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Crying on Airplanes

I don’t know what my problem is. I’m sitting here on flight AA70, Dallas to Frankfurt. Tears are quietly running down my cheeks. The flight attendant just tapped me on the shoulder, “are you alright?” She followed up with a “would you like some tea or coffee” so I’m not sure if she noticed the tears or not. I’d like to think she didn’t.

I’ve never been one to be shy about crying. To be completely honest, I love the sensation. I love the dry eyes afterwards, the salty cheeks. Whatever emotional weight might exist seems to pour out of my eyes, relieving me of mostly unknown pressures and stresses. It’s cathartic for me. That’s probably why I used to force myself to cry back in college. I’d make myself sit and think sad things, or I’d purposefully put on a sad movie or reread a favorite, sad book of mine. Watching my tears falling onto the open pages of a book—it felt good. Weird, but good. It was always a private experience. And yet, these days, I seem to cry exclusively on airplanes.

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Crying On Airplanes

Maybe it’s the thought of coming and going that makes me sad. The movement between places can be trying, not to mention physically exhausting. Regardless, when I’m on a long-haul flight, I often find myself watching movie after movie. I don’t go for the comedies, but rather the dramas, the intense films that spark some passion of mine. And whatever the film, I tend to cry.

Other times, I just play an album, my over-the-ear headphones plugged into either my phone or the in-flight entertainment system. The music blasting through, blocking the buzzes and rumbles of the planes’ engines. The music flows through my mind, and with a bit of a disconnect, I’m able to make my body feel as if it’s a part of the music. And I cry.

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These aren’t always sad tears. Just tears. To be honest, I’m not really a sad person. I’m an eternal optimist, always hopeful and generally I’m emotionally ready for whatever might come. And I think that’s why I like to cry on airplanes. Up in the air, I feel powerless—often without wifi, without electricity, wholly dependent upon things way out of my control. It feels good, this disconnect. And yet as disconnected as I might be, I somehow find a way to connect: with the sky, the sounds, the feelings of dependency.

  1. I also find it majorly cathartic to have a good cry, even when the situation doesn’t necessarily see to call for it. Sometimes it isn’t even about that particular moment, but rather a whole string of moments that lead to tears. In any case, your post reminds me of a great This American Life piece on the phenomenon of crying in airplanes (Act III)…

    Apparently there is something emotional about airplanes!

  2. Sam says:


    Maybe you just don’t have time to cry anywhere else, Adam.

  3. Amanda says:

    I always cry on planes. Sometimes for no reason, and sometimes for the stupidest reasons (the Katy Perry documentary set me off once). My friend does the same thing and when she shared that Atlantic article with me it started to make more sense

    • Adam says:

      It’s funny how many people have been telling me similar stories, Amanda. I had no idea that this was an actual “thing” – I just figured I was alone and a little crazy. I guess it just goes to show how great it is to share our feelings, that’s when we realize we’re all not so different from one another. That Atlantic article was gold.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with crying. I used to be called the Ice Queen at college so maybe I should do more of it LOL!
    However, crying on planes really gives us room to think about life and what we want are or doing.

    I’ve only cried on a plane once and that was on the way to India. I was pretty much in tears all the way to Delhi! I was travelling to India solo and thinking what the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why? Why? Would India give me a sign, or an answer to what I was looking for? And in a way it did. Not IN India. OMG. No! I was there for 30 days and even though I had an exciting time, I couldn’t wait to get away LOL! However, when I returned back to Berlin, I found my answer.

  5. I am a cryer – it’s also healing to me and my most honest form of expressing how I feel – and am no stranger to crying on airplanes. Coming, going, even a sappy movie! Own it.

  6. Ali says:

    I cry pretty damn easily, so I’m not sure being on an airplane is any sort of prerequisite for me, but I can certainly relate. I usually watch movies that make me cry, and it’s no different on an airplane. Also, once I had one too many bloody marys on a flight, got a little weepy, and typed out on my phone a sappy blog post that never saw the light of day.

  7. AnnaHBTC says:

    I always cry. Always. I either cry because I have to leave the place I love or I cry because I know I am actually on my way to a place I love and all the effort to go is done. And I cry deep. One time I already cried on the airport in Texas and a Lady came up to me and hugged me and gave me a coffee. And one time I cried from New York going to Germany. Next to me sat a guy who thought I am crazy. It was his biggest wish to go to Germany, and I cried because I left America. He didn’t understand. BUT he had those “alcohol” coupons. So we drank the whole flight from NY to Germany. We both had a beer and a vodka. I stopped crying and he got more and more excited. …So crying actually brings you new friends.

  8. Brock says:

    Its the one moment when you are not traveling the world, sing new sights, meeting new people, & experiencing new cultures.

    You have a moment to relax and think about the amazing lifestyle you have created over the years and they are tears of joy, excitement, and appreciation.

    Maybe, not sure. Though, if I cried on a plane, that would surely be my reasons.

    Keep on keepin’ on!

  9. Martin says:

    It’s natural to cry. Some places make you happy and others make you sad. Either one, I think it’s alright to cry from time to time!

  10. Matt says:

    I’m crying right now..jkjk..Hi Adam, I love how honest and upfront you are. I tear up myself at the slightest thing it seems these days. I go through cycles of feeling that way..not sad but ..its hard to explain.. I totally understand though how those feelings can rise up..Its what makes us human and caring. Following you on Twitter..its fun and cool reading about your adventures.. Hugz..Matt ( Yes, the goof from Vt)

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Matt :) I do love those feelings that are so strong they rise up and overpower you — even if it happens when I’m sitting on an airplane!

  11. Kara says:

    Dude. The only time I cried on a plane was while watching the fault in our stars on my flight to barcelona last fall. Oh Lordy. Sobbing shaking silent crying MESS. It was cathartic though.

  12. Rebecca says:

    I am so glad that I’m not the only one! It seems that as soon as the doors close and the be seated signal is on the tears just flow – for no reason. I don’t know what it is, but like what some people have said, it is cathartic.

    • Adam says:

      Very cathartic, Rebecca! And I still can’t believe other people have this same experience – I had no idea but it’s comforting to hear others’ stories.

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