The Psychology of Air Travel: Why We Act So Differently at 35,000 Feet

air travel

Air travel has become an essential part of modern-day life. Whether it’s for business or leisure, we rely on air travel to connect us to different parts of the world. But have you ever noticed that people behave differently on airplanes than they do in other settings?
The enclosed space, the altitude, and the unfamiliar environment can affect our behavior in surprising ways.
In this article, we’ll explore the psychology of air travel and why we act so differently at 35,000 feet.

The Effects of Altitude on Our Minds and Bodies

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”- Mark Twain.
The first thing to consider when exploring the psychology of air travel is the effect of altitude on our minds and bodies. At cruising altitude, the air pressure and oxygen levels are significantly lower than at sea level. This can lead to a range of physiological effects, including dehydration, fatigue, and even hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain). One study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine found that passengers on long-haul flights experienced higher levels of stress and fatigue than those on short-haul flights. This is likely due to a combination of factors, including the length of time spent in the air, the lack of sleep, and the effects of altitude on the body. Additionally, the reduced air pressure at altitude can affect our mood and behavior. According to research published in the journal Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance, the lower oxygen levels in the cabin can lead to changes in brain activity and cognitive performance. This can manifest in a range of ways, from impaired decision-making to increased anxiety and

The Impact of Enclosed Space on Our Behavior

“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.” – Izaak Walton
Another factor to consider when examining the psychology of air travel is the impact of enclosed space on our behavior. Airplanes are essentially confined spaces, with limited room to move around and interact with others. This can lead to a range of psychological effects, from claustrophobia to feelings of isolation.

One study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that passengers on long- haul flights were more likely to experience feelings of anxiety, irritability, and restlessness than those on short-haul flights. The researchers attributed this to the longer duration of the flight, as well as the limited space and lack of privacy. The impact of enclosed space can also be seen in the way that passengers interact with each other. According to a study published in the Journal of Air Transport Management, the physical
environment of the aircraft can have a significant impact on social behavior. For example, passengers seated in the middle of the cabin are more likely to engage in conversation with
those around them than those seated at the front or back of the plane. This is likely due to the fact that the middle of the cabin is where passengers are most likely to pass each other on their way to the restroom or the galley.

The Role of Culture and Expectations in Air Travel

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert.
Culture and expectations also play a significant role in the psychology of air travel. Different cultures have different attitudes towards air travel, and these attitudes can influence how passengers behave on flights. For example, in some cultures, it is considered impolite to recline your seat, while in others, it is expected.
Additionally, our expectations of air travel can also affect our behavior. If we expect the flight to be comfortable and enjoyable, we may be more likely to feel frustrated or disappointed if it is not. On the other hand, if we have low expectations, we may be pleasantly surprised and more satisfied with our flight experience.
Furthermore, the expectations set by the airline industry itself can also influence our behavior. For example, airlines often use marketing tactics to create a sense of exclusivity and luxury around air travel, which can lead to feelings of entitlement among passengers. This, in turn, can lead to more demanding and entitled behavior onboard.

The Impact of Security Measures on Air Travel Psychology

” Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you.” – Unknown
Finally, the impact of security measures on air travel psychology cannot be overlooked. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, security measures at airports and onboard flights were significantly increased. This has led to a range of psychological effects, from increased anxiety and stress to feelings of frustration and anger.

One study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine found that security measures were a significant source of stress for passengers. The researchers noted that passengers felt inconvenienced by the additional security measures and that this, in turn, led to increased stress and anxiety.
Additionally, the TSA’s screening process can also affect passengers’ psychology. For example, the removal of shoes, belts, and other clothing items can be seen as an invasion of privacy, leading to feelings of discomfort and vulnerability. Similarly, the random selection of passengers for additional screening can lead to feelings of discrimination and mistrust.


In conclusion, the psychology of air travel is a complex and multifaceted topic. The effects of altitude, enclosed space, culture, expectations, and security measures can all influence our behavior and emotions onboard a flight. By understanding these factors, airlines and passengers can work together to create a more positive and comfortable flight experience for everyone involved.
As Mark Twain once said, ” Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” By embracing the diversity of the people we encounter on our travels, we can create a more tolerant and empathetic world, both on and off the plane.

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About The Author SIBCA AWAN

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.

That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” SIBCA AWAN