Fasten your seat belts, folks. Turbulence is everywhere

Officials gather around the Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER airplane, which was headed to Singapore from London before making an emergency landing in Bangkok due to severe turbulence, as it is parked on the tarmac at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on May 22, 2024. A 73-year-old British man died and more than 70 people were injured on May 21 in what passengers described as a terrifying scene aboard Singapore Airlines flight SQ321 that hit severe turbulence, triggering an emergency landing in Bangkok. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

All frequent flyers have heard the pilot’s admonition, which usually goes something like this: “We recommend you keep your seat belts fastened while you are in your seats, just as we do in the cockpit. Unexpected turbulence can occur at any time.”

Unexpected turbulence occurred all right on Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321 from London’s Heathrow Airport to Singapore. Tuesday’s severe weather shakes were so severe as the plane crossed over Thailand that most anyone who was seated without a fastened seat belt was rapidly propelled toward the ceiling. The disturbance injured some 70 people and cost a 73-year-old British man, embarking on what was to be a vacation of a lifetime, his life. The plane suddenly plunged some 6,000 feet, as numerous aircraft tracker sites have vividly shown. That’s a long way to fall, and those passengers on that Boeing 777 jet must have been glad to deplane in Bangkok.

Nobody wants to restrict people from moving about an airline cabin and getting the blood flowing, especially on very long flights. And turbulence, especially turbulence coming without warning, is hardly ever this severe.

Nonetheless, it costs you little to listen to your friendly pilots and keep that lap belt at least loosely fastened while seated at all times, even when the seat-belt light is off. That likely would be enough to keep you in your seat during this kind of incident, rather than finding yourself flying through the air. Given the remarkable safety of the U.S. aviation system in particular, turbulence is the biggest health risk passengers face, and seat belts are a formidable defense against injury.

Just as they are in a car.