Regardless of how frequently you fly, air travel is full of surprises.
Some of these surprises are happy ones — scoring the exit row or an extra serve of dessert, for example. Others are not so welcome (oh hi, unexpected turbulence!).
Then there’s a whole other category of unexpected occurrences that would be better described as bizarre, if not a little embarrassing. From heightened emotions to flatulence, here are four common ways flying can mess with you, and why it happens.
Even the steeliest of hearts have found themselves ugly-crying over a mediocre movie or drawn in a private spiral of contemplation/melancholia as soon as the wheels come off the tarmac.
While she isn’t aware of any scientific studies into the issue, Tal Schlosser, Clinical Psychologist and Director of My Life Psychologists, has some theories as to why people find their emotions heightened mid-flight. One is the separation from our regular busy lives.
“Sitting down on a flight is a rare moment of stillness for a lot of people, when they let themselves simply ‘sit’ with what they’re thinking or feeling without the distractions of their phone or regular activities,” she explains.
Another potential factor is the strong feelings that can be triggered by travel — whether it be sadness at leaving someone behind, or excitement about a big adventure. Schlosser suggests this can “prime” some people into feeling more emotional.
“In addition, we often give ourselves a ‘free pass’ when on flights and this could also make us more vulnerable to becoming emotional. For example, we give ourselves permission to read more lightweight ‘aeroplane novels’ or watch trashy movies,” she adds.
Yeah, it's pretty common to get emotional on a plane. (Image: Universal Pictures)
The physical aspect of flying might also come into play. "For an extended period of time you're stuck in a confined space surrounded by strangers in very close proximity to you who are observing you in all your vulnerability, like sleeping, eating, and not looking as groomed as usual," Schlosser says.
"Fatigue and disrupted sleep may also contribute to making passengers more emotionally vulnerable, and perhaps even the lower oxygen levels."
Writer Brett Martin has an interesting theory of his own. In a 2011 episode of This American Life, Martin argued that as plane passengers, we're forced to relinquish all control — and the effect is infantilising.
"You’re strapped in, given a blanket, a sippy cup, and tiny silverware, forced to do what you’re told and borne away at speeds we can’t conceive, without seeing where we’re going,” he explained. If that's not enough to make you feel vulnerable, what will?
Greasy hair, under-eye luggage... yeah, nobody feels particularly fresh-faced after a long haul flight. And those mile-high breakouts don't really help matters.