Why Do Passengers Clap When Planes Land?

Have you ever cheered or clapped when a plane landed? Although it's not a rule of flying, it does happen – whether on an inaugural flight on a new route, a pilot's birthday, or after a particularly turbulent flight. It seems like every country’s airline passengers think they are the only ones. But all the available evidence is that clapping when a plane lands is an entirely international phenomenon.

Kara Mulder, a flight attendant with eight years’ experience, and the blogger behind The Flight Attendant Life, thinks the phenomenon is largely related to the nature of the destination. “When you’re going to New York, most people are going for business or going back home,” she says. “When you’re going to Vegas, most people are going to party.” (Speaking of which, people are very enthusiastic about getting to Vegas and availing themselves of its various charms: “Eighty percent of the time, are gonna clap.”)

Does she think it’s a compliment to the pilot on a safe or smooth landing? “I don’t think so,” she says, although she allows that very occasionally, a pilot will earn applause for a good landing despite bad weather, as recently occurred when she arrived in London.

Mulder would add that there’s “a socioeconomic thing” at play, too. “If you’re flying every other week you’re not going to clap when you land; it’s normal. People who travel more aren’t going to clap as much.”

As for whether this is largely a domestic or international phenomenon, Heather Poole, 20-year flight attendant and author of Cruising Altitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, emailed, “It's been a long time since I've heard passengers clap, but that might be because I fly mostly domestic routes. Clapping mostly only happens on international flights.”

Of course, the real problem with the clapping is the fact that the pilot cannot hear what is happening and will not know unless told by cabin staff. But whatever the reasons for this peculiar human phenomenon, it’s not going anywhere. So now the only question is: will you be clapping on your next flight?

Why Do Passengers Clap When Planes Land?