What The Heck Is An Air Pocket?


As I pilot, I have to tell you, there is no such thing as an “air pocket”.    That is just a term someone came up with to explain turbulence.   The sun heats the earths crust, hot air rises, cold air descents, and you get turbulence.    You can think of rising air as the bubbles in a lava lamp.   As your plane is flying through these masses of rising and falling air, the aircraft is shaken.

Turbulence Is Dangerous

Not a month goes by without hearing about sudden turbulence that caused injuries to passengers.   Sometimes pilots can anticipate turbulence, but other times it comes out of the blue.   This is called clear air turbulence.    The reason clear air turbulence is so dangerous is simply because the pilot is unable to turn on the seatbelt light, so that people are not seated.   All it takes is moderate turbulence to cause people and their belongings to go flying through the cabin.   The moral of the story is to always wear your seatbelt whenever possible.

The Problem With The Seat Belt Sign

Sadly, the seat belt sign has been increasingly used to manage the behavior of the passengers, rather than being employed for safety.   It seems like almost every flight I have been on in the last few years, the pilot has left the light on for most of the flight.    Worse, the cabin crew ignores the indication to wear your seatbelt and continues to perform cabin service.   Physics does not distinguish between cabin crew and passengers, and they are both equally likely to go flying through the cabin in the event of turbulence.    By turning the light on and leaving it on for most of the flight, the pilots probably think that they are doing a favor for the cabin crew, as the passengers are less likely to get up an interfere with the service.  What they are really doing is crying wolf.   While I keep my seatbelt on for safety when seated, I will get up to use the bathroom when the light has been on for an excessive amount of time.   The crew is merely required to inform me that I should return to my seat, but they have to let me go when I have to go.

Creating non-existent phenomenon like “air pockets” and using the seat belt sign to help the flight attendants serve meals are two of the ways airlines are loosing credibility and ultimately hurting the cause of safety.

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