This Is Why Some Travelers Clap When Their Plane Lands
Don't hate on that applause—it has more meaning than you think.
"Picture this: You're 31. You just married your soulmate and are on your way to your beautiful honeymoon," tweeted user @Gregggyboy in 2018. "The plane lands in Bora Bora, as it touches the ground your wife begins clapping. She's an airplane clapper. You get on a plane right back to America and you never speak again."
Both the history of the landing clap, as well as details about its prevalence in global society, are a little muddy. Applause, of course, is generally a means to show praise, so it would stand to reason that clapping upon landing is a way to thank the pilots and crew for a job well done. According to Mic, the earliest known mention of passengers applauding was in November 1948, when an American Airlines aircraft landed safely in Cincinnati after the crew thought there was an issue with the landing gear.
Sure, that's reasonable. But on your average flight with nothing tricky going on—at least not to the passengers' knowledge, anyway—you might still hear some plane clappers in your cabin. So who's actually doing the clapping? Interestingly, the phenomenon isn't specific to one demographic, at least not in terms of nationality. Passengers have reported hearing the landing clap on routes all across the world, and it seems to pop up at somewhat random times.
There does seem to be some loose correlation with cultural norms, though. People from Latin America, for instance, tend to be more outwardly expressive than people from Asia, meaning you might be more likely to hear clapping on routes to or from Brazil than you would to or from Japan.
And applause on landing is a more common occurrence on certain airlines too. For instance, on El Al flights that are landing in Israel, many passengers clap because they're excited to return to the homeland. "It's part of the spirit of the airline," El Al spokeswoman Sherly Stein told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. And on Ryanair, a fanfare used to play after landing, accompanied by an announcement celebrating another on-time flight—whether or not the flight was actually on time—often resulting in a celebratory round of applause from passengers. (A win for the anti-clappers: in 2014, passengers voted for Ryanair to change the tune, and now a much more subdued recording plays.) JetBlue even ran an ad featuring plane clapping, though that was specifically tied to its routes to Puerto Rico, a destination where local culture approves applause after landing.
Cultural influences aside, veteran flight attendant and blogger Kara Mulder speculated that plane clapping has to do with whether or not you're a frequent flyer. "If you're flying every other week, you're not going to clap when you land; it's normal," she told Travel + Leisure.
As such, you're more likely to encounter applause upon landing on leisure routes like Chicago to Punta Cana due to the higher number of less-experienced flyers on board than you would have on a commuter route like New York to Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, many anti-clappers take issue with applauding a pilot for simply doing his or her job. As a comparison, you don't clap when an engineer pulls a train into a station or when a valet brings your car around front for you.
"Why are we clapping? Because we're alive? Is it surprising that we're alive? Is it because we arrived at our sunny destination in the Caribbean? Did we think we wouldn't?" said Laura Dannen Redman in a Condé Nast Traveler article about editors' stances on the matter. "If the pilot navigates a bumpy landing with skill and style, I'll clap. But I don't give participation trophies."
While the heated debate might be a little irrational—at the end of the day, a little applause never hurt anyone—it'll likely continue to be one of the most contested topics in aviation. So, which side of the aisle are you on?
And for more interesting airline info, check out the 17 Terrible Mistakes You're Making When Booking Flights Online.