On 10/15/07, we flew from Chicago to Orange County on an American Airlines 757 flight 1071. We knew the ascent after take off would be a little bumpy due to clouds and incoming storms in the area, but no one, including the pilot, apparently knew everything that was in store for us.
We were supposed to get to a cruising altitude of 34000 feet, but instead, the pilot couldn’t get past 28000 or so due to turbulence. Around 20-25 minutes or so after take off the pilot came on and said that we had encountered an “unexpected rather large unstable air mass” which was centered over Omaha. Since we were SW of there, he couldn’t figure why we were still getting thrown around so much. However, this wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before and he was told once we got past Lincoln, we would be fine. The flight attendants were to stay strapped in.
I don’t know exactly where we were when it all stopped, but it was 90 minutes after take off before we stopped getting bounced around. The pilot came back on and said that we had unexpectedly encountered 140 knot headwinds that lasted longer than they thought it would once they discovered them. Apparently, no one had warned anyone else about them, although there were thunderstorms all across that part of the country. He apologized for the bumpy ride and said he would let us know our new ETA. He also said to watch the news that night because this was so large and unexpected. No news outlet we saw in L.A. that night covered it though.
As it turns out, we still landed on time. Looking at the flight tracker here, the pilot kept slowing down and speeding up, descending and climbing in an effort to get through the turbulence. I had a window seat, and more than once, when made myself look out, I could see the plane being forced a bit sideways as we flew along. As someone who is trying hard to get over a fear of flying, this was quite an experience.
One big question I have. Obviously we got through it, but at what point is is too much headwind? 140 knots seems like quite a lot to try and slog through. Thing is, once you’re up there, it doesn’t seem like it would be all that easy to land or turn back. Given the way we were being tossed around, it seems even a wide turn would be difficult to pull off. Does this happen enough to where it is considered just one of those things?