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Turbulence happens when unexpected air currents cause bumpiness during flight. It can range from minor shaking to violent jolts that slam passengers and crew about.

Most turbulence is harmless, but severe turbulence can lead to injuries. And in case this happens, what should you do?

Recognizing Turbulence Injuries

The chaotic motion and intense forces of turbulence can cause various injuries. Be alert for any of the following developing after an especially extreme incident:

Head and Neck Trauma

  • Concussion – Banging your head can lead to this brain injury symptom that is usually marked by headaches, mental fogginess, nausea, vertigo, and possible loss of consciousness.
  • Bleeding – Deep cuts on the head or face from being thrown into interior elements like overhead bins.
  • Whiplash – Sudden back and forth neck snapping strains muscles and tendons leading to lingering soreness and stiffness.

Broken Bones and Sprains

  • Fractures – Severe turbulence can potentially break bones in arms, fingers, legs if thrust hard into walls, ceilings, or other solid surfaces.
  • Sprains – Joints in wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles are vulnerable to tears in ligaments from turbulence caused twisting or torque.

Bruising and Swelling

  • Hematoma – Blood pooling under skin causes painful bruising after contusions from loose items or other passengers striking you.
  • Edema – Sprains and broken bones often swell rapidly after injury from turbulence.

Cuts and Scrapes

  • Lacerations – Unsecured objects like phones, books, bags, and drinks becoming projectiles during turbulence can cut skin.
  • Abrasions – Friction burns result from bracing hard against rough surfaces during extreme turbulence.

If possible, visually inspect yourself and feel along bones for evidence of injuries after turbulence. Ask if others nearby saw what happened during the disturbance to understand what caused any pain or trauma you experienced.

Seeking In-Flight Medical Assistance

If injured by turbulence, immediately flag down a flight attendant once movement has stabilized, so they can relocate you and provide assistance. Be prepared to clearly describe what happened and exactly where and how bad the pain is. Here is what they can do to help depending on severity:

For minor cuts, scrapes, bruises:

  • Offer first aid supplies – Bandages, antiseptic pads, and ointment from onboard emergency medical kits.
  • Provide plastic bags and cleaning products for soiled clothing or surfaces.
  • Distribute cold packs or cloth compresses to reduce swelling.
  • Offer over-the-counter oral pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

For potential sprains, fractures, bleeding, or concussion:

  • Relocate to an open seating location if possible so the crew can monitor injury.
  • Have medical professionals onboard evaluate injury and vitals.
  • Arrange emergency transport to the hospital upon landing.
  • Notify the gate crew to have medics waiting when disembarking.

For life-threatening, severe bleeding or head trauma:

  • Initiate emergency landing at the nearest airport so the passenger receives urgent medical care.
  • Notify the airport tower to have an ambulance ready upon unscheduled arrival.
  • Provide any possible medical assistance and monitor vitals until landing.
  • Follow emergency medical protocol for possible death if the condition deteriorates during flight.

Crews are well-trained in first-aid but cannot offer definitive care. They will provide appropriate supplies and pain management possible until you can get proper medical treatment. Attendants may distribute injury report forms to record details on what happened to share with medics meeting the plane.

If damage from turbulence is significant, the airline may pay for or reimburse your medical expenses. However, if they don’t, you may have to file a lawsuit.

Ongoing Monitoring and Care

Here is what to do yourself and expect from medical staff depending on a turbulence injury once on the ground:

For minor bruising, swelling, cuts, and scrapes:

  • Apply ice packs, ointment, and bandages as needed following initial airplane first-aid.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication as warranted.
  • Watch for signs of infection like pus, redness, worsening pain, or fever and treat appropriately.
  • Follow up with your doctor if wounds do not improve to rule out underlying fractures or other complications.

For potential whiplash:

  • Get examined by a doctor to determine muscle, tendon, or vertebrae damage.
  • They may order imaging tests like CT scans or X-rays to check for cervical spine injury or concussion.
  • Soft bracing collars, massage therapy, pain medication, and rest may be part of treatment plans for whiplash.

