The stress of flying fries your nerves
Nobody flying economy class in 2017 will describe air travel as “fun.” Even with TSA Precheck and Group 1 boarding, the stress of flying can grind down anyone’s emotional stability.
“By the time you sit down you’ve probably been stressed all day,” says Dr. Randi Mackintosh, a Tallahassee, Florida psychiatrist. “A lot has been building up. When you get up in the air, it might be the first time you’re realizing how the stress is impacting you.”
Between rushing through traffic, endless check-in lines, and the shuffle through TSA with a 45-pound duffel bag on your shoulder, just getting to a plane can put you at wits’ end. Sitting down and throwing on a mild animated feature might seem like a good way to decompress. But when Carl Fredricksen’s house starts lifting into the air, all that pent-up stress comes flying out through your tear ducts. And then you have to make up a lie to explain why daddy is welling up at Up!.
When Elijah Wolfson considered this question in an Atlantic essay, he noted the catharsis that simply settling into an airplane seat might represent. “You’ve finally reached the end of what was likely a full day of getting to the airport, and could have been weeks of preparing, or even years of an important life phase culminating in an end and new beginning,” he wrote. In a state like that, it’s no wonder a mushy-ass Cheerios commercial could tip an otherwise with-it person into a teary puddle.
The sky is a lonely place
Flying is kind of like the loneliness people describe while driving the 405 in LA: surrounded by people, but completely alone. Your seat becomes your own little universe, and because you have no distractions, you’re more apt to feel emotions you might not otherwise. With nothing to distract you, you’re completely engulfed in the movie and all the emotions it’s trying to elicit.
“Our feelings get neglected when we have distractions like work, catching up with friends, or email,” says Mackintosh. “Our distractions are minimized when flying and we’re forced to focus on the issues we’ve been dealing with or putting aside.”
Andy, an editor with an online publication, says emotions he doesn’t think about on the ground bloom when he’s watching movies in the air.
“If I’m going to see my family for the first time in a while, I‘ll be extra emotional already and shit sets me off,” he says. “Or if I miss my kid -- kid stuff gets me worked up.”
That solitude plays right into the hands of filmmakers. T.J. Martin, whose credits include one of the best documentaries of 2017 in LA 92 and the 2011 Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated, about a high school football team from the poor side of Memphis, says people tell him all the time they bawled their eyes out when they watched that film mid-flight.
“People on planes are listening on headphones,” he says. “For a filmmaker, that’s almost preferable to a theater because it creates such an immersive experience. I want to create a way to replicate the way I felt when I experienced something. The intention isn’t to make someone cry, necessarily. But in some cases, the isolation of being on a plane helps create that experience.”
For the record, right after Gran Torino I watched Undefeated. It did not end well for my last shreds of dignity.