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Increasing Flight Turbulence Likely to Result in More Injury Claims

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Airplane in the sky, representing turbulence

A recent Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore experienced severe turbulence, resulting in one passenger’s death and multiple injuries, prompting an emergency landing in Bangkok. Researchers have found that rising global temperatures, a result of climate change, are contributing to more frequent and intense turbulence. The study indicates that the incidence of severe turbulence has increased by 55% from 1979 to 2020, with projections showing a further rise as atmospheric conditions continue to change.

Turbulence is primarily caused by factors such as thunderstorms and wind shear, with the latter being affected by changes in wind patterns and jet streams due to climate change. Clear-air turbulence, which occurs without visible storm clouds and is harder to predict, is also expected to increase. Technological advancements like LiDAR could help in detecting this invisible turbulence, although currently, its high cost and size limit widespread adoption. Pilots rely on radar and turbulence projections to navigate these challenges, but passengers are still advised to keep their seat belts fastened during flights to mitigate risks from sudden turbulence.

Although commercial flights remain one of the safest ways to travel, increases in severe turbulence will inevitably lead to more injuries sustained on airplanes and growing numbers of injury compensation claims. Under the Montréal Convention, airline carriers are strictly liable for injuries sustained by passengers in the course of a flight up to a limit of 128,821 SDRs (around €150,000). Above that amount airlines can defend themselves against claims by proving that they were not negligent or otherwise at fault.

Here are just a few more examples of recent flights that endured turbulence, resulting in injuries to the passengers and crew.

Qatar Airways Flight QR018 – May 2024

This flight encountered severe turbulence over Turkey, resulting in injuries to 12 people—six passengers and six crew members. The turbulence caused some passengers to hit the cabin ceiling. Upon landing in Dublin, emergency services assessed all passengers, with eight being taken to the hospital. Qatar Airways stated that a small number of passengers and crew sustained minor injuries and were receiving medical attention​.

United Airlines Flight 85 – March 2024

This flight from Tel Aviv to Newark experienced severe turbulence while attempting to land. Seven passengers were hospitalised after the plane made an emergency landing at Stewart International Airport in New York. The incident occurred during an aborted landing attempt at Newark Liberty International Airport​.

Delta Air Lines Flight 175 – August 2023  

During its descent into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, this flight from Milan encountered severe turbulence, resulting in injuries to 11 passengers. The turbulence caused sudden jolts, leading to lacerations, broken bones, head wounds, and loss of consciousness for some passengers​.

Hawaiian Airlines Flight – December 2022

This flight from Phoenix to Honolulu experienced turbulence that resulted in 20 passengers being hospitalised. The injuries ranged from minor to serious, illustrating the unpredictable nature of turbulence and its potential to cause significant harm​.

Legal assistance for passengers injured on flights

If you have sustained an injury on a commercial aircraft due to turbulence, or as a result of the actions of a negligent third party, you may have grounds to bring an injury compensation claim. At McCarthy + Co Solicitors LLP, our personal injury team has many years of experience in helping our clients bring successful aviation claims. Arrange a time to speak to one of our solicitors today by completing our highly confidential contact form.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.


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