Severe turbulence in the Milan - Newark 01/05/14 (United)


New member
My first flight with United Airlines was quite a thrill. The departure was scheduled for 10:10am but it ended up being delayed by two hours twenty - probably because of the weather in the northeast. So the estimated time was 12:30 and the check-in was slow enoguh to annoy every passenger in the line. I have to admit that we Italians can be very incompetent at times, even though it's untypical of Milan. However, I eventually received my ticket - 26F in a Boeing 767 which is not bad and quite aligned with the wings. What made me take the motion sickness pills for the first time was the forecast by tb_neg that predicted some light-moderate out of MXP. Strange, I thought, since I never experienced enything more than light above the Milan area. Yet the Alps can be problematic, so I thought that this would have been the case. The sky was dark and cloudy: it had been raining profusely during the night. Just before half past twelve we started boarding and, as predicted, the captain announced that we would have had «a bit of a bumpy ride» for the first half an hour, and he also would have asked the flight assistants to remain seated. Bad sign, but I seemed the only one to be allarmed. The taxiing was brief and immediate, so I buckled up and waited for the lift. Takeoff was unsteady but acceptable and I still waited for the adventure. Considering what the pilot said, I expected some moderate. After a while, higher in altitude but still ascending, the plane started shaking sideways in a bizarre way and we where experiencing some light to moderate chop. Then the air smoothed out, but the seatbelt sign was still on. A flight assistant on the microphone reminded us to stay seated with our seatbelts. But nothing else happened. A few minutes later, the pilot made a second announcement: «Ladies and gentlemen, it is the captain speaking. We have asked you to remain seated with seatbelts fastened for another twenty five to thirty minutes: we are having reports here over the alps. I will keep you updated when we will receive reports of smoother conditions.» In the meantime, I looked at our route and saw that the plane diverted consistently eastbound toward Switzerland, but we still crossed part of the Alps. Soon, the plane was flung up, down and diagonally with vigorous violence. I had my headphones on with loud music but I could hear the sound of the aircraft being tossed around like a plastic toy. A girl started screaming in tears. We dropped and were lifted more and more strongly and the sound of the plane hitting the air made audible bangs. The girl yelled at every vertical draft. My vestibular system perceived accelerations I hardly ever experienced. Up and down into what were not bumps anymore, but long lasting jumps. It was fierce.
It lasted for maybe twenty minutes, perhaps less. When we were out of it the pilot announced that we would have travelled higher and westbound until we would have reached smoother air. Over France we had light, then smooth, then light over Ireland, then smooth throughout the ocean and light again over Newfoundland. Descent into EWR was smooth as silk.
I asked the FA before leaving the plane and she said that that turbulence over the Alps was considered severe and that we dropped 2000ft.
I think I will have to fly for years to experience something similar once again.


Staff member
Now that you have severe under your belt, you more or less afraid to fly? And you're right, you aren't likely to encounter that again for a long time, if ever again.


New member
I'm less afraid. However, the reason why I fear turbulence is because I don't want to get sick, so I'm still going to take the usual precautions - eat very very little, no orange juice, no seating in the rear end etc. I would actually prefer severe for a few minutes than moderate for an hour. That would be the worst. Once while we were approaching MIA from a long flight from MAD, we had to endure a good thirty to fourty minutes of continous light to moderate before touch-down and it was very annoying and nauseous.
I actually think that turbulence, if it lasts for no more than ten minutes, can be a fascinating experience. I'm always curious to know the exact causes. In the case of the flight MXP-EWR I think it was due to mountain wave but I don't know whether there was also a jet stream affecting it. I wished I were by the window to see the sky: after the flight, at US customs service there was a boy talking to his parents, marvelled by the mountain peaks spearing through the cloud layers he saw in that crucial moment. But I'm glad I experienced severe; it was as I imagined it to be after all.
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Lifetime Elite
I find the only reason I hate turbulence is the sick factor as well, and the only type of turbulence I do not enjoy is that "free falling" feeling (I've experienced it times), if I knew that it would never happen again, I'd love flying a lot more. I fly frequently and about 85% of the flights experience nothing greater than light.
I once saw in a book a term called "aeronausiphobia" (correct my spelling if I am wrong), where you are essentially scared of air sickness. That is me to a t, I HATE throwing up, so I tend to eat very little before I fly.