Crying at Cruising Altitude: My Emotional Relationship with In-Flight Entertainment


I am the queen of the ugly airplane cry. Puffy and red faced, I am mucousy mess who can barely speak between asthmatic sobs. It is not pretty – and for some reason it’s triggered by one thing: watching movies on planes. I am not a big crier on the ground, but put me on a plane in front of in-flight entertainment and let the waterworks begin. On the upside, when you are the crying girl on the plane, no one wants to talk to you, not even chipper barbed wire salesmen from Omaha.


The Namesake

I was sitting next to a young Afghani man. He was 19 years old and had worked for the US government as an interpreter during the war in Afghanistan. He showed me his diplomatic passport and told me how he had been awarded US citizenship. He hoped to write a book on his experiences while working to bring his family to the US. He was cute and chatty and kind and full of hope.

The Namesake is by no means a happy tale, but I’d read the book and was prepared for a journey through the emotional wringer. It wasn’t until the tears were streaming down my face and I whispered raspily, “Your father knows you love him, Gogol. You never said it, but he knows.

It was probably my slight rocking that prompted my seatmate to glance over at me. I watched his face change from indifference to horror. I held out my hand as if in explanation, but I couldn’t speak through my sobs. His terrified eyes locked on mine as I gestured toward him, my wet hand slick with tears and snot. He, who at 19 years old had seen active combat, turned quickly away and didn’t talk to me for the rest of the flight.

The Butler

For some reason, especially on planes it seems, films about the complexities of the father/son relationship are my emotional trigger. The Butler also stars Oprah, so you know crying is a given.

The Butler tells the tale of a butler (duh) who worked for several presidential administrations in the White House. He attempts to change things while working within the establishment, while his son embraces the political counterculture and eventually joins the Black Panthers. Needless to say, Thanksgiving is a little strained for this family.

At one point, the butler stares at a ringing telephone, knowing it’s his estranged son calling for help. He does not pick up. The familiar twinge in my eyes begins, and my emotional response is heightened with each unanswered ring.

RING. “Pick up the phone,” I silently plead.

RIIIIIING. “You love your son. Pick up the phone,” I beg telepathically.

RIIIIIIIIIIIIING. “For the love of God, Forest Whitaker! Pick up the damn phone! You love your son. YOU KNOW YOU LOVE YOUR SON!”

I weep silently…or at least I think it’s silently. The concerned glance from the lady beside me indicates otherwise. “It’s the butler. He won’t pick up the phone….” I trail off as I realize how ridiculous I sound and also that I need to blow my nose. But once again, a seemingly unhinged outburst earns me deliberate disinterest and silence from my seatmate. I pull it together – at least until Oprah’s Soul Train dance scene where she and Forest bop around in matching disco jumpsuits…until tragedy strikes. Then all emotional bets are off.

Inside Out

If you didn’t cry at this movie on land or at 35,000 feet, then you are a monster and I don’t want to know you.

I feel like I get a pass on this one. If people knew I was watching Inside Out, they’d forgive my smeared mascara and the fact that I used my sleeve as an emergency Kleenex. They’d know that of course long-haul flights are the perfect place to relive the trauma of moving half way across country as a middle schooler. Luckily, no one was sitting beside me for this one. But I’d like to imagine if someone were, they’d have a soothing voice and an endless supply of cookies, warm brandy and hot towels. A girl can dream, can’t she? Or maybe she can turn off the TV and crack open a book for the sake of everyone’s emotional health.



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