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Why do we cry more when we’re flying?

July 11, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59People cry more on aircraft than on the ground, becoming somehow affected to a greater degree by tear-jerking movies or songs.

Although the phenomenon has been discussed informally on the internet and between friends, little or no scientific research seems to exist.

In 2011, Virgin Atlantic ran a survey asking customers to describe their in-flight emotional experiences. Overall, 55% of travellers said they had “experienced heightened emotions while flying”. A surprising 41% of men stated that they had “buried themselves in blankets to hide tears in their eyes from other passengers”.

Sad films, or those with scenes of great heroism, self-sacrifice or unrequited love, tend to elicit stronger emotions and produce a greater reaction when experienced in flight.

Some say it’s because finally sitting in an aircraft after a hard day, maybe having a drink or two, lets you relax and drop your guard, particularly if travelling alone and flying long-haul. You may have undergone a challenging day of getting to the airport, the culmination of a lot of preparation. Now, at last, you can relax.

Expounding on a similar subject a few years ago, British writer Peter Myers conducted a few informal interviews about heightened emotions in flight.

Some observations:

“Fashion exec Emma puts the lack of any other stimulus and therefore total immersion in what’s on-screen, while former UK Foreign Office worker Debra points to our virtual anonymity on a plane allowing us to be subconsciously less guarded than usual.

“Jewellery designer Ella thinks that it’s down to the constant flow of in-flight booze, perhaps also the stress release from last-minute craziness before boarding.”

Feedback from airlines and passengers suggests many passengers like to watch classic movies in flight, with some of the most popular content on inflight entertainment systems being second-run films between five and 10 years old.

Perhaps some people really enjoy the weepy bits. Others contemplate their lives more deeply during a flight. Being airborne can see you left alone for a lengthy period with little to do other than read, watch, drink and think, while your life is in the hands of the pilot and crew.

Written by : Peter Needham

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