Galley Gossip: Is it okay for passengers to dump their drinks on the floor during turbulence?

Dear Heather, Today I heard an announcement in-flight I’d never heard before and was wondering if you make it often, or ever. After serving drinks, it got a little turbulent and the flight attendants had to sit down. A few minutes later the purser came on and said, “if you’re having trouble controlling your drinks, please just dump them on the floor.” WHAT? And waste all this good wine, I thought. I just chugged mine and it was not an issue, but wondered if anyone poured theirs on the floor. What do you think of this? – Frequent Flying Ron

I’ve been a flight attendant for sixteen years and while I have yet to make a PA like the one you heard, I have suggested doing the same thing to passengers sitting near my jump seat after they rang the call light and then held up their drinks in the air during a rough patch of air. This right after the Captain made the announcement, “Flight attendants take your jump seats now!” When you hear those words, you know it’s going to be bad.

There are four types of turbulence: light, moderate, severe, and extreme.Light turbulence causes a slight, rapid and somewhat rhythmic bumpiness without appreciable changes in altitude or attitude. Sometimes pilots refer to it as light chop. It’s the kind that rocks babies, and even a few overly worked flight attendants, to sleep. The seat belt sign may be on, but flight attendants are still able to conduct the food service with little to no difficulty.

Moderate turbulence is a little more intense. It causes rapid bumps or jolts without changes in aircraft altitude. Passengers will feel the strain of their seat belts. Unsecured objects in the galley may dislodge. Conducting a food service or checking for seat belt compliance is difficult.

Severe turbulence causes large or abrupt changes in altitude. The aircraft may be momentarily out of control. Passengers are forced violently against their seats. Walking is impossible. If flight attendants haven’t strapped into their jump seats already, we may not be able to do so and we’ll have to grab the nearest available passenger seat. If there’s not one open, we’ll sit on a passenger – any one will do. Make sure to hold on to us tightly.

Extreme turbulence rarely happens, but when it does it will violently toss an aircraft about, making it practically impossible to control. Structural damage is possible.

According to the FAA’s website, over a million people travel by air every day. From 1980 through 2008 there were 238 accidents involving turbulence, resulting in 298 serious injuries and three fatalities. Of the three fatalities, two passengers were not wearing their safety belt while the seat belt sign was on. Of the 298 seriously injured, 184 involved were flight attendants. So if you see flight attendants sitting in the jump seats when it starts to get bumpy, it’s safe to assume we’re just trying to make sure we don’t end up in a hospital far away from home or be forced into early retirement!

So is it okay to dump your drink on the floor during turbulence? I’m not going to say it’s okay. But I’m also not going to say it’s not okay. What I will say is we’d rather you do what Ron did and drink faster! Or wait for us to whisk it away when it’s safe to be up in the cabin.

Photo courtesy of MikeCogh