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What’s causing mid-flight turbulence

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U.S. - Recently two flights have been hit by unexpected turbulence that resulted in injured crew and passengers.  The NTSB has announced it will investigate one of them; the flight headed for Billings, Montana where five people were injured. 

So, what causes turbulence?  Should you expect a bumpy ride on your next flight?  Turbulence is caused by air movement created by pressure from the atmosphere, jet streams, air around mountains or cold weather fronts or thunderstorms.

Aviation experts say while it may be heart-stopping, it actually feels worse than it is.  Your plane is built to withstand it.  Even in the strongest turbulence, the plane usually doesn't move more than 20 or 50 feet up or down.

Despite the recent high-profile reports injuries actually aren't all that common.  In 2011 for example, about 731 million people flew in U.S. airspace and there were only 33 turbulence-related injuries.

The people who are injured are usually flight attendants and people not buckled up.  Ignoring the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign mid-flight when you're cruising along smoothly is the worst thing you can do. Even minor turbulence can become dangerous without a seat belt.

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