We’ve all been there. You settle into your cramped plane seat, put on your headphones and cue up an innocuous-looking film. Half an hour later, you’re sobbing at an innocent scene that would never have made you cry on the ground.
A study conducted by Virgin America found that 55% of people feel heightened emotions while on a plane, and 41% of men admit to crying when they watch films in the air. In response to the study, Virgin began issuing ’emotional health warnings’ before especially heartstring-tugging movies on their flights.
Flights can provoke emotions for many reasons. Travelling in general is stressful and often involves unpleasant situations. Dr. Randi Mackintosh, a Florida psychiatrist, spoke to Thrillist about emotions while flying. He said: ‘By the time you sit down, you’ve probably been stressed all day.
‘A lot has been building up. When you get up in the air, it might be the first time you’re realising how the stress is impacting you.’
Flying can also be lonely, and involves flying towards or away from people or places you love. You might have just finished a vacation you’ve been saving all year for, or are flying away from your significant other. ‘Our feelings get neglected when we have distractions like work, catching up with friends, or email,’ Mackintosh says. ‘Our distractions are minimised when flying and we’re forced to focus on the issues we’ve been dealing with or putting aside.
‘Whoever we are on the ground is all stripped away,’ he says. ‘We’re in a vulnerable position up there, and even people who are comfortable flying have some concern. And when we’re vulnerable, all our emotions get heightened.’
A 1988 study found that flying can have a severe effect on moods. The decreased oxygen intake you experience on a plane can make you aggressive and sad.
All of these effects combine to make crying on a plane way more likely than crying on the ground. You have space to feel your emotions and time to experience them, and this makes itself known through tears spurting from your eyes during the opening scene from Up, when Jack and Rose say goodbye for the last time in Titanic and when John Coffey dies in The Green Mile.