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FlyerTalk 101

Get Very Emotional on Airplanes? You’re Not Alone

Get Very Emotional on Airplanes? You’re Not Alone
Mariel Loveland

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Somewhere around midnight, the cabin lights dim. You sit there in the darkness, body slumped into a confined seat, face illuminated only by the screen in front of you. You are alone among hundreds of strangers, all facing forward, miles away from your loved ones, 35,000 feet above the ground. There’s no cell phone service, no emails, no Instagram to refresh over and over again. It’s just you and your thoughts in limbo between somewhere you once were and somewhere you will be⁠—and you can’t even tweet about it.

Honestly, it’s not really surprising that airplanes have a tendency to get people a little emotional. Even for this lonely traveler, the number of things I’ve wept about on airplanes includes (but is hardly limited to) the Heathrow Bears, the smell of airplane coffee, turbulence, Anna Faris’ Emmy Award-winning sitcom Moms, a full English breakfast from an airport Wetherspoons, a bowl of British Airways congee, Adam Sandler, and that Oscar-winning movie where that woman falls in love with an oversized fish. I’m also willing to bet I’m hardly the first person who’s welled-up while playing Candy Crush with a rapidly-dying cell phone battery.

The Mile Cry Club, albeit arguably less fun than its raunchy counterpart, has an overwhelming membership. In a 2011 Virgin Atlantic survey, 55% of travelers admitted they had “experienced heightened emotions while flying,” and a whopping 41% of men claimed they “buried themselves in blankets to disguise their tears from other passengers” (and there lies the answer to whether or not airlines launder airplane blankets). Crying on airplanes is such a right of passage that Virgin Atlantic began issuing cheeky “emotional health warnings” prior to certain tearjerking in-flight movies like Toy Story 3 and The Notebook, but in the words of Heath Ledger’s Joker, why so serious? It all comes down to science.

The Psychological Sob

There are a few different types of airplane cry sessions, but one of them is purely psychological. When we get on a flight, we take ourselves with us. This includes the self that just said goodbye to the people we love at the airport, the self that has a crippling fear of flying, the self that is excited to see what’s on the other side, and the self that has work stresses, rent payments and is going through temporary withdrawals from their WiFi addiction.

In short, the baggage we tote onto our flight isn’t limited to a carry-on, and it does get awfully lonely and isolating up there.

“The stresses of travel are enough to trigger anyone who has a baseline mental health challenge,” said Dr. Robert L. Quigley, senior vice president, and regional medical director of International SOS & MedAire, who spoke to CNN.

For the record, that’s about half of all Americans at some point in their lives.

The Comfort Factor

If you get a little blubbery on an airplane, blame your body. Think of it this way: you are probably exhausted after spending two or three hours in an airport, trudging your way through security and waiting for your flight (pending zero flight delays, which is a feat in itself). Your physical boundaries are absolutely marred by notoriously tiny seating, and now you’ve got to sit completely upright for the next couple hours or so listening to the constant whir of a jet engine. Did I mention you probably woke up at 5 a.m. just to make it there in time? And that you’re completely alone shoved in an aisle seat next to a person who has the bladder the size of airline peanut? Honestly, you’re only human. Let those tears of exhaustion rain down.

The Cabin Pressure Cry

The reason we cry on airplanes goes a bit deeper than simply being a little tired and uncomfortable. According to The Telegraph, your mile-high blues might have something to do with the fact that we’re all slightly oxygen-deprived en route.

High altitudes have thin air and low levels of oxygen. Though airplanes generally keep cabin pressure at a level equivalent to a 5,000 to 8,000-foot altitude, this still puts us in a slight state of hypoxia (or oxygen deficiency). For reference, the lower limit is about the same altitude as Denver, Colorado, which is high enough that it takes twice as long to cook a hard-boiled egg. Needless to say, the oxygen levels up there have a tendency to make people weepy, sleepy and all-around cranky.

The Vulnerability

Flying undoubtedly puts you in a vulnerable state. We’re at the mercy of the pilot and have absolutely no control over our surroundings — from the air temperature to the fact that we’re careening through the sky at 400 to 500 knots. At best, we can pick from two options for our in-flight meal. That doesn’t exactly provide the most settling feeling, and even some slight unease might tip us over the edge while watching another Nicholas Sparks movie adaption.

The Alcohol

When in doubt, blame it on the juice. Alcohol has a knack for pulling emotions out of everybody, and the effects are thought to be a little bit stronger at high altitudes. Basically, just nursing a single airplane cocktail while watching Up has license to make you a little weepy (if Up didn’t do that on its own). Throw in an over-the-counter sleep aid, and it’s a perfect storm for a good, old fashioned sob session.

 

[Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. MrGood

    October 19, 2019 at 11:46 am

    “a whopping 41% of men claimed they buried themselves in blankets to disguise their tears from other passengers”

    That’s probably just the alcohol doing its job.

  2. mandolino

    October 21, 2019 at 5:53 am

    I do get unaccountably weepy when suffering jetlag. Certainly compounded by alcohol although it doesn’t take much.

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