Buckle those seat belts, the list of most turbulent airline routes and airports around the world is out.
Turbli, a turbulence forecasting company, crunched numbers from NOAA and the UK Met Office and found the worst air routes for turbulence as well as the worst airports for turbulence around the world. U.S. routes and airports were on the lower end of the turbulence scale.
Most turbulent routes around the world
North America didn’t even make it into the list of the top 10 bumpiest routes around the world.
The most turbulent flight for two years in a row is between Santiago, Chile to Santa Cruz, Bolivia over the Andes Mountains.
Commonalities of turbulent routes are going over mountain ranges and airports near water. Turbli looked at the turbulence every day at 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Analysts averaged turbulence at the average cruising altitude across the entire year.
The company looked at the 150,000 air routes most traveled.
The yearly average turbulence numbers all came in as “light” turbulence, according to Turbli. Turbulence was measured as the eddy dissipation rate or the turbulence intensity without considering the size of the aircraft, according to the NWS. A smaller plane would be rocked violently at a much smaller rate than a jumbo jet.
- Light: 0-20 edr
- Moderate: 20-40 edr
- Severe: 40-80 edr
- Extreme: 80-100 edr.
Most turbulent routes across North America
Nashville to Raleigh/Durham took the top spot in the U.S. But in 2022, Boston to Halifax was the bumpiest.
Turbli points to the jet stream as the main contributor to turbulence. And, the jet stream shifts positions according to weather features and climate cycles like the El Nino-Southern Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation which touched off record low temperatures in January.
“In the U.S., you have the jet stream going over to the area of Seattle and then going a little bit down then a bit up, doing a bend there,” Ignacio Gallego Marcos, Founder of Turbli, told FOX Weather.
The jet stream is simply a river of fast-moving air in the atmosphere. It generally separates cold and warm air. Storms ride the jet stream. There are actually four main jet streams on Earth between the poles and the equator.
Planes like hitching a ride on the jet stream when they travel in the same direction as the current. On average, the jet stream travels about 110 mph, according to NOAA. But based on the weather and atmospheric conditions, it can scream up to 250 mph or more. That boost can shave minutes even an hour off travel time and cut down on fuel.
Since the jet stream is just wind, it can vary and spin up eddies, especially when traveling next to a slower wind. Turbulence is an irregular motion of air resulting from eddies or rising currents that can cause erratic movements of the plane.
Think of turbulence as a bump or a pothole in a smooth road.
“And for the year 2022, that bend of the jet stream was more in the area of Boston border with Canada basically,” Marcos said. “And on the ranking of the routes with highest turbulence was in that area.”
Most turbulent routes 2022, North America
The pattern shifted in 2023 thanks to El Niño.
“But in 2023, we had El Niño which pushed down the jet stream southwards. And that’s where we see turbulence in routes basically from Tennessee, North Carolina, etc.,” Marcos continued. “So it’s the jet stream shifted down and this interaction with the mountains is also leading to a local hotspot of turbulence in that area.”
Most turbulent airports in North America
Airports clustered around the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and the Rocky Mountains took top spots.
Most turbulent airports 2023, North America
Denver and Portland, Oregon flip-flopped the number one and two spots in the 2022 ranking. Las Vegas with its notorious thermals rising off the desert made the list along with Greenland. Turbulence numbers are less dependent on the location of the jet stream than the routes.
Most turbulent airports in the world
Turbli considered the 500 largest airports in the world. They looked at turbulence from the airport out to 62 miles and from the ground to 6,500 feet.
Most turbulent airports 2023, World
As far as the most turbulent countries for air travel, the continental U.S. made it to 68. Hawaii came in at 45. The list is updated monthly.