Why passengers break their everyday rules on a flight.
IT’S amazing what I’ll let myself get away with when I fly.
Champagne with breakfast isn’t just acceptable it would be rude not to raise a glass to the trip ahead, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are reasonable snack choices as somehow calories don’t count in airports, movies that you couldn’t have dragged me to see in a cinema seem like a good idea, and I’ll put on my pyjamas and remove my make up before sitting with strangers.
I’ve had a loose theory that these unusual behaviours take place because Holiday Me is in charge and is having fun doing all the things Normal Me wouldn’t, well, normally do.
But knowing I’m not the only one to act this way I decided to turn to some experts to find out what’s really going on.
So why do we do the things we do?
Alcohol on a flight? Absolutely.
THE THINGS WE’LL EAT AND DRINK
Dr Paul Harrison, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at Deakin University, says as flying is not normal life we change the way we think.
“Airports are in the middle of nowhere, then you’re on a massive tube flying through the sky. You’re remote from any other reality and therefore you adjust your expectations.”
Dr Harrison says one of the factors at play is known as the scarcity effect. We think about how things on the plane are limited, so even if we wouldn’t eat that food or drink at that hour anywhere else it feels like a significant loss to miss out.
Dr Harrison says normal mealtime structures also go out the window when we get on a plane.
“If you get on in Dubai they give you breakfast as if it’s breakfast in Australia, and we just accept it. We think ‘Okay, it’s 1am but I’m happy to have scrambled eggs.’”
And when it comes to drinking Dr Harrison points out that you don’t usually have someone walking along your hallway asking if you’d like a glass of wine.
“It’s so far removed from normal life that we think, why not?”
Why travellers ditch their diet when travelling.
That said, on any given flight you will have those who are indulging and those who are not.
Dr John Demartini, a human behaviour expert and founder of the Demartini Institute, says everyone has their own set of priorities and values and we make our decisions accordingly.
“When we are doing things that are aligned with our highest values the blood glucose in our brain goes into the executive centre, the prefrontal cortex, that is involved in self governance.
“But when we’re not living with a high priority intention the blood glucose goes down into a more interior part of the brain called the amygdala. That’s more about instincts and impulses and immediate pleasure seeking.”
Dr Demartini says if someone is on a work trip and knows they have an important meeting when they arrive they will display self-governance and moderation in their behaviour because they are focused on their objective.
“But if you’re going on a vacation with no accountabilities and no responsibilities you’ll have a higher probability of hedonism, which is searching for immediate, gratifying pleasures. You’re more likely to drink the champagne, over eat, try everything you can and experience whatever there is. You’ll probably say things that you wouldn’t normally say to people because you don’t care, and play out different roles because you doubt anyone will ever see you again.”
Binge watching shows you’d never watch at home.
THE THINGS WE’LL WATCH
I’ve learned the hard way not to recommend movies or TV shows that I’ve seen in the sky until I’ve watched them again on the ground. Something happens in the air that makes them so much funnier or sadder, and I’ve been on emotional roller-coasters in the air only to wonder what on earth I saw in it when I watch it again at home.
I’ll also happily watch films that I wouldn’t even be tempted to watch if they were on TV at home, let alone pay to see in a cinema.
Dr Harrison says part of that has to do with boredom. Another part is our options are limited in our plane seat, compared to at home where we could select from any number of things to do.
Then there is the theory of ego depletion, which affects more than just our movie choices when we fly.
“That means if your senses are overwhelmed you tend not to be as rational in your decision making as you are in normal life.”
Dr Harrison says both airports and aeroplanes overwhelm us with sensory stimulation with the amount of noise, light and smells they surround us with.
“You’re just not as capable of thinking things through in a rational way so you tend to rely on a form of emotional decision making rather than a form of rational decision making.”
Comfy clothes are the only option on a flight.
THE THINGS WE’LL WEAR
When I fly long haul I like to look presentable when I go to the airport, but when we’re up in the air the good clothes are off, the pyjamas are on, the make up wipes have been to work and I’m fresh faced with a slick of rose hip oil to keep my skin hydrated.
Needless to say I don’t usually put my shiny face forward and jim jams on when I’m with new people, but while I may be one of the few changing into a sleep suit in economy all around me people are wearing yoga pants and track suits, and I’m not the only one covering their skin with lashings of moisturiser.
Up in the air it feels right, but I’ll be back in my street clothes with a little BB cream and mascara on before I walk out of those plane doors.
Dr Michael Brein, a social psychologist who specialises in travel and intercultural communication, says when people fly the normal regulatory constraints need not apply.
“People are more oriented towards letting their hair down a bit more, and since they are a bit more anonymous, they are less inhibited. It’s more of a ‘who cares?’ or ‘who will know?’ attitude.”
Personally unless I have something that needs my full attention when I land, I’m going to keep letting myself get away with the things that I do.
After all, as Dr Harrison puts it, airports and planes are a wacky unreality.
“That’s the best way to think about it. It’s not real, and depending on the length of your flight it’s 13 hours of fantasy. Why not take advantage of it.”
For more travel news and inspiration sign up to Escape’s newsletter.