Women squeezing eyes closed on a plane.

12 Nightmare Turbulence Stories That Will Leave You Speechless

“Planes don’t fall out of the sky.” I repeated these words to myself out loud, knowing that no one would hear them above screaming fellow passengers as our plane dipped and turned during a one-hour flight.

The experience made me wonder about other travelers’ experiences with heavy turbulence. And the biggest question: Was I lying to myself when saying that turbulence doesn’t make planes fall out of the sky?

I was on a mission to find out.

1. A Broken Skull

Man holding head perplexed.
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On a flight from San Francisco to Denver, one traveler describes being jolted as the plane made a sudden 180-degree turn as it took off. The plane felt like it was dropping, yanking passengers down with it. The cause? Hitting a pocket of air pressure in the sky.

Unfortunately, one passenger on the plane didn’t have his seatbelt on. The turbulence tore him out of his seat, smacking his head into the plane’s ceiling. The man then landed on seated passengers, completely unconscious. Miraculously, the man survived.

2. The Grip of Terror

Scared man on plane gripping seat.
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A passenger on a flight from the United Kingdom to Florida was on a smooth-sailing plane that suddenly hit severe turbulence. The turbulence was so bad that it felt like the engines had stopped, and the plane was free-falling toward Earth.

The passenger was traveling with their mother and sister, both of whom were screaming beside them. However, the passenger managed to withhold their screams, resorting to gripping their seat in terror instead.

3. Lightning Strikes

Plane flying into lightning.
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A plane from Chicago to Atlanta hit turbulent weather during a thunderstorm. As if it couldn’t get scarier for the passengers, a lightning bolt struck the plane.

One traveler recounts how it felt like the plane dropped when the lightning bolt hit them. The passengers were overwhelmed by fear, but the plane landed safely.

4. Flying Food Carts

Flight attendant in the aisle.
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A flight from Salt Lake City hit severe turbulence on its way to Las Vegas. It was unexpected, for the flight attendants were up and about, walking down the aisle with their food carts. Suddenly, turbulence caused the plane to drop straight down ten feet.

To make matters worse, the plane jolted at a 45-degree angle, changing the plane’s trajectory. The passenger described the flight attendants as “bug-eyed,” which was worrisome, given that they’re accustomed to turbulence.

5. Landing Blind

Woman covering eyes on a plane.
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During a flight into Missoula, Montana, passengers had the turbulence scare of their lives. The cloud cover was heavy, preventing them from being able to see how far they were from the ground.

The turbulence was rough, tossing passengers around as the plane descended for landing. Although the plane landed safely, a passenger screamed a swear word as the plane hit the ground, and three people vomited.

6. Disneyland for Kids

Parents holding child who wants to fly.
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A family was traveling from Houston to Orlando, embarking on a Disney trip with their kids. It was a bumpy trip, and one of the family members described the plane as having some “pretty wicked drops.”

The kids laughed and cheered as the parents and other travelers gripped their seats, feeling like Disney rides had come to them. They even asked, “Can we go again?” when the plane landed.

7. Turbulence in the 80s

Scared woman on a plane.
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One traveler recounts their scary experience on a twin-prop flight from Belfast to London in the 1980s. The turbulence lasted the entire flight, with the plane “dipping and undulating every 20 seconds.” The engines also made terrible noises as if fighting to stay in the air.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations were looser back in those days. The flight attendants served a full breakfast despite the turbulence, and a chain smoker had tea spill all over him as he put his cigarette in the ashtray.

8. Crying the whole Flight

Child about to cry on a plane.
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One traveler remembers his experience with violent turbulence when flying from Liverpool to Amsterdam. He said the plane was clipping along smoothly before it felt like something had hit the plane. The plane began shaking violently, and several passengers screamed.

After things settled, the pilot reported that it was just turbulence. The traveler noted that while he’s experienced worse turbulence in his life, the turbulence coming out of the blue worried everyone on board. One woman even cried for the remainder of the flight.

9. No Personal Space

Woman gripping man's arm on a plane.
Photo Credit: Depositphotos.

What’s scary turbulence to one person may not phase another. On a flight from Gatwick to Cologne, one traveler recounts a nervous flyer sitting beside him. The traveler didn’t know the man.

However, every time the plane hit even the smallest bump, the passenger would jump and grab their arm. The stranger’s nervousness ended up wearing off on the otherwise calm traveler.