For potential sprains and fractures:

  • Seek prompt medical evaluation after flight to determine severity through hands-on examination and imaging tests.
  • Based on location and degree of injury, may require splinting, hard casts, or even surgery to set bones and repair ligaments.
  • Recovery plans will involve limitation of activity, elevation and ice, pain and anti-inflammatory medication along with possible physical therapy.

For worrisome head trauma and bleeding:

  • Emergency responders at the airport will transport you via ambulance to the ER for scans, wound care, and transfusions as needed.
  • Hospitalization may be necessary depending on the severity of the head injury, concussion symptoms, or blood loss.
  • After discharge, follow strict directions on restrictions, warning signs to watch for, and return appointment schedule.

Be sure to honestly share turbulence details, medical history, and any medications taken recently when seeking treatment. Provide the injury report started onboard when first evaluated after landing. Doing so ensures you receive proper immediate and ongoing care tailored for turbulence-related trauma.

Can I Sue the Airline for Injuries From Turbulence?

It’s natural to be upset and want to hold the airline responsible if you get hurt from extreme turbulence. However, it is very difficult to successfully win a lawsuit for such injuries unless gross negligence is involved.

Courts typically consider turbulence an unavoidable risk of air travel. Airlines must try to reroute around forecasted storms and patches of roughness when reasonably possible. However, clear air turbulence with no weather warnings as well as rapidly forming storm systems can make avoiding choppy air impossible.

To have a case, you must prove:

  • The airline intentionally put passengers at risk by flying into avoidable, extremely dangerous conditions.
  • Crew neglected turbulence warnings and protocols which directly led to otherwise preventable injuries.

You also must demonstrate physical harm directly resulting from the turbulence itself, not just distress from the incident. And extenuating circumstances like medical diversions or declared emergencies that require traversing rough air make lawsuits even harder.

While rare, if negligence led to severe, life-altering injury or death, consult an aviation attorney to assess legal options. They can determine if grounds for a lawsuit exist and the percentage of blame reasonably attributable to the airline. But otherwise, turbulence-related incidents usually have no legal recourse.

How To Avoid Turbulence Injuries While Flying

While turbulence poses unavoidable risks, you can take key steps to reduce the chances of injury while flying:

  • Listen to crew guidance – Heed all turbulence advisories and safety guidelines to prepare.
  • Keep seatbelt fastened – Leaving it buckled whenever seated reduces harm, especially when signs illuminate.
  • Stow personal items – Secure loose luggage, electronics, drinks and other potential projectiles during the flight.
  • Watch your head – Be mindful of overhead bins and other hard surfaces that could cause injury if thrust upwards.
  • Brace wisely – Put feet flat on the floor, grasp armrests, and avoid locking knees when warned of upcoming turbulence.
  • Protect children – Comfort babies securely in laps and ensure older kids are always belted.
  • Remain seated – Only get up when absolutely essential once turbulence signs activate.
  • Avoid excess alcohol – Overconsumption makes it harder to respond appropriately during disturbances.
  • Disclose health concerns – Inform crew about conditions like pregnancy, recent surgeries or existing injuries that could impact risk.

Staying alert and following these commonsense tips will keep you safe from harm and limit injuries in all but the most extreme in-flight turbulence.

About the Author


Husain Law Firm

Nomaan K. Husain is the founder of Husain Law + Associates — Houston Accident & Injury Lawyers, P.C., a Houston-based law firm specializing in Litigation, Immigration, and Aviation. He is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and Personal Injury Trial Law, with law licenses in Texas, New York, and other jurisdictions. Mr. Husain serves in key community roles, including as Commissioner on President Biden's White House Commission on Fellowships and Chairman of Houston's Asian American Pacific Islander Advisory Board. He's been recognized with several awards, such as the Global Leader Award from the Houston World Affairs Council.

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