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On a recent flight to Romania, the whole flight erupted with applause once we'd landed. This wasn't a "difficult" flight - no turbulence, delays, or hijackings. Just a bog standard flight.

On the return flight to London, no one applauded.

However, when I flew to and from Jamaica lots of people applauded. Again, a fairly routine flight.

Are there traditions in some countries around clapping? Can airline staff predict who is likely to applaud?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica May 16 '16 at 14:37
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    Additional point I've always wondered about: can pilots actually hear the applause in the cockpit? – Thomas May 18 '16 at 9:08
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    My brother, an airline pilot, says that whenever he lands a charter flight, no matter how hard the landing is, they always applaud. – Pavel May 18 '16 at 10:26
  • Related to herd mentality, one of the explanations below, I notice the same at the movies. I saw a particular recent movie twice, one showing, clap less, the other, I started the clap at two critical points and at the credits, the whole theatre joining every time. – JTP - Apologise to Monica May 18 '16 at 15:12
  • Not a full answer, but this is pretty much standard fare in a lot of Central/Eastern European countries. In fact, I've never experienced a flight in Eastern Europe during which people didn't clap on landing. – errantlinguist May 18 '16 at 15:19
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A cabin crew member here, and I am from a country where people do not clap after landings and I was very surprised when I experienced this for the first time, so I started asking passengers when this happens on different flights. Basically there are three main reasons:

  1. A sign of appreciation: the smoother the flight/landing, the stronger the clapping. You know, clapping is cheaper and more feasible than sending the crew flowers.

  2. A sign of happiness for safely landing. The harder the flight was, the stronger the clapping will be. There could be other reasons as well behind "happiness", I am sure it happened with me when no one expected it to happen, but in general it happens on certain flights with certain communities on a regular basis.

  3. A sign of excitement for reaching home. Seen this in flights where most of the passengers are expats arriving home after spending a long time away from home.

The three above situations happen more when arriving home, not when going away from home. That also was noticed.

I guess in some communities, this clapping thing became a tradition, Egypt for example. While the applause is mainly a sign of excitement, people from there do not need a reason to do so. You'll see passengers from all classes (even rich people in first class) will usually clap especially older ones regardless of the flight even if it was a one hour flight with no service and a hard landing!

There are also other less common reasons behind that. Sometimes crew announcements initiate that, as mentioned in the comment (the crew announced that this was the last flight before the captain's retirement), another announcement that I personally experienced when the captain announced the result of an important football match (he got the result from the ATC).

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    In addition, I was once on a flight where the cabin crew let us know that it was the last flight before the captain's retirement after many years with the airline. We gave him a round of applause on landing. – Patricia Shanahan May 13 '16 at 13:53
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    I have heard clapping often happened on holiday charter flights from the Netherlands to the (then) typical 'cheapish' destinations like Spain and Italy, listening to the people who used those flights it was just the thing to do, they were surprised when on their first scheduled flight nobody applauded. – Willeke May 13 '16 at 14:08
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    @MastaBaba, if people are clapping for arriving home (reason 3) that would probably only be in one direction. – user35890 May 13 '16 at 14:50
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    @MastaBaba true, I have edited the answer to include that these clapping thing usually happens more when landing "home".. i noticed that as well. people tend to do it less when arriving other countries. – Nean Der Thal May 13 '16 at 14:55
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    +1 for the expats, that's been the reason when I've seen this happen. – Mehrdad May 13 '16 at 18:16
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To add to Heidels answer: Humans are herd mammals, psychologically speaking. If you pay attention to such applause, usually it starts slowly with 1 or 2 people clapping, then others joining in until eventually everyone is clapping and cheering. You don't have the entire plane bursting into applause at the exact moment the wheels touch down. Sometimes it start, but never quite gets going and quickly fades again.

It takes a certain number of people to clap before everyone joins in. So depending on whether you have enough people that always clap or not, applause may:

  • not start;
  • start slowly and quickly die;
  • start slowly and grow to encompass the entire aircraft;
  • start quite fast and quickly grow to encompass the entire aircraft;
  • last long;
  • last short.

