Emotional Vulnerability Can Make You Cry When You Fly

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy, Chrissy Teigan/Twitter and Thought Catalog/Ross ParmlyUnsplash

We all know that babies and small children cry openly and loudly while on planes. The noise, ear pressure, restricted movement, and overabundance of strange faces and smells are enough to make anyone cry. Most adults can prepare themselves for the annoyances of air travel, but many say they can’t control their emotions any better than a child once they take flight. If you get weepy while flying, know you are not alone. Planes make us cry.

On his podcast Armchair Expert, Dax Shepard has mentioned that his wife, Kristen Bell, often cries while on a plane. And when Chrissy Teigen used Twitter to ask why she was feeling extra emotional while flying, she sparked a very long thread of affirming commiseration. Teigen asked: “Is there something about being on an airplane that makes you cry more during movies? I definitely cry more.”

Many folks chimed in with anecdotal stories of movies they could not keep it together for:

To be honest, Miley gives me feels too.

The opening scene is rough.

But why?

Some folks mentioned the double vodkas right after takeoff. Others suggested cabin pressure and altitude while others chalked it up to the fear of dying.

It’s hard to argue with that.

Patience leaving your body? That seems pretty logical too.

However, the reason for what is dubbed the Mile Cry Club or the pseudo-diagnosis of Altitude Adjustment Lachrymosity Syndrome is emotional vulnerability, according to psychologists.

Jodi De Luca, a psychologist who studies the impact of high altitudes on emotions, says this: “We have little control over our environment while we are traveling by plane. Although we may not be consciously aware of our emotional vulnerability, our emotional brain is working overtime.”

By the time I finally find my seat on a plane, I am spent. In order to save a few bucks, I often fly really early in the morning. In my grogginess, I hope I have packed everything I need; I rush to get to the airport on time while praying my flight isn’t suddenly delayed or cancelled. Then I get to wait in security lines. I am hungry. I need coffee and am all set with people. I hang all my last bits of sanity on not getting a middle seat. I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. I am raw and on edge. And I am usually getting kicked by a kid behind me or being cramped by the entitled ass in front of me who doesn’t mind reclining their seat the whole flight. And if my own kids are with me, then all of this is amplified.

The stress alone will make you cry. Or it will encourage you to get a drink and then cry because booze is not the glue that holds in the flood of emotions once the few remaining inhibitions are gone.

Adding to the anxiety of flying is more anxiety. When we are in the air, trapped miles away from our loved ones in an environment where we have little control, we feel powerless. We are at the mercy of a seatbelt sign and a flight attendant who scolds us if our trays are down at the wrong time. And then our minds think of all the things that have had or could happen that makes us long for family and friends. We miss people. We get sad and lonely. We cry.

The altitude and cabin pressure don’t help either. The World Health Organization notes that the changes from land to air can have physiological effects on our body. The cabin air pressure is low which means the amount of oxygen in our blood is less than it is at sea level. This isn’t drastic enough to cause healthy people health problems, but it can cause dehydration.

“When you’re dehydrated, it’s not just the body that’s lacking in resources,” De Luca adds. “Everything is affected—including behavior and the brain. Some people have difficulty self-regulating their emotions.”

Symptoms of dehydration are headache, dizziness, and sleepiness. Those are not really lubricants for calm and controlled behavior.

The No Tears in Heaven study, however, claimed it’s the type of movie folks are watching and not the altitude. 1,084 people living in the United States and who had watched a movie on a plane in the last 12 months answered a survey provided by Amazon Mechanical Turk. The study showed that one in four people cried while watching a film and that more people tend to watch more dramas and family films while flying versus action or comedy films. Typically those are the movies that are more likely to make us cry. The conclusion of the study was that people were experiencing “dramatically heightened exposure.” More time in planes means more movies means more dramas means more tears.

Virgin Atlantic offers “emotional health warnings” before movies like Lion or Moonlight and warns travelers to keep tissues handy or use the call button if they need someone to comfort them.

Delta has your back too.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports that it just doesn’t matter what you watch while flying.

And for some shows, no matter the altitude, your crying face is just your face.

But don’t feel left out. Not everyone cries while flying, though there is a good chance you will lose your faculties in other ways.

It’s science, friends. And Disney Pixar.

Here’s to safe (and snot-free) travels!

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