In 2011, Virgin Atlantic ran a survey asking customers to describe their on-flight emotional experiences. Overall, 55 percent of travellers said they had “experienced heightened emotions while flying” with a striking 41 percent of men stating that they had “buried themselves in blankets to hire tears in their eyes from other passengers”. Additionally, a vast majority of women admitted to “pretending they had something in their eyes” whilst flying.
In a study conducted by Ad Vingerhoets, a professor of social and behavioural science, it was found that adults cry in “situations related to loss or separation, and/or powerlessness”. And since action is a little limited on an airplane (with phones off), most people respond by crying.
“Crying seems to occur in situations where actions make no sense. When there’s no reason to fight or fly, you just have to deal with your emotions,” Ad told The Atlantic.
Numerous other theories suggest that we don’t have the same amount of distractions to keep our brains occupied during the flight, leading us to tears because of the unknown, along with The American Life’s, Brett Martin, arguing that air travel turns us into babies. “You’re strapped in, given a blanket, a sippy cup and tiny silverware,” he says. “You’re forced to do what you’re tole and borne away at speeds we can’t conceive, without seeing where we’re going.”
American journalist, Elijan Wolfson, says crying is a way for our bodies to cope with the stress of the “painful check-in process, waiting for the plane to board and being herded into a shared space with complete strangers”.