The Real Reason We Cry on Airplanes

It's not just that emotional movie making you tear up.

We’ve all been there: you’re buckled into your airplane seat, pull out your comfy travel pillow and iPad to watch a movie, the intro credits start rolling, and then you… burst into tears? Even the most stoic passenger can break out the waterworks for seemingly no reason. So what is it about flying at 30,000 feet that makes us so emotional? There are many theories, but to get to the bottom of it, travel expert Samantha Brown recently spoke to CNN. Here’s what she had to say.

Why do we cry on airplanes?

In her video, Brown explains one popular theory as to why we cry on airplanes. She claims that our “eyes are trying to create moisture” to combat the dry atmosphere of the plane. She continues, “The only way your eyes know how to create moisture is to cry. And so it becomes this physical response that the brain sends to release the tear ducts.”

Why do we get emotional on airplanes?

Sad African American female crying with tears rolling down her faceMargoeEdwards/Getty Images

There is, however, an interesting caveat to this theory. Brown explains, “You have to be emotional to cry [so] your body acclimates to the dryness and creates the tears, but has to create the emotion first to create the tears.” In other words, your brain may create an unusually heightened emotional response to something that otherwise may not have moved you. Feel free to break out this piece of airplane trivia on your next trip!

For Brown, this was humorously a flashback scene from a German shepherd in the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua. While a movie can help your brain get into the crying mood, some passengers also experience this crying while reading, writing, reflecting or simply staring out the window. (This writer once cried at a particularly awe-inspiring cloud!)

How to avoid crying on an airplane

A plane sits at the airport gate as the rain delays air trafficChalaBala/Getty Images

There is no reason to be embarrassed about crying on airplanes; it is, after all, a natural human response. But if you are searching for solutions, Brown jokes, “I would recommend [watching] all the Taken movies with Liam Neeson.” She says she chooses to steer clear of especially emotional movies, citing Terms of Endearment, and instead opts for “a rom-com starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore (not as a chihuahua).” “But I’ll probably still cry,” she adds.

In addition to selecting appropriate in-flight entertainment, keep emotions at bay by minimizing the stress of your trip. If you’re an anxious flyer, read up on these facts to calm your nerves and try to sit in the safest airplane seat to further ease your mind. Finally, no matter how experienced a flyer you are, be sure to know your passenger rights, as well as proper airplane etiquette. This knowledge will prepare you for pleasant interactions with other passengers and flight attendants. Bon voyage!