Understanding time distortions and flying
Have you ever wondered why time seems to slow down when you fly? Does a two-hour flight feel like four? While looking out the aircraft window, do you think to yourself, “When are we going to arrive?”
If the answer is yes, you wouldn’t be alone. For many people, time distortion happens as a natural consequence of flying. It’s a topic that is not widely discussed and largely misunderstood.
Recently, I took a (somewhat) long flight from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On the outbound portion, a woman sitting across the aisle from me leaned over and began making small-talk; the kind of lighthearted stuff one might expect when heading towards the Caribbean.
After exchanging some pleasantries, she asked a question that kind of stumped me. “This flight seems like it’s taking forever. Have you ever noticed that time slows down when you fly?” she said with a smile.
My plane-mate had a point. We had only been in the air for about an hour, yet it seemed like we had been flying for much longer.
Curious about this phenomenon, I decided to do some research on the topic. No, I didn’t do it right away. You can be sure I enjoyed my time on the beach and trip through the rain forest. But once I returned to the Windy City, my investigation began.
In a hunt for answers, I spoke to licensed psychotherapist and certified hypnotherapist, Costa Provis. He works with people in Chicago to help them live calmer, healthier lives.
“When you fly, time becomes distorted for a variety of reasons. It’s mostly because your visual and auditory senses aren’t focusing on things that are familiar. But there are also psychological causes that are very much focused in the moment,” Provis said.
Intrigued, I grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. Based on the discussion, here are my big three takeaways about why time becomes distorted during air travel.
1. Primal brain functioning
When you fly, a very primal part of your brain becomes activated that is linked to survival. Because you have little control over anything during air travel, except perhaps your drink order, your mind retreats to a place of self-protection.
It is for this reason you may become hypervigilant on a plane, aware of the slightest noise or movement. If you’ve ever hit a patch of turbulence and noticed your heart rate increases dramatically, you know exactly what I mean.
Some of this has to do with the psychological phenomenon known as derealization; a ten-dollar term used to describe situations where we feel separated from ourselves or detached.
This makes sense once your conscious and mind subconscious mind realize what’s going on – you’re flying at 30,000 feet in nothing more than a thin metal tube.
To cope with what is perceived as “dis-reality”, the mind (and time) slow down for processing so that it can convert material into … reality.
2. Sense of time expands
When you are mentally engaged and busy, time flies in a flash. But when we are bored, have little to focus on or waiting to arrive at a given destination, time lags.
Of course, the construct of time doesn’t change. Instead, it is our perception of time that becomes altered. Anxiety can elongate these perceptions.
In many ways, this is similar to what happens during meditation. While engaging in this activity, your brainwaves shift to a lower algorithm, thereby allowing time itself to expand.
Watching a movie on your pad or centering your attention on music can certainly change the time continuum dynamic. But even then, you still may experience the passage of time more slowly.
3. Focused on the here and now
When you fly, your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are organically going to be focused on the present moment. It is for this reason you may notice that your sense of concentration increases dramatically.
Are you one of those people who enjoy flying because it gives you a chance to think? If so, now you know why.
As part of this point, there are also aspects of flying that promote self-hypnosis; a heightened state of awareness that lends itself to time distortion and is well documented in the clinical literature.
This is why clarity of thought, increased concentration, and expansive thinking take place as you look out the aircraft window.
Obviously, there are other factors that influence time distortion when flying. A big one is not having a true sense of direction or speed.
But the three areas mentioned above are “biggies” when it comes to air travel and time distortions.
Well, there you have it, folks – a (not so quick) answer to the question that nice lady asked me on my flight to San Juan.
I’m super curious to know – when you take to the air, does time seem to slow down for you? Share your comments in the area below. I’d love to hear from you.