Psychology of Clapping when the Plane Lands
Credit: AFP/Getty Images

If you feel the urge to applaud as your aircraft's wheels touch the runway, you're not alone.

But where does this urge come from? Are we thankful for surviving an extra long or turbulent flight? Eager to get a vacation started?

There are many theories to explain why people clap at the end of a flight, but none quite hit the mark.

Body language expert Judi James told The Sun that some people simply can’t help the impulse. “Subliminally, it’s a moment of shared survival because even for seasoned travellers,” she said. “Most people don’t realise they will be tense and holding breath ... it puts us back in control if we make a lot of noise together.”

But survival instinct doesn’t seem to cover it, because clapping when the plane lands could depend on where you’re flying.

“If you’re flying every other week you’re not going to clap when you land” flight attendant Kara Mulder previously told T+L. She said she had noticed that Parisians and Scandinavians, who may travel more than people from other countries, tend not to clap.

But one theory goes beyond class and culture. Instead, clapping at the end of a flight almost seems out of our control, as if we have a deep psychological need to follow the crowd.

“We may suppress our own clapping when we do not share surrounding others evaluating or appreciation of whatever it is they are applauding; more often than not, we join in,” Clark McPhail, a sociology professor who has studied applause, told Mic.

Sometimes clapping is just too contagious to resist.