Why do I clap in airplanes

A very biased take on expectations, embarrassment and gratitude

One day I googled “clapping in airplanes” in English — and a huge wave of snobbery had swept me off my feet. Oh those annoying plane clappers, — articles said — those barbarians, enraging us educated passengers with their nonsense exaltation.

Now let me introduce myself: the plane clapper, till the day I die and for all the flights to come. Hurt, but unbroken by this discovery, I did some research to understand the phenomena.

Here are some facts about plane clapping:

  • Airplane clappers mostly come from developing countries
  • Clapping often happens in vacation destinations in planes full of tourists
  • People who fly rarely, with cheap airlines and/or are afraid are most likely to clap
  • Clapping can only be justified by high society if you all were about to die
  • People on the Internet never miss a chance to mock airplane clappers

So why doing it?

There is a difference between “oh God we’re alive” clapping after a rough flight, and an “oh cool we’re here” one. Here I lay down my personal reasons for the second, completely unreasonable applause.

Because I remember that things don’t always work out the way they should

As if it was a bad thing.

I’m a developing country citizen and cheap airlines passenger, and I share with other barbarians an important experience: having low expectations. Autobus can come on time, or it can break up somewhere thirty kilometers away. Top university bathroom might be repaired last time in the 60s. You can get high-tech digital service in one place, and the shop next door only accepts cash and hates customers.

Things fly high, and they also fall. And seeing stuff that worked out as a miracle is an effective survival strategy.

However, I don’t think that it’s something that only developing countries can benefit from. Humans adapt to comfort too easily, and we tend to hide the backstage for better impression. Water appears in a tap out of nowhere, the Internet comes upon as God’s grace, trash disappears, waiters always smile, and ballet dancers’ movements are effortless.

Pointe by Tyler Shields

Clapper-haters see clappers as illiterate barbarians. I see clapper-haters as civilization’s spoiled kids, always wearing a bored frown to appear cool. I don’t want to be this, so I’m trying to remember the effort needed for everyday services. And about everything that could go wrong but didn’t.

So I clap.

Because showing gratitude doesn’t hurt

I tried to use Reddit and Quora to ask this question. It wasn’t that easy — for one supposed pilot’s response there were at least 6 comments from sneering clapper-hating passengers. However, the response was either neutral or positive.

Captain Joe’s video sums it up:

  • he says pilots don’t always hear the applause,
  • jokes about this habit,
  • tells that pilots appreciate hearing the gratitude and knowing that you’re happy to arrive,
  • and kindly asks to give a cashier at the supermarket if not a round of applause, but at least a smile for performing their job.

So, my judgment is that an applause doesn’t hurt.

Isn’t it just weird?

I found plenty of metaphors aimed to show the weirdness of plane clapping:

  • If you do that, why don’t you clap to the cashier?
  • Why not clapping when your bus arrives, or to your taxi driver?
  • Why not giving an applause to your microwave when it heats up your dinner?

And I don’t know how to reply. Really, why not? Can it have any impact apart from improving your mental health, as gratitude practices are proven to do?

Why is gratitude embarrassing, anyway?

Because I want to share this moment with you

Sophistication is the enemy of the natural — this is why loud tourists, ill-mannered kids and people expressing their excitement in public can be so irritating. And I’m all for sophistication: for fashionable clothing, refined table manners, elitist art and looking down at people with fewer diplomas than me. But sometimes I feel that I need a break.

Maybe clapping does for us, passengers, more than it does for pilots. An expert coined the term “shared survival”. An example of how shared survival feels was told me by a friend, who once had to get on train the morning after a terrorist attack. He took the same train as all the mornings before — but of course, passengers were very tense. He remembers the looks of relief they shared when the train arrived, and the unusual sense of unity during that trip.

I’m not saying we need to imagine a terrorist attack every time we head anywhere. But airplanes are the only form of travel that provides the moment of shared survival to all passengers in the same time while remaining safe. And if cheering for it may seem gaudy, it works as a reminder that we are all just human beings. We are all tourists and kids here on Earth. Might as well not be ashamed of that.

Takeouts

However, landing applause can be used as a regular anti-moron practice: not taking everything good as granted, expressing gratitude, and staying humble.

And I intend to keep doing that.

Stories from another hemisphere, written under a stripper pen name and in a second language. Because God forbid we make things easier for us.