Air New Zealand Refunds Passengers After Severe Turbulence

If you fly regularly, you’ve probably experienced significant turbulence before.

I notice it the most when ascending or descending through clouds, and it’s usually over quickly. Even though I’ve taken hundreds of flights without incident, the experience always worries me briefly as some unexpected bumps remind me that I’m in a metal tube hurtling through the air.

But I’ve never had turbulence bad enough to put me off taking the next flight (as unfortunately I remember happening to Ben many years ago), and pilot is usually great at keeping the cabin calm and explaining the situation.

And no matter how bad the turbulence is, it is not the airline’s fault when mother nature decides the flight will be bumpy.

Passengers on a domestic Air New Zealand flight on Wednesday had an unusually rough ride. This happened on flight NZ5715 between Christchurch and Invercargill, when a small  AT72 propeller plane hit 180 km/hour (~111 miles/hour) cross winds.

This lasted most of the (admittedly short) flight, but especially on descent/landing.

Many passengers were physically ill, with around 20% of them vomiting during the flight, but praised the pilots and crew for their professionalism throughout the experience. The airline arranged for emergency services to meet the plane upon the (safe) landing at Invercargill for any passengers still feeling unwell.

I was surprised to see that Air New Zealand has actually gone as far as to fully refund each passenger the cost of their ticket, sending all passengers the following email:

As you will be aware, on approach to Invercargill Airport the aircraft experienced strong turbulence which is likely to have caused some discomfort to you and your passengers.

On landing you would have noticed emergency services were on hand to provide assistance as a number of customers were feeling unwell. In recognition of your experience, a full refund of this flight will be processed.

Bottom line

If I had been on this flight I might have felt like death after landing, but assuming the crew and pilots advised passengers of the expected flight conditions (as it seems they did here) I certainly wouldn’t be looking to the airline for a refund.

Aside from cancelling the flight (which may have angered passengers who did not appreciate the conditions the flight would operate in), the airline did the best they could in the circumstances and did not need to go as far as to refund the passengers for a freak weather event.

But it was certainly a nice gesture that they did and I applaud the airline for going above and beyond like this.

I’m hesitant to ask, because I don’t want to scare anyone off flying, but what is the worst conditions you have flown through?

(Featured image courtesy of XPinger)

Comments

  1. CPH-IAD, mid 2000’s: no major turbulence, but 45 minutes of sublime vibrations during descent. 20% vomiting. Not scary, but REALLY uncomfortable…

  2. Nothing major , but whenever i fly transatlantic (longer flight) , and there is extensive turbulence during my flight, for the next 24 -48 hours , every time I sit down, I have to hold on to something because I feel like I’m gonna fall off from my chair.

  3. Christchurch to Wellington on an NZ ATR. Goodness, what a flight!

    But I didn’t get a refund, so it can’t be that bad by comparison.

  4. DEN-DRO – back in 2011. There was about 9 people on the United CRJ100. As we were about to talk off the pilot aborted the takeoff as lightning had struck the airport, but as we were taxi-ing back he abruptly turned the aircraft right and took off at full power. (The FO got on the intercom during this moment and told us he was given a short window for takeoff and that he had instructed the FA not to leave her seat the entire 40 min flight)

    What followed was some of the most aggressive, pants clenching turbulence I have ever experienced. Luckily most of the people like myself on board were used to mountain storm flying so no one got sick. But otherwise it was wild.

    I still don’t think it compares to Lucky’s Jordanian incident into HK if I am comparing apples to apples.

  5. Approach to Marrakesh, aircraft kept rising and falling significant amounts, I was amazed the pilots didn’t have to go around.

    The only time I’ve applauded on landing (don’t judge me) the whole aeroplane did, and boy did the pilots deserve it!

  6. We have a route often referred to as the “milk route” in Finnmark/Troms in Northern Norway, starting in Kirkenes and ending in Tromsø. If you fly the full route from start to finish it takes around 4 1/2 hours, stopping 6 times if I remember rightly. A lot of 10-15 minute hops, on a Dash 8. It is not unusual in winter to have to try and land at some of the airports mutiple times before landing at a strange angle on one wheel. Strong winds are the norm rather than the exception. I have more than once been on flights where the turbulance is so severe that your rear end does not have contact with your seat cushion. Makes you realise why you always should have your seatbelt securely fastened!!

  7. I flew Invercargill to Wellington in the same sort of aircraft through a storm.

    First we circled the Cook Strait for about 30 mins with the Pilot saying that we may well have to divert to Christchurch, then he decided we would attempt the landing.

