Travel

Do You Cry On Airplanes? You're Not The Only One.

Informal surveys suggest that as many as half of passengers have cried on an airplane at some point. Plenty of people claim that even though they aren't usually criers, something about the friendly skies makes them weep. Though scientists have never studied the phenomenon, experts point some fascinating reasons for it.

Why It's Noteworthy

If you've ever found yourself inexplicably crying at Toy Story 3 on a cross-country flight, then you're familiar with the weird phenomenon of crying on airplanes. In 2011, many news outlets reported that, in a survey hosted on its Facebook page, Virgin Atlantic found that 55 percent of passengers had "experienced heightened emotions while flying." (41% of men admitted to burying themselves in blankets to hide their weepy ways.) While unscientific and difficult to verify, the survey adds to anecdotal evidence posed by This American Life and The New York Times to suggest that crying more on airplanes is, in fact, a thing. So much so, in fact, that Virgin Atlantic decided to issue "emotional health" warnings ahead of movies that you wouldn't even think of as tearjerkers. (Adam Sandler's Just Go With It, for one.) The Guardian even gave airplane criers a name: the "mile high blub club."

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How It Works

A 2000 study out of the Netherlands found that the main reasons most adults cry in public have to do with feelings of separation, loneliness, or powerlessness—all emotions that are in plentiful supply at 30,000 feet. A rare academic article on the airline-crying phenomenon, published in Écranosphère in 2011, got more specific. Author Stephen Groening posited that airline passengers cry during movies because of the way they're set up: the movie screen is usually close to your face, and the use of headphones makes the film especially intimate and personal. According to Groening, that intimacy bears most of the responsibility for heightening your emotions in a plane seat. Add to that the intimacy you feel with other passengers who are having the same in-flight experience as you, plus the intimacy themes that most in-flight romantic comedies explore, and you have a recipe for tears.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Crying due to sadness is mostly a human experience. 00:41

  2. Tears of joy are also used as social signals as to how we feel. 01:31

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Written By Curiosity Staff December 16, 2016