Galley Gossip: A question about turbulence and being scared at work

H i Heather,

Are you ever afraid to fly? Or were you in the beginning of your career? I have recently been invited to training for a FA position with a major airline. It has been a dream of mine my whole life! I am so excited….however….sometimes I am nervous to fly! I fly A LOT. Usually a few times a month. Sometimes I am perfectly fine, and other times I am nervous. I’m worried about this and wondering if you ever felt this way?

I was on a flight last month from MCI to SMF with a stop in DEN and within about 3 minutes of take off we hit severe turbulence. I have never felt turbulence that strong before and neither had my husband who also flies at least once a week. We had the whole zero gravity thing going on, the plane was actually rolling from side to side and I’m positive that if someone hadn’t had their seat belt on they would have hit the ceiling. I mean, it was pretty darn scary! After we reached altitude and smoothed out I went to the back and talked to the flight attendants. One of them told me that it was probably one of the roughest take offs she had ever experienced. I know it’s not common but I was terrified!

Well, thanks for any advice. I WANT to do this, I just want to make sure that I’m not going to be scared at work everyday!



Congratulations on getting hired with a major airline! Flight attendant training is not easy. A lot of information will be thrown at you all at once. There will be late nights, early mornings, and lots of caffeine, but whatever you do, don’t get tired and quit! It’s going to be the longest seven and a half weeks of your life, but you’ll be glad you did it when those silver wings are pinned to your blue lapel.

As far as turbulence at work goes, the only way you’re going to know if you’ll be scared or not is to go to work and test it out. If you are scared, I’d give it a few months, or as long as I could take it, just to see if flying is something I could get used to. Worst case scenario is you’ll have to quit. So what. At least you gave it a shot, gained an amazing experience, and won’t spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been if you’d given it a shot. Being a flight attendant is a great job, but it’s not for everyone.

Thankfully severe turbulence is rare. I’ve only experienced it three times in my fourteen years of flying. When you go through training, Leesa, you’ll learn all about turbulence, the four different kinds (light, moderate, severe, extreme), and how you should always take care of yourself first, which means sit down, fasten your seat belt, and worry about the beverage service later!

Hundreds of flight attendants get hurt every year from ignoring turbulence. We get so used to it, I believe, we try to do things we probably shouldn’t be doing when the ride gets a bit too bumpy, like serving those last three rows drinks when we should probably wait and serve them later. When I first started my flying career, it was mandatory to do seat belt checks as soon as the seat belt sign went on. A few times I remember barely being able to walk down the aisle and thinking to myself, how can this be safe? Now flight attendants only check belts if we feel comfortable doing so, meaning we feel safe enough to walk through the cabin. What good is a flight attendant if that flight attendant hits the ceiling during a compliance check and has to be taken off the flight in a wheelchair?

As far as being a nervous flier, I am not afraid to fly and have rarely ever been nervous in flight. Turbulence does not scare me, but it’s what can happen to those who are not seated with their belts fastened during turbulence that I find frightening. I’ve heard horror stories from flight attendants that include all sorts of broken bones and back surgeries, but not one of those stories involved a seat belt. Ninety-nine percent of the time the Captain will give the flight attendants a warning so we have a chance to put things away and take our seats. But turbulence does happen even without warning, which is why it’s so important for passengers to remain in their seats with their seat belts fastened at all times- even when the seat belt sign is not on.

Like I said, I’ve only experienced really bad turbulence three times, and the first time happened on a training flight for Sunjet International Airlines, a low cost carrier I worked for years ago. I still consider that flight the most frightening flight I’ve ever worked in terms of turbulence and scared passengers. We were working a Super80. Except for the side wall lights that had been flickering on and off throughout the flight, it was dark in the cabin. The Captain had told us to take our seats, so we did, and there we sat for quite a long time. Nothing happened. The ride was smooth. Just when I wondered why we were sitting, we suddenly began to violently rock side to side and those flickering lights only made the situation worse. Passengers began to scream, a few prayed, and one even lit up!

