But the more I learned about the history of airplane applause and the history of sneering at the same, the more I came to doubt the premise of my hunt. The phenomenon itself may be exaggerated in the minds of those who mock it. Indeed, I now suspect there are very few cabin clappers in the wild and that a pilot’s unearned bravos and bravas are not so much a scourge that ought to be curtailed as a curmudgeon’s fantasy of something that would in fact be quite annoying if it really happened on the regular. I mean to say that my pet peeve, and Handler’s, is more or less ginned up.
It’s not that no one ever celebrates the final moment of flight. (You can find plenty of examples of the cabin clap on YouTube.) But these are freak events. An airplane’s landing cheer exists, but it rarely gets deployed. When it does it’s often for a special reason—a touchdown in a heavy storm, perhaps, or under some other form of flight duress. This is not the cabin clap we mean when we call the clapper silly or suspicious, though. No, we’re referring to a different, maybe apocryphal variety: the applause that has no rationale—a knee-jerk cheer for a plane’s routine arrival.