We have all had this happen to us. In casual conversation, the subject of flying comes up and someone will invariably begin to relay the story of the one time they took an airline flight and as they were cruising happily along, with their half can of soda and six peanuts, they suddenly hit an air pocket. The plane fell maybe six thousand feet and just slammed them into their seats.
I have some bad news. There is no such thing as an Air Pocket. There are pants pockets and Hot Pockets, but no air pockets. As if one could be flying along and then run into an area with no air! Space might be a huge air pocket because it has no air; but there are no vacuums of air in earth’s atmosphere. Nature abhors a vacuum as they say. And I abhor them too. I can’t stand how the cords are never long enough to reach the furthest part of the room. Plus they are noisy and there are never any replacement bags where I can find them. But, I digress.
Picture, if you will, a river. The water flows and eddies and never stops moving. But there are never any “water pockets”. Same with the atmosphere. It is a literal river of air. So, the phenomenon called air pocket is merely a change in the current’s speed or direction, but definitely not a vacuum.
So why does the river of air get so bumpy at times? Heat. As the earth heats and cools at different rates, air expands and contracts. Combine that with the rotational forces of the earth, surface drag (trees, mountains, etc), and the net exhalation of hot air emanating from the bloviating barnacles on the ship of civilization in Congress, and areas of low pressure get created and every air molecule of air rushes to fill the void. Hence, turbulence. Which is just invisible waves of air identical to the waves in the river. Except, you don’t see them and they don’t splash all over you.
Here is a lovely diagram displaying the affects that different surfaces have on the movement of air. Different areas disturb the air based on how well they absorb or retain heat. And also how many obstructions the moving river of air must negotiate. Flying through these different bits of air is like kayaking down a river. Sometimes it’s smooth and sometimes it’s rough.
All this to say that just because there are no pockets of air, doesn’t mean that turbulence is no big deal. Most of the time the air is pretty smooth, but one never knows when some very uncomfortable turbulence may be encountered. It can occur in perfectly clear air, which is why we want you to be in a seat and buckled up at all times, unless you need to move about the cabin. Why do you think the crew never unbuckles? Because we are afraid of CATs! Not the furry kind. The kind known as Clear Air Turbulence. I have flown right into a CAT on a couple occasions completely without warning and it is very upsetting. Not mentally, but physically. It can toss you around like a pea in a can. So buckle up and stay that way for your own safety.
It’s pretty simple to do, but if you need help we will be glad to give you instructions.
If however, you are this guy, there isn’t much that can be done.
So, there is no need to fear turbulence or the mythical pockets of air, but there is a very important need to be prepared by buckling up.
*BING* Please fasten your seatbelts!