If you've ever flown alone, you may have felt it. High above the earth, a yawning emptiness might creep over you, along with—perhaps—a tear. It's certainly happened to Elijah Wolfson at the Atlantic, and he's not the only one—a Virgin Atlantic survey once found that 55% of customers "experienced heightened emotions while flying." He asked a behavioral scientist, who told him, "The prototypical situations that induce crying are always related to loss or separation, and/or powerlessness."
Even tears of joy tend to arise from human connections we know deep down could be impermanent. Studies have also shown that tears contain stress hormones and toxins, leading one pair of researchers think they're "outward signs of abrupt shifts in neurophysiology." So why planes? Well, often travel represents an ending or beginning of something, from a vacation to a whole life phase. You're powerless, with your life in the pilot's hands. And it's "one of the loneliest places in the modern world," Wolfon writes. With your phone and electronics switched off, and your fellow passengers staring forward, "you have no choice but to face the fact: you're a person, in the universe, and you are in some way big or small, alone here. You might cry."