As to why some locations do this and others don't, that's usually due to what kind of destination it is. Romania and Jamaica are mostly vacation destinations: people go there to relax, and they're probably happy that they have started their holiday, or happy to have arrived at their destination. On the other hand, the return flight to London is mainly a home destination: people return from vacation, and they're probably a little bit worn from their vacation and not really looking forward to returning to the threadmill, so they're less likely to be happy about that.

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    Can't say I've ever heard of Romania being a popular tourist destination. – David Richerby May 13 '16 at 17:14
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    @DavidRicherby Tourist numbers have fallen a lot in the last decade but it's still a billion-dollar sized sector of the economy, and now growing again. Nearly 80% of Romanian tourists are from Europe - which may be a plus point, for some of them! – alephzero May 13 '16 at 18:41
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    @DavidRicherby Jamaice received around 2M tourists in the first half of 2013. Romania received about 1.7M in the whole of 2013. So it is not nearly as popular as Jamaica, but tourism is still important for the economy. Tou are probably looking at it from beach tourism, but Romania has a rich history with many old towns and buildings. It attracts a different crowd, but it's still mainly foreigners who fly there on vacation, not locals returning home from vacation. Romania's economy is not yet good enough for that. – Nzall May 13 '16 at 18:50
  • This is not about vacation destinations. Clapping and cheering on landing is traditional in some places. Italians always do it. In Romania it is not traditional, but it is getting more popular due to Italian influence (many Romanians work in Italy). – Szabolcs May 13 '16 at 19:10
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    Obligatory link to Wikipedia about people being paid to start applauses in theatre. – Édouard May 14 '16 at 10:01
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The answers above are good, but I'd like to add a few things. People have clapped on flights because of:

  • Pilot's last flight/senior crewmember retiring
  • Smooth flight in rough weather
  • Rough landing ("we survived!")
  • Landing ahead of schedule

All of these things may be the root cause of the clapping but in many cases most people start clapping because their neighbors were clapping. Additionally, there are a few people that always clap all the time (many Americans do this) and it only takes a few of those people to start the whole plane clapping.

Generally, people in business class clap far less.

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    I've flown extensively both in the USA and internationally, mostly in Europe and East Asia, and I've rarely heard anyone, much less Americans, clap during landing. Perhaps you are talking about South American flights? – bob0the0mighty May 13 '16 at 16:17
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    @bob0the0mighty American here, flown a lot. I heard Americans clap upon landing once. A large religious group, presumably very patriotic. Had just landed from Schiphol. I think the group dynamic caused it, although other patriotic folks joined in. Totally unremarkable flight other than a southern accent saying "welcome home, folks!". It was also my first ever international return to the US so I wondered whether it was normal until the next one. – la femme cosmique May 13 '16 at 16:26
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    @hownowbrowncow I find your ability to get offended by everything slightly amusing. – pipe May 14 '16 at 0:20
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    I don't find anything particularly insulting, but I don't believe Americans are very prone to clapping for landings. It's quite uncommon on US domestic flights, especially if it wasn't a particularly difficult landing in bad weather or otherwise a special situation. – Zach Lipton May 14 '16 at 3:11
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    I'm curious on your source for "many Americans do this." I am American and a relatively frequently flier and I've literally never heard anyone clap on landing that I can recall. – reirab May 15 '16 at 5:46
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The accepted answer and the supporting answers are all good, but me living in a country neighboring Romania, and having too many flights between the UK and my country, the explanation is much simpler.

We're generally poor. We don't get to fly that often, half these flights are filled with older relatives visiting their migrant children. So a flight is generally an exciting, new and most of all scary thing for these people.

What the applause means is "Great job, on landing and not killing us, bravo" It's comparable to the "thank you" on your way out of the UK bus.

I personally hate this, as I've already payed my ticket, showing my trust with the company and by proxy, the pilot, and moreover he's much more concentrated on finishing the landing to hear me clapping at the back ... As mentioned in the Question, much more extraordinary things need to happen, for the pilot to earn my "Thank you for doing your job"

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    "Well done for doing your highly paid job properly and not killing us all". I agree completely... although it makes me sound like a grumpy old man – Greg Woods May 17 '16 at 8:57
  • @GregWoods Well I said it so ... :D I'm more grumpy – Иво Недев May 17 '16 at 8:58
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Israelis do this.