    The only time I have happily clapped upon landing.

    But a calm pilot who explains things makes a big difference. Also bumpy flights in Southern NZ might be quite common, as most of the passengers were very calm and said that this often happens.

  8. Early 2000s, Turkish Airlines, Tbilisi to Istanbul, narrow-body jet, hit severe turbulence/downdrafts over the Black Sea. Service cart went hurtling down the aisle, and a flight attendant fell while trying to grab it. She fell face forward with a pot of coffee in her hands and managed not to spill any of it. Lasted about 10 minutes which of course seemed liked an eternity. Very unpleasant but it has become my benchmark for turbulence — nothing worse since then, so whenever we encounter chop I say to myself, well, it’s not like that flight…yet…

  9. 2011 flight with Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Nagoya Japan (Centrair, artificial island), with an A340-400 and a taifun about to make landfall…..we were the last plane in after that the airport was closed ……never have I seen so many “puke-bags” and afraid passengers….but our son (2 years) kind of enjoyed the roller coaster rider. Before landing they were talking about diverting the plane to Osaka but the pilot finally decided to stay on route….very happy passengers after landing.

  10. Early 2000s, had a flight from Rome to Nice, in a windstorm. Conditions were terrible when we took off, and we were in a very small plane. It was the worst turbulence I have ever known of. I hit my head on the headrest and momentarily blacked out. When I came to, everyone was throwing up and many crying.
    The pilot tried 3 times to approach Nice, but the wind pushed us back over the Mediterranean each time. I remember looking down and see the beautiful coast below, and then two seconds later, only water beneath us.
    As we came close to running out of fuel, we eventually landed in Genoa, and were bussed to Nice.. shaky knees and smelling like barf.
    I have had to overcome fear of flying due to this incident. I’m almost there :).

  11. Had a similar flight to the one described above. Many sick people. White-knuckled for three hours. What kept me calm is looking at another crew who had jumped on the flight to go home (one pilot and two flight attendants). They were sleeping like babies. After that flight I did some of my own research on turbulence. According to pilots, turbulence is a comfort issue, not a safety issue. They want their passengers to have a smooth flight.

  12. In the Summer of 2012, I was flying a domestic 4 hour flight in the US into Tampa. We were originally delayed a while but soon took off. Most of the flight was uneventful until we approached Tampa.

    There was a huge storm there which caused us to circle around a bit. After a while it was around 11:30pm and the pilot told us we would go through the storm as we had lost alot of fuel and that we would need to divert soon so it was in our best interest trying to get to TPA.

    He took advantage of a patch of clear weather but soon the turbulence got really bad. The plane was shaking alot and it kept going up and down (like a roller coaster). Then suddenly there was a huge dip which lasted about 7 seconds and I could hear people screaming. I could feel us going down really fast and it was extremely frightening. I also remember there being 2 babies on board crying the whole time so it must have been really scary for them.

    Then suddenly the pilot throttled the engines to what seemed like full power and we climbed pretty high. Then out of no where our plane got struck with (a small amount) of lightning. The captain announced it on the intercom being relatively calm compared to the rest of us.

    The remaining decent was really scary as well. When attempting to land, the runway was really wet and it was still raining. We were able to touch down and although we skidded on the runway a bit and did a crosswind landing but our pilot was really good and got us down safely. At the end the pilot announced that this was the worst turbulence he had ever seen. Everyone thanked the pilot as we disembarked and he really was amazing. Without him who knows what would have happened.

    After this I was scared of flying for like 4 months but I still flew and eventually got back to normal. It took me like a year though to get over being scared of turbulence. And Tampa airport closed down the next day from the storm so we were like the last flight in.

  13. 2 for me.

    Go around at LAX – Heavy storm over LAX at the time, which caused flooding to LA as the rain was so bad. We were the last plane to try before they closed for landings. First approach we had a go around as the plane was so unstable, the go around part was fine, but we had to circle around in the storm, was really awful.

    2nd at DFW – Coming into land on a 777-300ER during a major thunderstorm, thankfully I had drank plenty on the the flight so sort of just bumped around in my seat, but man it was bad.

