3 Unexpected Learnings from SQ321

Singapore made the news again, but this time in the skies. On May 21, a Singapore Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Bangkok due to sudden and severe turbulence, resulting in one fatality and injuries to dozens of passengers.

This was news for two reasons – death due to turbulence, which is relatively unheard of, especially on one of the best airlines in the world.

AccuWeather, a U.S. weather forecasting company, suggested that swiftly forming thunderstorms near SQ321’s flight path likely caused the severe turbulence.

According to Mr. Dan DePodwin, AccuWeather’s senior director of forecasting operations, a review of satellite and lightning data indicates significant thunderstorm activity near the flight path. “It’s possible the plane encountered a situation like this which thrust the plane up in altitude, causing a severe change in altitude in a short amount of time.”

This surprising incident is an awakening of sorts for us as an increasingly globalized society with seasoned travelers.

These are my three unexpected learnings:

1. Importance of Adhering to Safety Protocols:

  • Seat Belt Compliance: Many injuries during turbulence occur because passengers are not buckled in. Seat belts are very effective in preventing serious injuries, and experts now recommend keeping them fastened at all times while seated, even when the “fasten seat belt” sign is not on.
  • Crew Preparedness: It could have been worse. The ability of the cabin crew to manage unexpected situations is crucial and can be leveled up by the use of VR and simulation technologies. Interdisciplinary training can also better equip crew members to manage both the physical and emotional needs of passengers during turbulence.

2. Effective Communication and Information Dissemination:

  • Timely Alerts: The need for timely and accurate communication from the cockpit to the cabin crew and passengers can make or break the situation. Keeping everyone informed about expected turbulence can help manage anxiety and ensure compliance with safety measures.
  • Post-Incident Information: Providing clear information to passengers and the public after the incident helps in managing the narrative and maintaining trust in the airline. Transparent and proactive communication can enhance trust and loyalty among passengers, while poor handling can lead to negative publicity and loss of business.

3. Enhanced Turbulence Prediction and Management Technologies:

  • Advanced Detection Systems: The incident brought attention to the importance of investing in and utilizing more advanced turbulence detection and prediction systems. Leveraging machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence can significantly improve turbulence prediction models, and better technology can help pilots avoid turbulence areas more effectively.
  • Collaborative Data Sharing Platforms: Establishing a global, real-time data sharing platform for turbulence reports and predictions can enhance situational awareness for all airlines. This collaborative approach can lead to more consistent and comprehensive turbulence management across the aviation industry.

Will you stop traveling?

Likely not. While I have grown to be more aware of things like “stronghold points” around the cabin or seats to avoid in case of turbulence, or what to do if I happen to be standing while turbulence is happening (crouch down), I will still be a frequent flier.

While the incident on SQ321 was tragic, it also presents an opportunity for reflection and improvement. Together, we can better prepare for the challenges of air travel and prize safety more highly (and accurately). On your next flight, just make sure you’re tuning in during the safety briefing. Singapore Airlines is still my first choice for international travel!