Mile cry club nothing to laugh at
Ready to sob? Just watch an in-flight movie, writes Josh Martin.
We’re more likely to be sooks when watching films in flight. That’s according to a recent survey from London’s Gatwick airport, which found more than one in 10 surveyed admitted to having cried at a film on a plane, while one in six men believed they were more likely to sob while watching a movie in the air than on the ground.
What a relief. I used to think it was only me who got unnecessarily emotional at 36,000 feet. In normal life I’m not a crier. In a hurtling dimly lit steel tube, I have sobbed and spluttered watching American Dad The Office for no feasible reason.
The industry has been aware of the Mile Cry Club’s existence for a while. Back in 2011, this sobbing tendency prompted Virgin Atlantic to add ‘‘weepy warnings’’ before some of their films, after surveys found a majority of passengers admitted to heightened emotions during flights.
It went something like ‘‘the following film contains scenes which may cause viewers of a sensitive disposition to cry, weep, sob, wail, howl, bawl, bleat or mewl’’. Weirdly, the in-flight entertainment curators picked a film like Adam Sandler’s unfunny comedy Just Go With It as the first to carry this warning. Maybe the blubberers just wanted it to end.
If the anecdotal evidence was so plain to Virgin Atlantic cabin crew that even formulaic rom-coms were being or received as though audiences were watching Bambi, Terms of Endearment or My Girl , then I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling emotionally fraught in flight. But there is scant scientific research on the subject.
However, the possible reasons are plentiful and fairly logical. A psychologist and leading expert on crying, Ad Vingerhoets, explained to The New Statesman that adults cry for many of the same reasons as babies: feelings of powerlessness, loss or separation. Vingerhoets’ work also found that people are most likely to cry by themselves, when they have space and mental capacity to reflect – an environment we often get when travelling alone on a flight.
So why does in-flight entertainment (rather than cramped conditions) set off the waterworks? A research paper by Stephen Groening at George Mason University suggests IFE screens ‘‘generate a culture of intimacy’’.
Groening says ‘‘airplane media technology creates a relationship of extreme proximity between passenger and media form: the screen is but a few feet away from the viewer and the headphones put speakers virtually inside the body.’’
His analysis found middle-of-theroad comedies like Sweet Home Alabama, Freaky Friday and even blockbuster Thor became tear-jerkers when viewed tens of thousands of feet above Earth.
At the very least an aircraft cabin without the distractions of technology, schedules or demands gives a window of reflection or provokes existential assessment that we are rarely afforded.
It’s an environment like no other: we’re stimulated through in-flight entertainment, but with no distracting social media or emails; we are often sleep-deprived or with circadian rhythms in another time zone; and we could be either fresh from emotional goodbyes or preparing for reunions.
Just getting to your allocated seat can be like a post-exam burst of relief – after battling everything from bank balances to bosses to traffic and security checks, just to finally sit in the darkened cabin and be on your way to somewhere new. That’s before you even realise you’re speeding high above the Earth’s surface, it’s well below freezing outside, you have zero control and your fate’s in the hands of the pilot and crew.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder we’d rather distract ourselves with Forrest Gump or Bridget Jones – and it’s good to know there’ll be plenty of passengers carrying a Kleenex on board. Email if you have a travel issue you’d like Josh Martin, a London-based travel journalist, to write about.
Watching movies at 10,000 metres can be a crying game.