It was a seemingly normal scene from Ridley Scott’s family drama House of Gucci (2021), which at kilometers altitude made me stagger on the plane from Amsterdam to New York. The scene: Adam Driver and Lady Gaga, in the person of Maurizio Gucci and his wife Patrizia Reggiani, are on a skiing holiday when he suddenly coolly notices that he wants to divorce her. It started in my throat, which became dry, and swallowing hurt. My eyes got wet. It did not help to open them. I darkened my window, so hopefully it would be less visible that I was now crying naughtily.
After not flying for about three years due to Covid-19 and environmental considerations, I almost forgot that this is the rule rather than the exception: When I watch an aerial movie, I cry. A habit that is so much the more strange because I rarely cry and because I have seen so many movies that I am rarely really touched; creepy scenes do not shock me, exciting scenes do not make my heart beat faster, scenes that have to move, I quickly experience as sentimental.
I remember the movie about eight years ago that made me realize that I have a strange emotional relationship with the movie theater: the relationship drama Marley & me (2008), about lovers Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, and their rather unruly labrador named Marley. With that dog in their midst, they experience all that many people without a dog also experience. Prosperity and setbacks, abortion, children. And in the end, of course, that dog is old and dying. Crying that I have. And I was not the only one; I saw at least five adult squeals like broken children, thanks to a film that is substandard and kitschy by almost every conceivable standard, played by highly mediocre actors. After the experience with Marley & Me, I began to pay more attention to my crying behavior on airplanes. My results were remarkable. Some of the movies that made me cry: As good as it gets† Toy Story 3† The list of things I need to accomplish before I die† To romanticize the stone† House of Gucci and yes, Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights†
Until recently, I thought I was one of the few with this type of emotional behavior. But after The house Gucci I went to investigate. And to my surprise, I discovered that flying tears are a common phenomenon. On the internet forums about flight, you can read many statements from people who have unexpectedly, often even against their will, been emotionally affected by children’s movies, relationship dramas or horror movies. American pop culture writer Brett Martin once told the popular podcast This American life that he on a flight from New York to Puerto Rico got a ‘softball in his throat’ when he saw Sweet Home Alabama† After hearing an extremely kitschy phrase uttered by Reese Witherspoon – “The truth is, I gave my heart away a long time ago, my whole heart, and I never got it back”- broke the normally calm Martin in his own words.
This large group of people, let’s call them cry flyers, even has a nickname: ‘mile cry club’, a variant of ‘mile high club’ that you can belong to if you have had sex during a flight. You can not join the mile-cry club until you have whined about a flying movie; there are chat groups for it, separate websites, corners on forums.
Crying in groups
It is quite rare for people to cry in company or in groups. In his book Why only people cry, clinical psychologist Ad Vingerhoets describes that when people cry in company, they often do so to establish an emotional connection. But if one is already in a group, I think there is relatively little reason to use tears as a means of contact; then it makes much more sense to use our verbal abilities, to start a conversation. But something else is going on in airplanes.
According to the KLM Health Service, about which I sent an email, passengers actually say they have to cry more often in an airplane because of a movie. Other airlines are also seeing this trend. In 2011, Virgin Atlantic published the results of its own research, which showed that 55 percent of its travelers experience more intense emotions when flying than on Earth. Men and women are said to be different in the way they try to hide these feelings: 41 percent of men hide under their blankets to prevent fellow passengers from seeing their tears. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to pretend that there is dirt in their eye.
55 percent of Virgin Atlantic travelers experience more intense emotions when flying
To accommodate their customers, Virgin introduced an ’emotional health warning’, which was shown prior to movies where the risk of tears was high; she with „a sensitive tendency to cry, cry, sob, moan, howl, howl, roar or howl“Could ask the cabin crew for a tissue or a”shoulder to cry on“to ask. They had specifically identified ten films as potentially tear-jerking in 2011, including: Toy Story 3 (at number 1), Eat Pray Love † Brokeback Mountain and The notebook † The ‘saddest movie in the world’ is according to behavioral researchers The master, the remake from 1979. It’s especially about the scene where the main character, a boxer played by Jon Voight, dies in front of his son (played by Ricky Schroder). The film has been used by researchers over the years for all kinds of psychological tests.
Crying in the heights
So the key question: why? Why are we crying in the air? According to KLM’s Health Service, a number of factors play a role that make us emotionally receptive to emotions. For example, there is the stress that comes with flying. The arrangements, to pack the suitcase, check your documents indefinitely, hurry to the gate, but also the prospect of a reunion with acquaintances or the arrival in an unknown country. These are circumstances that make us tense and experience more intense emotions than on any other day in an environment we know. And once you are on the plane, the combination of high air pressure and low humidity can negatively affect your mood. According to KLM, there is also an “inward focus” during flight, whereby people “get to their emotions” faster. In other words: during long flights you are interrupted from your daily life for a while, you are thrown back at yourself. The main connection is with your screen and the headphones, which ensure that the sounds of fellow passengers do not or hardly penetrate you.
Also read: Why are we crying anyway?
All of this may explain why people are in a state of emotional susceptibility when they fly, but not why they cry, why tears are the result of this susceptibility. To better understand this, I looked at the story of crying. In their article ‘Why we cry: The fascinating psychology of emotional releaseEmeritus Professor of Psychology Jay Efran (Temple University) and Sports Psychologist Mitchell Greene (Haverford College, Pennsylvania) describe that the origin of tears has long been erroneous or short-sighted. Thanks to Sigmund Freud, who used to see emotional outbursts as signs that the unconscious is suddenly manifesting in behavior, people still often think in “steam boiler metaphors,” Efran and Greene note. When we want to describe our emotional behavior, we talk about ‘letting the steam out’, about too much pressure, about ‘boiling over’. According to Efran and Greene, this line of thinking falls short; why else would people often cry when they are happy?
They start fromTwo-step theory of tears‘, a theory that assumes two emotional phases that underlie tears. In fact, it involves the sudden transition from one phase (the ‘sympathetic’ state of alertness or tension that our bodies take on during crises or possible danger) to another (the ‘parasympathetic’, recovery and rest). “Depending on the circumstances, people describe such a transition as ‘letting go’ or ‘giving up,'” Efran and Greene write. The adrenaline level, which is precisely elevated because the situation required it, is declining rapidly. As an example, Efran and Greene mention a child who has lost his parents. First it will start to look, the child is in the ‘problem solving phase’, where there is generally no crying. Only when the parent is justified and the crisis seems to be resolved will the child ‘let go’ and let the tears flow freely. This is why tears are relatively often generated by a friendly gesture, a nice voice, by implicit signals of security. People, on the other hand, almost never cry during a crisis, or in the company of people you do not like. We usually cry not from stress, but from relief.
At the pilot’s mercy
Think about the situation where you are on board a plane. A metal pipe ten kilometers high, the technique of which you do not understand at all, handed over to a pilot whose face you do not know. You are temporarily in a vacuum, daily reality has been suspended for a while, you constantly have to look at your life from the greatest possible distance, no contact with the outside world is possible, you are undergoing an incomprehensible transition, between here and there, between yesterday and tomorrow. You have been through the most stressful moments, the problem-solving phase is behind you, you can not help but let go. And suddenly there’s a movie on your screen about a labrador, about a family, about life, about big changes. And then they come, the tears. This is by no means a shame. In fact, it’s time for congratulations. You just signed up for the mile-cry club.