  14. Can’t say I ever wish to experience turbulence so bad that I would be refunded :O

    I’d say the worst I’ve ever had is a few times:
    -IAD-LHR and had some really rough air just west of Ireland

    -Asia-US. Almost always have significant turbulence on these routes. Luckily I’m in J, but it’s still kind of eerie, since it’s pitch dark, you’re bumping around, and you feel like the only plane in the skies (even though you know you aren’t)

    -ORD-DCA. Over the middle of Ohio, very brief (30 seconds) but extreme turbulence. The lady seated next to me was sleeping and woke up when it started and grabbed onto me. LOL. Luckily it didn’t last long but it was probably the most severe turbulence I have ever experienced. Stuff went flying. I’m sure some people, especially in the back, threw up.

    Overall though I’ve been lucky to not experience turbulence so bad and prolonged that I am scared of flying. I hope I never do.

  15. I’d say the most frightening ones are when Im sleeping crossing the Atlantic and are woken up by the severe shuddering and dropping you get sometimes over the north Atlantic. It’s not that it’s so severe it’s more that you are woken up from a dead sleep.

    I’d also note its always a fun adventure taking the little prop planes in Kenya to the dirt strips in the Mara for a safari- especially in the afternoon when the rains start building up. You really get to see the pilots flying up and over, and down and around, the worst of it. It is amazing how good they are. Every bump is more dramatic in such a small plane and you can see the ground- right there. Wheee!

  16. I always experence alot of turbulence on flights from Texas to Florida. The gulf normally makes my ride really uncomfortable.

  17. Can you imagine UA or AA doing this? BUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  18. 2016, KUL-DOH on an old rickety A346. We endured 30 minutes of the most violent turbulence I have ever experienced, passengers were crying, including my girlfriend. As a travel veteran, I told her not to worry, but even after 20 minutes I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it.

    2012, AKL-SFO on an old rickety 747. It was the middle of the night, most were sleeping and all of a sudden we just dropped from the sky. The entire plane woke up in panic, It was quite the thrill.

  19. The worst was when we were trying to get out from Patagonia. We went from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas on regional Latam. The wind was so strong at Puerto Natales, I thought the whole airplane was going to fly off before we get into it. And while sitting inside, the whole airplane shook continuously as everyone board. Then pilot proceed to increase altitude very quickly. I’m assuming he was afraid random wind will press us down to the ground because it was so strong. The plane needed to go to Punto Arenas to refuel and pick up passengers before head to Santiago. The whole time plane was shaking with sporadic drops. People were throwing up and kids were crying. Wind was so strong at Punto Arenas that pilot tried to land but had to abort. We asked flight attendant what’s going on and was told we may be flying back to Puerto Natales or Santiago?! But I thought Santiago wasn’t possible due to lack of fuel?! Anyway, we did ended up landing while surrounded by fire trucks in case we crash landed…. last time I’ll ever go to Patagonia…

  20. 2016, KUL-DOH on an old rickety A346. We endured 30 minutes of the most violent turbulence I have ever experienced, passengers were crying, including my girlfriend. As a travel veteran, I told her not to worry, but even after 20 minutes I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it.

    2012, AKL-SFO on an old rickety 747. It was the middle of the night, most were sleeping and all of a sudden we just dropped from the sky. The entire plane woke up in panic, It was quite the thrill.

  21. GRU/BOG on a A320.
    I don’t remember that well because I don’t care about this stuff, but I do remember the horror on the face of my friends. It was a nice flight.

  22. In the early 2000s (I think), was flying from Wellington to Palmerston North on Air NZ, or its subsidiary Mt Cook Airlines. Was a very small plane – single seat on either side (maybe 18 seats total). There was only one other passenger, a few seats away. I jokingly called out to the pilots it would have been cheaper to spring for a taxi. We flew into the fiercest storm I’ve ever flown in. It was totally something like out of a movie – I felt we were on a film set in a fake plane, and it was being buffeted in a very exaggerated way. I was pretty worried; I’d never encountered anything like it. It seemed like the pilots were fighting with the weather, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we went down. I yelled out, “I bet that taxi doesn’t seem like such a dumb idea now!”

  23. Full refund sounds good however if you have a round the world ticket with a domestic tag , that sector maybe worth $20. Or will they refund the entire ticket lol

  24. If everybody’s posting this stories, here’s mine. KRL-KHG China Southern.

    China’s ATC is all military and so flight paths are generally fixed. This flight had us going through clouds, ascending and descending pretty much the whole flight. The cherry on top were the smell of cigarettes from the pilots smoking and the FA’s (who didn’t know english) reading an english script about turbulence for me and the other white guy on the flight.

