You’re far from alone. Social media abounds with people sharing similar experiences. In 2017, Virgin Atlantic even went so far as to introduce special notifications on their in-flight entertainment systems to let passengers know when they were about to watch a tearjerker.
There has been little formal research into the reasons for what some have called the ‘mile-cry club’, but it’s likely due to a combination of psychological and physiological factors. For starters, travel is often a fraught and emotional time – you might have just said farewell to loved ones before leaving, and then maybe you found it stressful battling the queues to make it through security on time. Of course, many people are also anxious about flying, and hurtling through the air at 35,000 feet can make us all feel a bit vulnerable. Add these elements together and many passengers are already in an emotionally delicate state before the weepy movie has even started.
On top of all this, there are the basic physical effects of altitude on the brain. The lower-than-normal air pressure in the cabin is known to induce mild hypoxia (reduced oxygen levels in the brain), which is associated with a raft of cognitive and emotional effects, including heightened negative moods and a diminished ability to handle stress. Put all this together, and it’d be pretty impressive if you didn’t well up!
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.