of turbulence reaches new heights, carriers, passengers and crew members may have to deal with rerouted flights, damage to planes, personal injuries and much more.

"It's certainly plausible that if flights get diverted more to fly around turbulence rather than through it then the amount of fuel that needs to be burnt will increase," Williams told the BBC. "Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up."

Increased risk of injury, higher fares and more overall turbulence will underscore the need for trip cancellation insurance for most globetrotters. While minor problems like a drink spill, uncomfortable seating and shifting luggage won't have too much of an effect on a travel experience, larger problems like flight delays or injuries can significantly impact a trip. Fliers who invest in appropriate insurance before departure can relax knowing they have some much-needed support in the event of an encounter with turbulence.

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