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Situational Hotness: The Philosophy Behind Airplane 10’s

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath. 

Imagine you’re boarding a plane. You’re feeling that special airport feeling — the anticipation to get where you’re going, and knowing that everyone else is going to a different destination. You step onto the plane and smile at the flight attendants as they welcome you with open arms. You shuffle your way to your seat in the back of the plane. Someone’s kid is screaming, one woman can’t fit her bag into the overhead bin, and you’re stuck in the middle seat.

And then…

The most beautiful man you’ve ever seen sits down in the aisle seat across from you. He’s tall, dark, and handsome. He is a 10/10. You glance his way, he glances in your direction. You smile, he smiles. 

During takeoff, the old woman next to you grabs your hand fearfully, but you have put on Lover by Taylor Swift. You get up to use the bathroom mid-flight and as you’re getting up, that mysterious man happens to be returning to his seat. He smiles at you, and you practically skip to the bathroom. FATE! 

As the plane is landing, you’re preparing yourself to talk to him. To finally meet the love of your life, the man so perfect for you. You also noticed he ordered a Ginger Ale with no ice. 

As you approach, you get a better look at him. He’s staring at his phone, and doesn’t look so much like Michael B. Jordan anymore. In fact, he’s just a guy. The magical Delta Airlines air had to have drugged you because how did you ever think this guy was your type? 

If you’ve ever had this experience on a plane (and let’s face it, we all have), this is the phenomenon known in popular culture as an “Airplane 10.” An Airplane 10 is someone who is dashingly handsome while on an airplane, but extremely normal-looking the second the wheels touch the tarmac. 

But this occurrence isn’t limited to airplanes. Have you ever caught yourself checking out the best man at a wedding? Or maybe your fellow camp counselor had a glow-up after last summer? To this, I propose a theory I call “Situational Hotness,” sometimes called “Hot in Context.”  

I would loosely define Situational Hotness as an experience where someone finds a member of the preferred sex attractive due largely to the situation they’re in. When removed from that context, they don’t find them as attractive. 

There are a few possible explanations for this phenomenon, the best being the illusion of opportunity. 

Popular culture has led us to believe that certain situations are more opportune for eligible bachelors than others. In Notting Hill, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts meet in a bookstore, Andie and Ben meet in a bar in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and When Harry Met Sally they’re driving home from college. 

College, in particular, is the starring site of many of the classic romantic comedies of our youth. College students are inherently more susceptible to these illusions, but it’s not just the media that deceives us. You or someone you know has parents who met in college. Mine did! What is fundamentally different about our parent’s college experience and ours is that dating in college has become digitalized (as most things have). 

My parents drove around in my dad’s red Honda CRX and talked over a landline. They met in her dorm and have been married for 25 years. These illusions of opportunity are based on dating as it was in our parent’s eras or, more likely, 90’s rom-coms, which is a largely different experience than most college students experience today. 

Being a young adult in the digital age makes things easier and more difficult at the same time. We have unlimited access to information and we are able to communicate with each other at the drop of a hat. It does, however, enable us to not seek out true, tangible, in-person relationships.  

In short, the philosophy of situational hotness is based on an intrinsic need for human connection. We are always looking for it, but it just comes out stronger in places we see as opportune. 

So, if you’re traveling home for the holidays, when a “hot” guy sits by you on an airplane and doesn’t try to talk to you, it’s probably because he’s swiping on Tinder, not reading Jane Austen and looking mysterious. 

Lucy is a second year political science major who writes about everything she loves (and hates) about UCSB and life in general. When not writing, Lucy can be found reading a book, listening to music, or taking a nice long walk.