Ask the Expert: Captain Mike Talks Turbulence - United Hub

Ask the expert: Captain Mike talks turbulence

By The Hub team, June 16, 2016

United | Big Metal Bird | Turbulence

Captain Mike Bonner, Manager of Fleet Tech Flight Operations, has an immense amount of experience in flight. He's flown to nearly every corner of the globe at the helm of a variety of aircraft, and has encountered all types of turbulence along the way. We sat down with him to get a pilot's perspective on turbulence.

What is it like in the pilot's seat when you encounter turbulence? When do you get concerned?

It's usually just another day at the office, because we encounter mild turbulence quite often. It's something passengers barely notice and there are no risks involved with flying through it. I get concerned — for my passengers and crew in the cabin — whenever I hear air traffic control or other airplanes start talking about turbulence levels of moderate or greater — and we do everything possible upfront to stay out of those areas.

Describe your process of dealing with clear air turbulence when you encounter it. What are the steps you take in the cockpit?

1. Get everyone in the cabin seated — hopefully they already were. I put the seatbelt sign on and make a cabin announcement telling passengers and flight attendants to be seated immediately.

2. Report the situation to air traffic control for two reasons: to try and get advice on where smoother air is and to warn airplanes behind us of what's ahead of them.

3. When it's clear again, I call the flight attendants and allow them to get up, move around and see how everyone is doing.

4. When we can confirm with high certainty that the flight will remain smooth, I will turn off the seatbelt sign so passengers can get up.

What would you tell a good friend if they were fearful of turbulence?

Turbulence of some form or another is a fact of life when it comes to flying, but remember, our airplanes, pilots and controllers have a lot of great tools to keep us out of the bad stuff. We also have a good "heads-up" system to let us know when we're going to fly through the mild stuff. Then of course, there is the airplane itself — it is designed to handle turbulence at levels we can't even imagine, so even though it may not feel like it at the time, as long as we're all wearing our seatbelts we're going to come out the other side just fine.

In the event of turbulence, either during or before, what is your interaction with dispatchers and air traffic controllers?

The quality of "the ride" is the most talked-about subject between pilots, dispatchers and air traffic controllers. We all have it down to a science and have specific names for the different levels and types of turbulence. Ninety percent of the conversations we have regarding turbulence takes place during the "before" period, so we're able to avoid the bad stuff. To avoid areas of known turbulence, dispatch and air traffic control will guide us along the best path possible — both horizontally and vertically — using radar and controller-to-pilot communication to figure out the best flight path.

What is the most important thing passengers should know about turbulence?

Stay buckled when you're in your seat and don't spend any more time out of your seat — when the seatbelt sign is turned off — than you need to. If unexpected clear air turbulence hits when you're not sitting down with your seatbelt fastened, grab ahold of something and sit down quick, even if it's on the floor.

What's something interesting a passenger would never know about turbulence?

Turbulence can be a result of other airplanes — every airplane wing tip creates a horizontal swirling wind. We — airlines and air traffic control — have that covered as well. Spacing requirements between airplanes keep us clear of any rough air coming off another airplane.

Turbulence is something to take seriously, but not something to spend too much time worrying about. As Captain Bonner pointed out, through close coordination and communication, most turbulence is avoided before it can even begin. However, should you experience turbulence during a flight, it helps to remember to stay calm and listen to crew instruction. Turbulence shouldn't be more than a little bump in the road.

Working to bring people home – repatriation flights underway

By The Hub team, April 07, 2020

When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.

We have operated more than 85 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 12,000 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.

Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.

Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:

  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Managua, Nicaragua
  • Roatan, Honduras
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Munich
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo-Haneda
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Melbourne, Australia

We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.

We’re making some key changes to the MileagePlus program for you

By The Hub team, April 05, 2020

Throughout these unprecedented times, we remain committed to doing what is right and fair for all of our MileagePlus® members and are pleased to share the steps we are taking to reciprocate the trust and loyalty that you have placed in United. These steps include not only Premier status updates, but also an extension of current memberships and subscriptions. The updates will happen automatically over the next few weeks — there's nothing you need to do.

The big news: If you have current 2020 Premier status, it will be extended to January 31, 2022. At a minimum, you will enjoy the same published status next year that you have today, up to and including Premier 1K®.

