Airline attendants have many occupational risks not faced by other industries. Air travel is considered fairly safe, but there are conditions which cause working conditions to be unsafe. Turbulence, the air movement that causes a bumpy ride, may be uncomfortable and inconvenient for passengers, but it is highly dangerous for flight attendants. Most incidents of turbulence occur when the plane is above 30,000 feet, but it can occur even when the sky is clear and the plane is below 30,000 feet
Turbulence is caused by air movement, for example, thunderstorms, jet streams, air around the mountains or weather fronts. It can occur unexpectedly, when flight attendants are not in a seat. A flight attendant can fall while serving passengers or have luggage fall on their head. Although injuries due to turbulence are rare, they do occur.
The Federal Aviation Administration reports that in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries in nonfatal accidents to passengers and flight attendants. During a 28-year period from 1980 to 2008, the FAA reported 234 accidents caused by turbulence which seriously injured 289 people and caused 3 fatalities. Of the 289 injuries, 184 were flight attendants.
Turbulence may be on the rise
Scientists are currently studying how global warming will affect flights over the North Atlantic. Climate change might lead to more frequent and bumpier flights in the future. Aviation experts are addressing turbulence by proposing better communication systems that help pilots avoid rough air and more training for airline personnel to avoid injuries during turbulence. The communications system is very costly and will not be ready for two or three years for nationwide use.
Although turbulence injuries are rare, only 13 crew members were injured by turbulence in 2013. Flight attendants who are injured during turbulence may find it difficult to have their workers’ compensation claim approved by the airline, because many companies do not classify turbulence injuries as on-work injuries unless the injury occurred during “extreme” turbulence. The pilot has to classify the incident as extreme, and then the plane would be grounded for an inspection. It is rare that turbulence is classified this way.
Protect your rights
A flight attendant injured on the job might need to speak to legal counsel to ensure a workers’ compensation claim is not denied. An attorney can defend attendants’ legal rights and make sure they are getting the benefits due them through their job. Turbulence might be a normal occurrence on a flight, but injuries are not.