“Put that cigarette out!” I yelled from my jumpseat

“This could be my last flight!” The passenger screamed back.

While it was an eerie flight with the flickering lights and the bumpy ride, the turbulence didn’t scare me half as much as the hysterical passengers.

A few months ago on a flight from New York to Los Angeles the flight attendants were told to prepare for landing a little early due to turbulence in the area. I’d been flying the same route for a few days in a row, so I thought I knew what to expect, which is why I had already done my compliance checks, taken my seat, and had my belt strapped across my lap, but nothing prepared me for what happened next!

As soon as the Captain asked the flight attendants to take their seats, the flight attendant in the galley attempted to lock up the inserts of sodas (so they wouldn’t fly out and hit us in the head), but because she took those three extra seconds to secure the galley, she did not make it back to her seat in time. Onto the floor she crashed. When she tried to stand up, holding onto the walls for support, she fell back down. Again she stood, but ended up landing in my lap. I held onto her tightly as we bounced up and down, my fingernails digging into her skin. If not for my tight grip, she would have hit her head on the ceiling. After it was over, I had a difficult time releasing my fingers from her waist. Of course the turbulence was scarey, but it was the flight attendant who fell on the floor and then ended up in my lap that could have been seriously injured that worried me the most.

On my last flight from Dallas to New York , Colleen, my coworker, and I had just pulled the beverage cart to the front of the aircraft. The ride was smooth, so the seat belt sign was off. I had just served a passenger a vodka tonic and had collected $6, when we experienced our first hard jolt. Clear air turbulence, the captain later told us. I grabbed onto the seats and looked at Colleen who was already looking at me, eyes wide. We didn’t say one word to each other as we quickly rolled the cart to the back of the aircraft. Passengers actually tried to stop us for drinks.

“Flight attendants take your seats!” boomed the Captain’s voice over the PA system. We were only halfway to our jumpseats. I didn’t think we were going to make it.

“Should we angle the cart?” asked Colleen, as we continued moving backwards down the aisle at a fast pace.

“I don’t know!” I said, not about to stop for a second. Somehow we kept on moving, holding onto the seats and overhead bins for support, until we were almost at our seats.

Because I was on the far end of the beverage cart and my jumpseat was behind the last row of coach seats, I knew I wasn’t going to make it, so I sat down in the first open passenger seat I could find and buckled up. Thank goodness the flight wasn’t full. The passenger seated at the window looked green, so I handed him the barf bag located in the seatback pocket in front of me. Colleen took a few more steps, angled the cart and locked the break, before strapping into the jumseat located in the galley. I threw her a blanket and she tossed it over the pots full of hot coffee and tea. For ten minutes we rode it out.

At some point a passenger seated in the middle of the cabin got up and ran to the back, stopping at the cart blocking the aisle. “Sir, you need to be in your seat right now!” Colleen barked.

Without saying a word, he ran back to his seat. I figured he was sick and wanted to use the bathroom. What else could it be? A few minutes later, after the worst of the turbulence was over, he got up again, even though Colleen and I were still strapped into our seats.

“The seat belt sign is still on!” I said as he passed by. Passengers seated nearby just shook their heads.

Before Colleen could tell him to go back to his seat again, he said, “Ummm…are you still selling snacks?”

Now this is what scares me, Leesa, passengers asking for snacks when the captain has ordered the flight attendants to take their seats, not turbulence. Because one big jolt and this guy who wants to purchase a cookie is now on the floor and I’ve got to take care of him. But not until I take care of myself, first.

Hope that helps, Leesa. Good luck at flight attendant training! Make sure to write back and let me know how it’s going.

Heather Poole

To read more about turbulence, check out Kent Wien’s Plane Answers post, when are pilot’s afraid of turbulence.

Photos courtesy of (wings), (flight attendant) Cartel82 – flickr