    I tried to five my seat mate at the end and he was confused. I guess it’s a cultural thing.

  25. A small Air Wisconsin flight from DC to Savannah a few years back. We had that sensation of sudden dropping / weightlessness for an unusually long time, and I would’ve flown out of my seat but for the seatbelt. Then, we started descending at an angle I’ve never experienced – not quite a nosedive, but way way beyond anything I’d ever seen, and for a sustained period of time. Zero explanation from pilot or crew. We leveled out and still no explanation. People were hysterical and finally someone demanded an explanation.

    “Turbulence.”

    I fly a ton and have never seen that before or since. And I was with a friend who’s never flown again due to the experience.

  26. New Zealand can get some very windy conditions. Wellington is notorious for strong winds causing closure. Back in 90s i was flying Christchurch – Wellington- Rotorua on Ansett NZ with several hours stopover in Wellington. Returning to airport late afternoon i checked in, then went to toilet. Coming out heard my name paged.Told airport currently closed due strong winds and my Dash 8 flight cancelled. Great service given as had already Rebooked on Mount Cook HS748. Walked over to Mount Cook terminal only to be told they had cancelled flight also! Instantly Rebooked on Air Nelson metroliner! Yes plane getting smaller each time!!!!! When boarded only 5 passengers – 3 ex Ansett, 1 Mount Cook and 1 Air Nelson! First flight to depart when airport reopened around 7pm. Bounced all the way on the hour long flight. Only problem was no meal service and evrything in Rotorua shut by time i got to youth hostel.
    Also had problem with reward tickets in 1994 for mum and i from Melbourne to Wellington, retuning from Christchurch. Booked then Air Nz cancelled tickets saying awards not available at that time. After Nz friends complained to Air nz management , we were rung from NZ and advised all restored! Checking in for flight home agent couldn’t find record. However he simply said that was todays problem and sorted out the problem in minutes!
    New Zealanders know how to provide great customer service!!!

  27. There was a big weather front in the South Island (of New Zealand) on Wednesday when this happened. We tried to get to Queenstown on an Airbus A320 from Auckland but was unsafe due to the same weather event so had to return to Auckland. I then hopped on a flight to Christchurch again an A320), landing at around 9pm we hit very severe turbulence, luckily it was on the descent so everyone was buckled in (we would have hit the roof).

    Agree with some other posters that the Air NZ domestic pilots are generally very good and keep their passengers well informed. The Captain on the aborted AKL-ZQN flight was especially good, talking to us the whole way and even addressing us from the aisle before takeoff warning about the weather.

  28. Late 1980s on a flight from LAX back to the east coast. The plane felt like the air dropped out from it, and we kept dropping. What probably lasted only a few moments felt like forever. The passengers were okay, but the flight attendants were in the middle of service. A cart fell on one of the flight attendants, and as I recall her leg was broken.

  29. This was a few years back flying out of HKG in an A380 towards SFO (the only few months SQ operated that plane on the route), after departure from HKG, I went to sleep in the great SQ Suites only to be woken up multiple times by virtue of being tossed around my bed due to the extreme turbulence going on, even for an A380! Since I was half asleep the whole time I did not realize much but thinking of it later, I can imagine it must be severe for an A380 to shake that much that it kept throwing me out of the bed! Wow…

  30. 2 things. First, as a former Air New Zealand employee, it does not surprise me a bit that they refunded the passengers. They often go above and beyond when circumstances permit. Such as was the case when the volcano in Iceland or Greenland erupted about 10 years ago or so and most all flights in and out of Great Britain were cancelled for the duration. Those pax caught on Air New Zealand’s flights from Auckland to London had to remain in Los Angeles (the regular stopping point) for days. Air New Zealand didn’t have to, but they did put them all up in hotels, with meals for the duration at the company’s expense, and even put employees at the hotels to keep the passengers informed as to when they would resume their journey should they want to continue. We got much praise for this and I could not have been prouder of my company.

    Secondly, as far as turbulence is concerned, I experienced my worst on a go around trying to land in Atlanta from Savannah on summer afternoon about 10 years ago as well during a personal trip. The airport had just closed due to storms as we were about to land, so we went around and while we waited for the airport to reopen, we circled among all the dark and ominous thunderheads, bouncing every which way possible. Anyone flying through Atlanta on a summer afternoon knows the storms I am referring to. I was almost standing the whole time of the turbulence , as sitting during turbulence makes me much more queazy and frankly, a bit scared, regardless of how much I know about aviation. It was the lack of knowing when the next jolt would come and how it would manifest that was the scariest for me. I let out a few yelps that day too each time we were thrown around. And these were harsh jolts. Eventually we made it down, but I swore I would quit my job as I did not want to be flying anymore. And I did soon after. I decided that if I flew I wanted it to be my choice and not my company’s.

