I read your website often. Thank you for all the wonderful information!
I hope you can help me with my questions.
My 80-year old mother and I are flying to Munich from Boston in mid-December for a Christmas river cruise. We recently heard that turbulence over the North Atlantic is bad in winter due to increased strength of the jet stream. Also, this year is a La Nina year which makes the jet stream even stronger.
We are both very fearful flyers and my mother is now thinking we should cancel our trip because she is very afraid of encountering long periods of strong turbulence (the kind where flight attendants have to be seated)
Is it true turbulence over the North Atlantic is worse in winter and if so, is it bad every day/routinely?
Is it worse eastbound or west or both?
Could we be in strong turbulence for hours at a time with no relief?
We both know intellectually that even in turbulence we are safe however we are so uncomfortable. I am afraid we will go crazy if stuck for hours in turbulence.
Yes, turbulence in the winter across the North Atlantic is generally more pronounced due to the stronger winds. But that does not mean that the weather would be turbulent every day for there are spells of smooth weather as well.
When there is turbulence, it does not matter if you are travelling east or westbound. What the controlling authority does is that the routes, known as the North Atlantic Track (NAT) are planned such that it takes advantage of the good tail wind and avoid the weather.
The tracks reverse direction twice daily. In the daylight, all traffic on the tracks operates in a westbound flow. At night, the tracks flow eastbound towards Europe.
This is done to accommodate airline schedules, with departures from North America to Europe scheduled for departure in the evening thereby allowing passengers to arrive at their destination in the morning.
Westbound departures leave Europe mid-day and arrive in North America in the late afternoon. The tracks are updated daily and their position may alter on a variety of variable factors, but mainly due to weather systems. So you would be flying on the NAT to Munich from Boston.
As I have mentioned before, turbulence is not be feared as it is an issue of discomfort rather than one of safety as long as your safety belts are securely fastened.
If it makes you and your mother feel any better, sitting position helps a bit. Get a seat nearer to the wings (which is near to the center of gravity) as it may be less bumpy as this is where the airplane will pivot on. The farther you are from the center of gravity, the more motion you're going to feel. Since the center of gravity is over the wings, you're going to feel less motion.
If you decide to travel, I wish you all a smooth flight to Munich.
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