“Rough Air” Versus Turbulence

When you travel a lot, you tend to notice the little things — like the fact that the routine pre-takeoff speech has been subtly changed.

Flight attendants used to tell you to keep your seatbelt fastened in case the plane experienced turbulence. Now, you’re instructed to do it “in case the plane encounters unexpected rough air.”

Why the change in the standard speech? I imagine the airlines did some focus group testing and determined that people reacted more favorably to the notion of “unexpected rough air” than “turbulence.” I’m of the opposite view, however. Turbulent air just sounds like air that is upset for some reason; it will calm down eventually. But rough air suggests some meanness and malice, like the air is eager to cuff us around a little bit. The fact that it’s allegedly unexpected just makes it worse, like a thug springing from a dark alley to knock you over the head.

When I’m on a plane I’ll take upset air over angry air, every time.