While on a long haul flight, have you ever found yourself blubbing inexplicably at the end of a Bridget Jones movie or sobbing into your napkin during Toy Story 4? Well, don’t be embarrassed and certainly don’t flee to the nearest loo to avoid the puzzled looks from colleagues sitting across the aisle. You see this is purely a manifestation of A.A.L.S. or Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome. Yes, such a thing actually exists and it affects more flyers than you would imagine. Not just the ones who have overindulged in the inflight Pinot Noir. In fact
A U.S. study in 2018* entitled ‘No tears in heaven: did the media create the pseudo-phenomenon “altitude-adjusted lachrymosity syndrome (AALS)”?’ found that A.A.L.S. is not an actual medical condition but more of a phenomenon. The evidence showed that people were more likely to cry or feel heighten emotions while watching a film at altitude. The study did not cite any single reason for this but possible reasons for this included significantly increased exposure to many films in a short period of time, watching “guilty pleasure” films and having recently experienced an ‘emotional life event’. It is, of course possible that this ‘emotional life event’ in 2019 might simply be the experience of saying goodbye to one’s loved ones or clambering through a manic airport terminal. For those of you who do not know what a ‘guilty pleasure’ film is, it is one that you would not be seen dead watching on the ground. Carry on Camping comes to mind.
There was also found to be a gender factor, with more women experiencing AALS, although most of my male friends have confessed to bouts of inflight tearfulness. Another cause is seen to be technology. As the presentation of IFE (inflight entertainment) on aircraft has gradually improved since its inception in the 1960s, we’ve all been getting more intimate with the programming that we chose. With the help of noise-cancelling headphones, we have created a ‘bubble’ in which we are now isolated from the hubbub of the cabin and focus completely on the tearjerker movie at hand.
Purists would argue that for this syndrome to be properly ‘diagnosed’, the film that is believed to be causing it must be one that would not normally be tear-inducing. Cathay Pacific appear not to have grasped the true nature of the condition by suggesting in their inflight magazine, Discovery, that A.A.L.S. might be brought on by some of their films where crying would normally be expected. In truth it’s not until you start crying at The Expendables 2that you can really declare that you have Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome.
The inflight entertainment does not have to be the cause of our lachrymosity at all. I remember when I departed on my first overseas posting to the Far East with BA. At the tender age of 23, I was inconsolable for a good proportion of my flight to Seoul. What had seemed exciting and pioneering in the weeks leading up to my departure, now felt like ill-informed folly. In short I was ‘solid gone’ as modern vernacular would have it. This was certainly an ‘emotional life event’ made worse by the fact that my eight suitcases and I had been put to standby until ten minutes before departure, much to the bemusement of my family who had joined me at Terminal 4 to bid me farewell.
So what is the cure for A.A.L.S.? Avoid any emotionally charged inflight entertainment (especially any guilty pleasure viewing), stay off the wine and ditch the fancy headphones. So ‘man up’ with the Fast and the Furious 8with a Coke Zero and some Apple EarPods.
*Wicks P, Lancashire L. 2018. No tears in heaven: did the media create the pseudo-phenomenon “altitude-adjusted lachrymosity syndrome (AALS)”? PeerJ 6:e4569