Are there pockets in the air?

In professional parlance, an air pockets phenomenon is called turbulence or vortices.
What happens to the plane and passengers when there are air pockets?
What do they stem from? A case that happened. And what to do.
The main effect of an air pocket is on passenger comfort. Passengers were injured in such incidents because they did not fasten their seat belts or were injured by an object that was not secure, so I recommend wearing seat belts and obeying the stewardess’ instructions to secure all personal items in the appropriate places.
It is important to understand that no accident can happen to a passenger plane because of air pockets. Passenger planes are completely unaffected by most types of vortices. The structure of the aircraft is designed, constructed, and tested to withstand far greater efforts than any turbulence we may encounter.
The plane will not fall, break, or overturn. (Except for very light aircraft – see picture).

Passenger planes fly all over the world, and since 1966 no plane crash has been recorded due to turbulences.
In the SimpliFly app, we expand on the reasons for the phenomenon, we cover the topic in the context of fear of flying, the different types of vortices and their effect on flight, and here I will present a summary.
Extremely intense air pockets can interfere with the aircraft maintaining a uniform altitude of flight, however, these can usually be predicted and detected even in real-time, so pilots can in most cases avoid flying into these areas. Sometimes the seat belt signs will be lit in a smooth flight, just because of the expectation of air pockets.

What causes air pockets

Stormy weather

Near clouds, on days when there are winds, and in most cases also rain showers, we are likely to encounter such vortices, especially near clouds. At these stages we can also see rain or snow. The radar system installed in the plane can easily detect the clouds where there are unusual winds and precipitation and the pilots know how to avoid entering areas where the vortices are particularly strong.

Mountain Waves

Near high mountains, winds that hit the mountain become rising currents that cause turbulence called mountain waves. These are not problematic at all, and usually occur near the ground, with passengers wearing seat belts.

Hot air, thermals

On hot days, the air near the ground heats up and rises. This airflow acts as a kind of road bump for the plane, causing jumps. This type of vortex is typical of hot days and happens mainly from noon. These vortices are not intense and except for the discomfort of the passengers do not pose any problem to the aircraft.

Clear Air Turbulence:

generally occur at high altitudes. Their intensity can also reach a high degree of severity, which will interfere with the aircraft maintaining a uniform altitude. Vortices that are particularly severe are rare and can often be predicted and bypassed. In known cases where passenger planes encountered such vortices the only damage was from injuries to passengers who were not wearing seat belts or were hit by unrelated objects. An article on the subject here.
By carefully planning the path it is possible to reduce the exposure to the area with vortices and reduce the feeling of falling into an air pocket.

Wake Turbulence

Each plane leaves behind a trail of vortices. The heavier the plane, the more powerful these vortices are. Air traffic controllers and pilots are aware of the phenomenon, and since all planes in the air are under the same supervision, care must be taken to ensure appropriate distance and prevent flight in the wake turbulence of a previous aircraft.
There may still be cases where the aircraft crosses the trail of another aircraft and a sudden jump is caused. Beyond a momentary fear, and the feeling that we may have fallen into an air pocket even such a vortex is not dangerous to anyone who remains strapped into his seat. Another article on the subject here.

If you are concerned that the wings of the aircraft may break and if you are particularly troubled by their pitching while flying from such an air pocket please expect to read my article about the wings (still unpublished in English), and meanwhile – no need to worry – the wings will not break!
Air pockets in Transavia Flight, Feb 13, 2019
On February 13, 2019, a Transavia flight from France to Israel met an area of unstable weather, and during the upheavals, 13 passengers were injured.
I am not sure what exactly happened there, and what the extent of the damage to the passengers was, but according to the passengers’ testimonies to the media, there was great panic on the plane.
“A feeling of a hole in the air” said one of the passengers, and there were also descriptions of the “700-meter plane dive”. Descriptions of prayers, cries and great fear completed the picture, and I believe these feelings were indeed in the public domain. Very unpleasant, no doubt.

But did the plane really fall 2000 feet? It is clear that passengers have no way of estimating this number, and it is important to understand that the inability to estimate the exact position of the aircraft in the air, in addition to the sense of acceleration of the “jumps”, can make people feel very inaccurate.
Despite all the inconvenience, it is important to remember that no damage was done to the plane, which landed safely at its destination, and to the best of my understanding the injuries of the people were minor. No passenger needed any treatment. It can be concluded that the plane entered an area of clear air turbulence, as described above.
I was asked quite a bit if the pilots could not have known that the plane was flying into an area of unstable air, and the answer is that this type of vortex is not visible in the plane’s radar systems, and if no external report is received, then there is no real way to predict such a phenomenon.
I therefore strongly recommend that you fasten your seat belts whenever you sit in your chairs, even if the seat belt fastening signs are off, and certainly do it when the signs indicate this.
Still, what do you do if the plane jumps?

Remember the facts

The vortices are not dangerous to the plane, there are no accidents caused by vortices.
Anyone wearing seat belts will not be harmed. Make sure you are belted!
On the SimpliFly app (still in Hebrew but should be published in English by early 2021) you can find more information and an audio clip to help in relaxing during flying in unstable weather.
Alon’s three-step air pocket experimente
I have a detailed explanation that shows how our mind deceives us during this turbulence, and I will publish it in a different article.
For now – let’s see how severe are turbulence – an experiment to be done during a flight:

Step one

Sit down and ask the flight attendant for a full glass of water as possible.
If the stewardesses sit in their place and do not get up, it means that the vortices are at an intensity that does not allow service.
But it is also a sign of something else – that the plane is not in an emergency, because if it was, the flight attendants would be busy preparing the plane for landing.

Step two

Did you get a glass of water? Pretty.
This is a sign that the stewards are free to work, the level of vortices is probably insignificant.
Place the glass on the tray in front of you and watch the water.
In the vast majority of cases, you will see that the water does not spill, despite the jumps. Think about what would happen to the water in the glass if you were driving on a road.
Doesn’t it help to understand that the jumps are not significant?

Step three

No less important! Drink the water. It is not only good against dehydration but a signal to our body.
The body that feels an existential danger will often react with a reluctance to eat or drink and therefore drinking will “convince” our body that the condition is not dangerous.
In others, an emergency can cause a feeling of thirst, because most body systems are overactive and the body temperature rises, and even then it is important to drink.
In the vast majority of cases, you will see that the water does not spill, despite the jumps. Think about what would happen to the water in the glass if you were driving on a road.
Doesn’t it help to understand that the jumps are not significant?