  31. UA PVR-SFO flying home as one of the last flights to take off ahead of a storm. The whole 4h flight was so bumpy that the crew stayed strapped in their seats throughout. The turbulence was severe all flight long. I was just glad to land alive.

    UA AUS-SFO got hit by lightning right ahead of landing, making a huge explosion noise and flash of light. The cabin was pretty freaked out, but as soon as I realized what happened I was fine.

  32. I’ve experienced lots of turbulence over the years, but the one that really sticks out for me was a flight from BKK-BWN on a Royal Brunei A320 a number of years ago. The captain informed us of a number of storms in the region before takeoff, and our flight time would be about 30 minutes longer than usual because we had to “fly around them.” The first 30 minutes or so was smooth sailing, and as the crew started serving meals the plane suddenly dove for about 5 seconds, followed by violent shakes and bumps. I remember some food flying into the air and one of the flight attendants falling down. This turbulence continued for the remaining two hours of the flight, and no more meals were served. What amazed me the most was that the people in rows that did receive meals were actually sitting there EATING as if we weren’t being thrown around left right and centre.

  33. EK 414 DXB-SYD
    Over southern india and over WA it was like a roller coaster that you didn’t want to be on, I’d say 20% of the passengers around where I was sitting got sick, thankfully I didn’t

  34. ATR in a 100 kts crosswind!!!

    I find that hard to believe pilots will want to fly in those conditions. They are all lucky to be alive.

  35. It blows my mind that Bens worst flight was over 5 years ago. I remember him going through that experience and then staying on the ground in Seattle for a little while since he was still shaken up. Man time flies.

  36. Check out air turbulence videos on YouTube. Pretty fun to watch since we are not going through it!

  37. In 1970, I flew from HKG to NRT on a JAL stretch DC-8. I was near the front of the aircraft and the toilets were all in the rear, so it was a bit of a hike to get to and from them.

    The meals on that flight were served from front to back. After my tray was collected, I went to a toilet, squeezing past service carts that were providing meals. While I was in there, the seat belt sign went on. I finished up, and a woman hurriedly pushed past me into it as I opened the door. I was heading back to my seat when massive turbulence suddenly struck. Food was flying everywhere and people were screaming. I was next to the galley and curled into a ball, grabbing something for stability. The flight attendants in the galley were doing an amazing aerial ballet, holding on with one hand while slamming cupboard doors with their other hands and their feet. I was finally able to pull myself into an empty seat next to the galley and strap myself in.

    One thought struck me: I wonder what happened to the woman who was in such a hurry to get into the toilet…

    A few years later, traveling from LAX to AKL with a stop in PPT on an Air New Zealand DC-10, there was literally continuous turbulence (albeit not as violent) through both flight segments. It was an overnight flight and seemed like one of the longest flights I’ve ever taken. There were occasional screams when things got pretty rough, and the cabin ceiling panels were flexing.

    When we finally landed in AKL after what felt like an eternity, one of the cabin stewards ran up an aisle, yelling, “We made it! Thank God we made it!” The white-knuckle passengers were noticeably disturbed, but I noticed the smile on his face and was able to laugh about it.

  38. James, I don’t completely agree with you that “no matter how bad the turbulence is, it is not the airline’s fault when mother nature decides the flight will be bumpy”.

    Each flight number has an “ideal” route but each time before a flight, the airlines calculate the most cost effective route given the weather conditions, and this determines the fuel load etc, and this is how a captain can usually tell you the accurate expected flight time, down to the minute, before each take-off.

    The problem is when planning around turbulent-likely weather. There are threshold for basic safety which no one wants to break, for obvious reasons. But airlines do need choose what is an acceptable level of strong-yet-safe turbulence. At what point does an airline decide to avoid an area of weather that is likely to produce significant turbulence (yet safe), and pay more fuel money for a longer route to avoid that patch of weather?

    I completely agree that in some cases turbulence cannot be predicted or avoided, and that we all need to accept that hurtling through the lower stratosphere at 900kmph in a tin can will inevitably have some turbulence, however we do need to question the equations that airlines use in the comfort vs savings scale when it comes to flight plans.

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