Are you really more likely to cry watching a movie in flight? Science steps in…


It has been suggested that passengers are more likely to cry when watching movies on IFE than they do when watching them at home. But is this an urban legend, an inflight reality, or something in between? The debate may now be over, as PatientsLikeMe, a health network, has conducted the first scientific study into this pseudo-phenomenon, which even has an official-sounding name: altitude-adjusted lachrymosity syndrome (AALS).

The company surveyed 1,084 US citizens for the study, entitled ‘No Tears in Heaven‘, with 25% of respondents reporting that they crying while watching movies during a flight, while 22% cried while watching movies on the ground. In itself this result indicates that the difference is not statistically significant.

The data from the surveys also found that for tearful flyers, the most likely contributor is not actually related to what might be considered the most obvious factors for such a difference in behavior, which include altitude, mild hypoxia or alcohol. The answer is much simpler: it is the type of movies that passengers choose to watch during flight.

The survey found that people watch more dramas and family films on aircraft and more action movies on the ground: and dramas provoke the most tears. Indeed 43% of respondents who watched a drama cried, compared to 30% of flyers who cried watching animated or family features, 25% who cried watching action, fantasy or sci-fi films and 14% who cried watching comedies, including romantic comedies.

So which recent films are best avoided to prevent inflight blubbering?

According to PatientsLikeMe, the top five drama movies that made passengers cry were:

1: The Zookeeper’s Wife

A staggering 100% of those polled who watched the movie cried, but then it is a particularly powerful story. Reserved flyers may want to save this one for home viewing. You can watch the trailer HERE.

2: Okja

This animal drama may be less serious than The Zookeeper’s Wife, but it is still a tear-jerker for 90% of repondents. You can watch the trailer HERE.

3: Lion

High drama, high emotions, and tears up high for this story about a lost boy. You can watch the trailer HERE.

4: La La Land

Love found, love lost, and 59% had to find the tissues in the cabin. You can watch the trailer HERE.

5: Moana

This animated voyage of discovery reduced 42% of viewers to tears. You can watch the trailer HERE.

It is not just about powerful dramatic productions though, but also the number viewed in a short timeframe. Passengers reporting AALS are also most likely experiencing “dramatically heightened exposure,” according to the study, binge watching more films on an aircraft during their outbound and return flights than they would in a year at home or in a cinema.

Gender also played a part. While the study found females are more likely to cry than males, its researchers suggest this has more to do with socialization to certain film choices, and the idea that men are less likely to accurately self-report instances of crying (come on guys, it’s 2018 now. I’ll admit to a wobble when watching La La Land – ed).

Actually, one man who did open up about feeling emotional during a flight was the inspiration for conducting the research. PatientsLikeMe’s VP of innovation and frequent flyer, Paul Wicks, was flying back from a conference and found himself weeping while watching Selma, a powerful drama.

“Although I was studying this uncontrollable emotional expression in people with a medical condition, I thought maybe lots of healthy people might have uncontrollable, unexplained outburst of crying in certain settings too,” said Wicks. “The results debunk the myth, but also underscore something we’re always telling our members: check your assumptions with real data.”

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About Author


Ever since his first flight on a TriStar, Adam has loved air travel, and since becoming editor of the Aircraft Interiors International brand he has really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved with the latest aircraft and airline products before they are even launched. Adam co-ordinates the running of the magazine, from commissioning articles and artwork, to ensuring that high standards of quality are maintained, as well as managing online content. Adam is proud to sit on the jury of the Crystal Cabin Awards and to have laid on the bed in Etihad's Residence.

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