For the 2021 status year, United is reducing thresholds for Premier qualification by 50% for each status level, to make reaching an even higher tier easier. You'll still need a minimum of four flight segments on United or United Express®.

2021 status

Earn Premier qualifying flights

and PQP

… or meet a higher PQP goal

















We're also doubling PQP for United Explorer cards and quadrupling PQP for the United Club cards.

At the same time that we're decreasing the published program's PQP requirements, via a promotion from May 1 – December 31, 2020, we're doubling (for United Explorer cards) or quadrupling (for United Club cards) the maximum number of PQP that Cardmembers can earn from card spending during 2020 to help achieve a higher level of status than you already have. More details to come later.

1K® and Platinum members, we're increasing your ability to upgrade by extending PlusPoints expiration dates by six months and expanding Skip Waitlist.

  • This means a six-month extension of any PlusPoints set to expire on or before January 31, 2021.
  • Last year we introduced Skip Waitlist on select flights as a benefit to 1K members, giving you more opportunities to confirm an upgrade request at the time of booking. This benefit will now be available for the rest of 2020 in a significantly expanded selection of long-haul international regions and will have expanded availability in 2021 as well.

We're extending all annual membership and subscription benefits by six months.

  • We want to make sure your benefits are still there when you're ready to start flying again. That's why we're extending purchased United Club℠ memberships purchased directly from United and purchased subscriptions for Economy Plus®, United Wi-Fi℠ and checked bags by six months. You should see this reflected in your MileagePlus account soon.

All electronic travel certificates now have 24 months to be used.

  • If your travel plans have been disrupted, and you have an electronic travel certificate from us for the value of your ticket, you now have two years from the date it was issued to book a new flight, as well as up to an additional 11 months to travel. This includes all currently valid and all new electronic travel certificates issued on or after April 1, 2020.

We have removed some redeposit fees for the rest of the year.

  • We are currently waiving all award redeposit fees for travel through end of May 2020.
  • We are now also waiving all redeposit fees for award ticket cancellations made more than 30 days before departure for the remainder of 2020.

Finally, we'll be making it easier to earn status in 2021 for the 2022 program year. We recognize that getting back to travel will occur at a different pace for different members. Keep an eye out for changes we will make to help you earn status in 2021 for 2022, as we'll share details later this year.

Over the years, you have placed your trust and loyalty in United, and we are honored to do the same for you. We are all in this together.

Status extension to January 31, 2022, applies to all members that met the published criteria of the MileagePlus program in 2019, status match associated with the United/Marriott Bonvoy partnership and status offered as part of a Sales nomination. Status granted from other programs and policies may not apply.

How to change your flight, or cancel and rebook later

By The Hub team, April 04, 2020

To help with the uncertainty around future travel — be it summer vacations, conferences, events and more — customers now have until April 30 to make changes to, or cancel, any travel they have booked through the end of the year without fees. This is in addition to existing waivers already in place which allow customers to change or cancel plans for travel through May 31.If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.

Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.

Certain tickets cannot be changed on or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.

Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.

Change your current flight:

  1. On the homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
  2. Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
    • Date of travel or destination
    • Add a flight
    • Remove a flight
  3. Select "Continue" and choose a new flight option
  4. Continue through booking to confirm your new flight

Note: The change fee will display as waived, but any difference in fare may apply.

Cancel your flight and rebook later:

  1. On the homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your reservation information to retrieve your flight
  2. Select "Cancel flight"
  3. Confirm flight cancellation
  4. If you have future flight credit, when you return to the reservation, select "Use Future Flight Credit" to shop for new flights and apply the credit towards a new flight.

Canceling or changing an award flight:

When you select "Cancel flight," you will have the option to cancel your award reservation and redeposit the miles or to cancel your award reservation and use those miles for another trip in the future.

*We're currently experiencing heavy traffic to If you experience an error while trying to change or cancel your flight, please try again later.

Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:

​Start on the United homepage: ​

User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.

  • If you're not signed in or you're a guest user, enter your confirmation number and last name.
  • If you are signed in, you can select a trip from your current trips or select the 'Find another trip' link.
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