In Israel, it is very common for people to clap their hands and applaud after landing, especially when flying with the national airline El Al.

While it might sound silly - a lot of Israelis are very proud of the fact they do in fact have a nice airline with good pilots. Add that to the fact that pilots in El-Al often have ex-airforce backgrounds (and are considered heros) and you get part of the motivation.

So, it's part motivated by that pride and part by the fact the airplane made it.

Some Israelis also burst into song, especially when making Aliyah (moving to Israel from another country) or returning to Israel. Typically "Hevenu Shalom Aleichm" (We have brought peace upon you).

It's a weird national quirk - but it has been pretty consistent until recently and has become slightly less (but still very) common over the past few years.

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Years ago, there were a series of dc-10 crashes. In my experience, passengers started applauding safe landings in that time period -- particularly on dc-10s. It was a bit of gallows humor ... "We made it!"

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At the risk of making broad over-generalizations, I'd say people are likely to clap on an ordinary landing if

  • they don't trust their (national) culture - as it concerns professionalism, safety, planning ahead, etc. - enough to feel it's reasonable to assume an endeavor such as a plane flight will conclude without some kind of crash, or
  • their cultural background makes them think of the pilot(s) as some sort of friends of theirs, people who they are rooting for; and since they don't actually have friends who pilot aircraft - that's quite a feat for their friend(s) to have pulled off.
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    The fact that Germans are top after-landing-clappers rules out both points ;) – Nean Der Thal May 13 '16 at 22:27
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    I do not quite understand the second item. Why would you have to be friends with someone to applaud to them? In fact, isn't applauding a rather anonymous way of expressing appreciation, and thus more appropriate to use towards strangers? People clap after a concert or a theatre play, after a speech, possibly also at the end of a tour (to the tour guide, to the chartered bus driver ... actually, this is quite close to clapping for a pilot already). None of the people involved are - usually - friends of the applauding crowd. – O. R. Mapper May 13 '16 at 22:36
  • @HeidelBerGensis: Who said Germans are top after-landing-clappers? Also, no, it doesn't rule out any of the points, it's not an exclusive-if. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica May 13 '16 at 23:36
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    @einplokum: "It's not like applauding a performer" - what makes you think so? Whenever I witnessed clapping on a plane, it seemed exactly like applauding a performer. – O. R. Mapper May 14 '16 at 5:59
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    @HeidelBerGensis: I have never experienced a flight on a German airliner landing in Germany during which people clapped on landing; Where are you flying to/from? – errantlinguist May 18 '16 at 15:21
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From my experience in the United States it is more a tradition with specific airlines to help stand out from the crowd to say thank you and express gratitude for the pilot after a good landing, or any landing at all. Specifically in the US Southwest airlines do this, along with many other things including jokes from the flight staff to stand out from other airlines, and help the passengers relax and have more fun. It has happened on every Southwest flight I have been on (15+ flights) and none of the other airlines in the US.

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    How does the airline control whether applause happens? – Henning Makholm May 14 '16 at 12:59
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    Just by promoting it, for example right after the plane lands all the attendants/staff start clapping. Passengers join right in, its human nature. Obviously every person is different and not everyone joins in, but the majority do. – DIYGUY May 14 '16 at 13:45
  • I have only seen this on Southwest as well, so +1 from me. – Burhan Khalid May 15 '16 at 4:27
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    Hmm... That's interesting about SWA. I fly with them somewhat frequently and I've never heard clapping on a landing. I've heard lots of SWA FAs making jokes and such during taxi or waiting for pushback, but never clapping during a landing. – reirab May 15 '16 at 6:05
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    I've -heard- this is common on Ryanair as well. 3rd hand knowledge so take this with a grain of salt. – Belle-Sophie May 15 '16 at 13:19
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I would say that some cultures are more emotional and playful to the event of something that could go wrong and this is a way to cope/reliefing with that back of the head stress. Less travel time leads to more excitement. This wears down once flying becomes more frequent in life and you become experienced with its procedures. But once in awhile, why not cope with the enjoyment :)...

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