This Is Why You Cry When You Watch Movies on Planes
Did you remember to pack tissues?
It starts out innocently enough: You get comfortable on the airplane, start watching Country Strong on the seatback entertainment system, and 20 minutes later find yourself crying so hard that the stranger sitting next to you, hands you their cocktail napkin. Welcome to the Mile Cry Club.
While everyone cries when they're watching Steel Magnolias, there's no good reason to be sitting in Row 23C bawling your eyes out over Miss Congeniality. It's a comedy, for Pete's sake! Yet, there's something that happens on airplanes where the sweetest or even funniest movie can make you start crying like a kid who just dropped his ice cream. If you've done this, know that you're not alone. A Virgin Atlantic survey of 3,000 passengers, revealed that 55 percent of respondents reported intensified emotions during flights. It's not just women delicately weeping into their hankies, either: 41 percent of men admitted to hiding their in-flight tears from other passengers. According to a recent survey commissioned by London's Gatwick Airport, 15% of men and 6% of women reported that they were more likely to cry while watching a film during a flight than if they were to watch it anywhere else.
As for why this happens, scientists are still trying to figure out why air travel makes us weepy. One theory is that when you watch a film on a plane, it's easier to become emotionally invested in it. "You have to watch movies with headphones in [on a plane], which forces you to really immerse yourself in the movie and also to have a sense that you are alone, which may increase the impact of the movie," Lauren Bylsma, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told our sister publication, Real Simple.
Other scientists have found a link between the slightly reduced oxygen levels that come with air travel and increased emotions. Reduced oxygen levels in the blood, which can happen over the course of a long flight, can make people more tired. That exhaustion can lower our threshold for tears and soon enough we're crying over a particularly sad backstory on Fixer Upper.
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One other reason that you might find yourself welling up in the air is slightly more philosophical—the act of flying itself can make us feel helpless and when we feel helpless, sometimes we cry.
Whatever the reason for the tears, perhaps save the This Is Us marathon until you're on the ground.