10. An Ear-Popping Drop

Woman holding ear on plane.
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A flyer remembers mild turbulence turning vicious during a long flight from London to Los Angeles. The traveler had his eyes closed. The moment he opened them, the plane took a massive stomach-gripping dive that caused his ears to pop and passengers to shriek in fear.

To make things worse, the flight attendants looked equally worried. The passengers could see lightning in the clouds below them. Luckily, the pilot kept his cool, speaking to the passengers many times during the approximately 30-minute turbulence debacle. It took five years before the traveler was comfortable flying again.

11. Dangerous Storm With Low Fuel

Plane flying through clouds.
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A man traveling with his pregnant wife experienced the scariest turbulence of their lives on a flight from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis. The plane began experiencing turbulence halfway through the flight, but it wasn’t until the last 15 minutes of flying that the situation turned grave.

The wind and rain were too strong as the pilot tried to land. So, he circled the airport, waiting for the storm to subside. The pregnant wife had to vomit, but the flight attendants banned her from using the restroom for safety reasons. She threw up in her husband’s lap and all over the airplane seats.

The storm was still strong, and the plane’s fuel was running too low to stay in the air after one hour. Luckily, the plane landed safely.

12. A Second Shot at Landing

Plane in a blizzard.
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A tiny plane with two seats on one side and one seat on the other took off after a blizzard passed and a delay due to mechanical issues. One passenger, who was already a nervous flyer, said there was turbulence during the entire flight. But landing was the scariest.

The wind was severe, with a wind gust tipping the plane violently on its side. It was such a strong force that the plane nearly touched the runway. Despite being so close to the ground, the pilot pointed the plane back to the sky and circled a few times before reattempting to land. Luckily, the second time was the charm.

Can Planes Fall Out of the Sky?

Plane landing on a runway.
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Planes can fall out of the sky for many reasons, but turbulence is almost never one of them. A partial exception to this is in 1966, when a combination of turbulence and human error caused a plane to crash over Mount Fuji.

Due to modern aircraft design, aerospace engineers say that a plane wouldn’t crash under those same circumstances nowadays.

What Causes Turbulence?

Plane landing in cloudy weather.
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Turbulence forms from atmospheric pressure, jet streams, storms, mountains, and other environmental factors. Cold or warm weather fronts can also cause it.

Bent Plane Wings Are Normal

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Engineers specifically design airplane wings and vessels for bending in turbulent conditions. Otherwise, airplanes would snap under rigid conditions.

So, the next time you’re on a flight with turbulence and see the wings or body of a plane bending, stay calm. The plane was built to do that; the bending keeps you safe and sound.

The Real Danger of Turbulence

Man who can't get seat belt buckled on plane.
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Don’t let this information fool you; turbulence can be extremely dangerous. But unlike what most passengers believe, what happens inside the plane — not outside of it — makes turbulence a threat to human safety.

People not wearing seat belts may get thrown out of their seats, causing severe head injuries or broken bones. A food cart or other unsecured objects on the aircraft can also go flying and cause injury.

Pick Your Seat Carefully

Passengers on a plane.
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Did you know there’s a place on planes that experiences less turbulence than others? Passengers sitting in the middle of the plane over the wings feel less turbulence than those closer to the front or back.

Admittedly, the difference is minimal. But every bit can help when you’re 30,000 feet in the air.

What Flight Attendants Want You to Know

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Flight attendants and pilots want passengers to know that wearing a seatbelt is the best way to avoid injury during turbulence. As these stories have shown, turbulence can happen out of the blue. So, keep your seatbelt fastened even when you’re cruising through smooth skies.

8 Terrifying Plane Experiences Told by Flight Attendants

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Do you have what it takes to be a flight attendant? Hear stories from brave flight attendants who candidly open up about the scariest experiences they’ve had on board.

8 Terrifying Plane Experiences Told by Flight Attendants

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

Man sleeping on a plane.
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Even the best sleepers can have trouble falling asleep on planes. Learn tricks from frequent travelers to help you catch some z’s during your next flight.

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

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Photo Credit: Deagreez via Adobe Stock.

Americans are missing out on the easy trick to landing free ATM withdrawals in over 200 countries. Are you one of them? Domestic travelers in the U.S. can save hundreds of dollars on ATM fees too.

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Do you live in one of the most dangerous American cities? Some of the cities that qualify for this title will shock you.

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This article was produced and syndicated by A Piece of Travel.

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