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Turbulent Times: Flights Predicted To Be Bumpier

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(credit: CBS) Meteorologist Kate Bilo joined the Eyewitness News...
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By Kate Bilo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –  Turbulence is fact of flying and sometimes a frightening one.

A passenger captured a rough landing inside the plane for a Southwest flight attendant. Witnesses say she was knocked to the floor by turbulence, and had to ride out the roller coaster on the aisle floor until she could steady herself to walk back to a safer spot.

“It was quite scary, ’cause I started praying,” said one witness.

“Have you ever had to hit the deck like that before?” a passenger asked the flight attendant on home video.

“I haven’t,” she said.

“Were you scared?” asked the passenger.

“No,” she said with a smile.

It’s no surprise stormy weather can make a flight rough. Seasoned travelers know the feeling all too well.

One man said, “It felt like the wings were going to come off the airplane.”

Another man said, “You drop, your body shifts.”

“I tell you, when we landed in Atlanta, the lady next to me did the blessing,” said one woman.

Sunday afternoon, four passengers and two crew members were injured when a US Airways plane from Philadelphia to Orlando encountered severe turbulence.

In another instance last week, four attendants and a passenger were hurt on a US Airways flight landing in Philadelphia from Cancun.

In February, Kerri Mullins was on a United flight from Denver to Billings when she felt the aircraft plunge.

“We were tilted onto our right side and started plunging everything flew out of everybody’s hands,” she said.

On air traffic control audio, you can hear a message:  “Bleeding pretty badly and they can’t get it to stop.”

Kerri, three crew members and another passenger, were rushed to a hospital.

Turbulence can be unpredictable, even violent. Meteorologist Frank Colby, Ph.D., explains, “When the wind speeds become strong in one place and weak in another, that difference between the strong and the weak flow can become unstable. And what happens is the atmosphere reacts by breaking into turbulence, and violent mixing is going on.”

Steve Cunningham trains pilots and throws them into turbulence in the safety of a simulator.

“You can drop 100 or 200 feet in a matter of a second,” he said.

Turbulence isn’t going away anytime soon. Some scientists expect more of it. They blame increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a more unpredictable jet stream.

And if that wasn’t bad enough for travelers, those rocky skies could result in higher air fares, predicts Colby.

“The result is going to be more expensive flights, because the planes are (…) going to have fly at less optimal elevations,” he said. “If you fly lower, then you have more friction, and so your planes are less efficient so you use more fuel. If you have to zig-zag around the clear air turbulence, it’s a longer flight. It’s more fuel. You start looking at this and it all adds up.”

Without clouds in the sky, we can’t see turbulence, so we’re flying blind until we feel that telltale rumble in the air.

 

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