Flying from London to Ljubljana last Sunday, something rather weird happened as soon as the plane touched the tarmac and the engines kicked into reverse: people applauded.

And it wasn’t even a smooth landing…

It doesn’t happen so much in Australia, but in many other parts of the world it does, suggesting that this is a part of human behaviour and not some cultural quirk applicable to only certain communities.

And although this phenomenon isn’t new to me, the landing did make me wonder: why on earth do people feel compelled to do this? Are we clapping because we managed to get to our destination in one piece – that is, without crashing? Are we applauding because we actually landed in Bali (like we were supposed to) instead of Bratislava?

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Or are there other reasons that compel us to put our hands together? Well, it turns out there’s quite a few different reasons floating around in this debate…

Some travellers I’ve spoken to have suggested that perhaps the clapping has to do with the arrival destination in and of itself.

For example, people are more likely to clap upon landing in popular holiday destinations (say, like Bali, Fiji or even Cuba) than in your stock-standard capital city (or God forbid, Adelaide; jokes!) because the former destinations promise days of frolicking on the beach and knocking back G&Ts in the hotel bar, whilst the latter destinations are usually associated with home (or business) for most passengers on the plane – and nobody likes going home after a holiday.

There’s some merit to that argument.

Other people have told me that in-frequent travellers are more clapper-happy than those that fly regularly, and that’s because the excitement that rides along with flying in big heavy metal birds is palpable in the beginning of your flying days, but inevitably wears off after your third red-eye flight that same week.

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Again, I think that’s definitely a factor for some people.

Another reason that I think may be at play is that many people are in a state of anxiety when flying, and the clapping at the end is a way for them to channel that nervous energy – it’s a means of catharsis for them.

In a previous article on why people queue so early for flights, we talked about how basic anxiety is part of the travelling experience, especially when flying. In that same article we talked to a psychologist who told us that human beings are basically herd animals, and as soon as one of us does something the rest of us are likely to follow.

So could it be that a landing clapping session is a way to help us feel better for having sat through our anxiety and finally arrived safe and sound? And that it only takes one or a few people to get the clapping started? Perhaps.

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 you think people clap when they land? Let us know in the comments below.