Extreme Turbulence

If you’ve been on an airplane, you know what turbulence is. From bouncing up and down to rolling from side to side turbulence can be unsettling.

Believe it or not, on February 1st I took the return portion of my December vacation flight. I wrote about my first class experience on Asiana Airlines almost two months ago. Now, I wish I had been on vacation that whole time…but alas, I had to go back to work after the new year. After a long month working in Bangkok I was really looking forward to the second part of my first class vacation flights on Thai Airways. As I mentioned in my Asiana post, I travel regularly for business but can only book coach fares. If I want to fly business class, I use my own miles to upgrade. Once a year I splurge and use a ton of miles to take a flight in first class. For this trip I spent 160,000 miles to fly first class from LA to Seoul and business class from Seoul to Bangkok on Asiana, first class from Bangkok to Rome on Thai and first class from Rome to DC on United.

I arrived at the airport in Bangkok and was immediately impressed with the first class customer service experience – it was the complete opposite of my experience with Asiana. The highlight of the entire experience for me was the complimentary 1 hour massage in the Thai Lounge spa. The first class lounge is really nice and what you would expect from a first class lounge. When it’s time to board your flight, you’re escorted to the gate bypassing all lines. It’s really a nice luxury. Onboard I was seated in 1A. The crew was welcoming and gracious and I knew this would be a great flight. We were given Tumi amenity kits (I could seriously hoard those!), PJs and menus.

Shortly after taking off we were served dinner and it was very good (sorry, no pictures of food or drinks this time…I think you’ve all seen enough of those.) Towards the end of the dinner service the flight began to get a little bumpy. The flight crew was being bounced around as they cleared trays. It was just about that time that the pilot turned on the seat belt sign. When the turbulence calmed down enough for the crew to get out of their seats they set up the beds. That’s another difference between my Asiana experience and this one. This was actually the first time I’ve been in first class where the crew turns your seat into a bed! I changed into my PJs and got comfortable – we had another 10 hours ahead of us.

As I drifted off to sleep (something I find very hard to do on airplanes) I noticed the turbulence picking up again. The seatbelt sign was turned on and the pilot made an announcement that the crew should be seated because they were expecting some strong turbulence. Strong was the understatement of the century! I have flown hundreds of flights, millions of miles and experienced all kinds of turbulence – or so I thought. I would describe the turbulence we encountered on this flight as violent. Officially, the airline described it as “major turbulence lasting for an extended period of time.” Even the flight crew was shaken by this turbulence.

When it started I was lying down, in my “bed”/seat with my seatbelt loosely around me. After about 15 minutes of some very strong turbulence I decided to put the seat in the upright position and tighten my seat belt. We were bounced, tossed, turned and shaken for almost 45 minutes. There were times when the plane would suddenly drop and turn to the left or right. There were times when the shaking was so strong that things were tossed about the cabin (I know understand why they tell you to put things underneath your seat or in the overhead!)

While the “major turbulence” lasted about 45 minutes, the entire flight was pretty bumpy. Towards the end of the flight I had the opportunity to speak with the flight purser – the crew member in charge of the cabin – and she said it was one of the most turbulent flights she can recall in her 18 years with the airline. There were four people injured during the flight – all very minor injuries. One person didn’t head the seatbelt warning and banged into a seat when trying to get to a toilet. Two people received bumps from objects that were tossed about the cabin and one person was hit with a flying water bottle. There’s a doctor onboard all long-haul flights for Thai and he was seated behind me in first class. The purser told me that none of the injuries were serious and none required any further medical attention. In addition to the bumps those four passengers received, the crew said that many people had experienced air sickness. Not surprising given that I felt like I was in a food processor for the better part of an hour.

As much as I looked forward to this flight, I really wasn’t expecting to walk away writing about the turbulence. While I was really glad I was in first class, I wish I had been able to enjoy the experience a little more J Have you experienced “major turbulence?”

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