As It Turns Out, Ugly Crying On Airplanes Is Totally Normal

Travel Tips

As It Turns Out, Ugly Crying On Airplanes Is Totally Normal

Apr 6, 2017

On a recent flight overseas, I started sobbing in the middle of Bad Mom’s. Not because it was the worst movie I’d ever seen, and I felt depressed that I’d wasted two hours of my life on it (though it was, and I did) but because I genuinely thought it was really, really sad. For anyone not familiar with the movie — it’s a raunchy comedy in which Mila Kunis basically says “Fuck It” to being a working mom and starts partying with all the members of the PTA instead of going to work and taking her kids to school. It’s not even one bit sad, so I felt like a complete loony tune — especially when the flight attendant saw me crying and then looked at the screen to see what I was watching. Awkward.

“No, that’s totally normal,” one of the girls I was traveling with told me when I admitted that I had ugly cried watching Mila Kunis try to balance work and motherhood (UGHHH THAT MOVIE WAS SO BAD). She’s a travel writer and takes a lot of long flights, so I trust her judgment, especially when it’s telling me I’m not crazy.

So yeah — As it turns out, crying on planes really is a totally normal thing to do.

In a 2011 survey, Virgin Atlantic asked their customers to describe their in-flight emotional experiences. 55% of travelers said they had “experienced heightened emotions while flying,” and 41% (!) of men admitted that they had “buried themselves in blankets to hide tears in their eyes from other passengers.”

But… Why? 

According to Virgin Atlantic film critic Jason Solomons, “On a flight, we’re isolated, leaving loved ones or aching to be reunited with them. We’re nervous, we’re tired, we might have had a drink at a time we usually wouldn’t. If we see an image, a scene that reflects our emotional state, frankly we’re suckers. Flying and films is a heady cocktail, the images and feelings so close to your eyeballs, so intimate.”

OK, Jason.

Shortly after the Virgin study came out, The Daily Mail published a story with actual research to back up Jason’s claims. Here are some of the main reasons  they came up with as to why we may experience heightened emotions on a flight:

  • Loss Of Control- “Powerlessness” is a key reason that adults cry in general, according to research done in 2000 by Dr Ad Vingerhoets, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Because we are completely powerless when we’re on a plane (if that thing’s going down, we’re going down with it.), it makes sense that our emotions may be on high alert.
  • Unfamiliarity- “You’re away from the safety of familiar places, isolated from all the people you know and traveling in unstructured time,” says cognitive behavioral therapist Elaine Iljon Foreman. “This can make us think and behave differently.” Plus, you’re flying really, really high above the ground, which when you really think about it is scary and unfamiliar AF.
  • Isolation-  There are few things better than curling up with headphones, a blanket and an airplane movie without any sort of technology or social media to distract you. “Enclosed in a cocoon, you have fewer inhibitions,’ says Rosyln Taylor, a business psychologist, told The Daily Mail. “It’s easy to see why you may be more sensitive to what you’re watching.”
  • Sleep Deprivation- … Especially on long flights. Tired equals cranky, and cranky equals tears. As any parent of a toddler knows, this is not a good combination, especially when you throw in a particularly heart wrenching Pixar film (Never, ever watch Finding Dory on an airplane. Trust me).

To try and protect people from their own emotions, Virgin hilariously started putting “emotional health warnings before some in-flight movies… including Toy Story 3 (worthy.), Water for Elephants (worthy.) and Just Go With It (WTF?!?!). 

… I wonder if Bad Moms would have made the cut, too.


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