Turbulence is scary to the average passenger especially heavy to severe ones, but to us avgeeks, we do understand that turbulence is a normal occurence. An airplane is in the mercy of the wind and the environment outside. Not all the time, the weather is smooth, just like any street or road. Airplanes at the same time are designed to withstand turbulence. Pilots also are highly trained to face turbulence and to them, it is a normal occurence too.
As defined in a previous article on this website, turbulence occurs when there is a disruption in the airflow. There are three levels of turbulence which are light, moderate, severe, and extreme. As much as possible, pilots try their best to avoid areas of severe and extreme but what if an airplane goes through it, what will the pilots do?
First and foremost, there is a super slim chance that turbulence will bring down an aircraft. It may just lose altitude but it will not crash. The airplane will still fly as the margin of stall is too large for the aircraft to drop from the sky, that is the first thing we should remember. It may just drop or rise a few meters but it will not fall out from the sky.
Second, your pilots are highly trained to face all types of turbulence so trust them. It may become uncomfortable to the passenger but just relax and put your trust on your pilots. Turbulence is a normal situation for them. They are even trained to face more extreme situations.
If pilots can avoid a turbulent area, they will. If they cannot, they will go through it. Procedures to go through turbulence will depend on aircraft type and company procedures but generally speaking, pilots will turn on the fasten seatbelt sign, slow down the aircraft to its maximum penetrating speed, do a PA for the cabin crew and passengers to be seated, then do the rest of the aircraft type procedures if there are any.
If the aircraft loses altitude, the aircraft in autopilot will regain the lost altitude by itself after the conditions. It is not recommeded for the pilots to disconnect the autopilot, but if it does, then the pilots take control of the aircraft. Descending or ascending is the option of the flight crew. Pilots would not want to get the plane in an unusual altitude for that matter.
For the pilots, there is minimal concern on the plane dropping off from the sky during turbulence. They are more concerned on taking care of the aircraft structure and rigidity as sudden drops, especially if they are huge, may cause structure problems.
So during heavy turbulence, just put your trust on your pilots and relax. Stay seated and strapped. Wait until the pilot switches off the fasten seatbelt sign before going to the lavatory.
Another point too. You might be asking where it is best to sit in order not to feel the full effects of turbulence. Well that is basically the overwing area and basically anywhere in front of the engines. The movement is greater at the rear area than in the front.
If you want to know more about turbulence, you may check out our other write-up here.