Flying the German Way: Landing Applause

As I write this I’m on a cruise ship just off the Pacific coast of Mexico heading south from San Diego towards the port of Acapulco. That’s a bit ironic because (a) there are about a hundred German tourists on board our Mexico-bound vessel, and (b) I’m writing about flying and something I call “landing applause.”

San Diego

The scene as our cruise ship sailed out of San Diego. On the right: the Midway Museum aboard the famous WWII carrier. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Before we get to the flying part, a bit more about “die Deutschen” on board. Most of them hail from the Essen region of Germany, although at least one lady I spoke with yesterday is Austrian. One man from Essen or thereabouts surprised me by being much more chatty than your typical German, telling me (in German) all about his group’s Amerikareise. (Germans do tend to travel in groups, although there are exceptions.) He and his compatriots had flown from Germany to Atlanta, and then on to Los Angeles. They had seen a bit of the American West before boarding the Norwegian Sun in San Diego. As is often the case with Germans, this was not his first visit to the United States. We had our brief fellow-passengers conversation as our ship steamed (actually diesel-electricaled) out into the Pacific while most of us were standing on the upper deck watching the San Diego skyline and Coronado island recede into the hazy distance. San Diego lies close to the Mexican border, and soon we were in international waters within sight of northern Baja California’s mountains.

In the three days it will take our ship to reach Acapulco, I have a blog post to write. This one. So besides walking two miles a day (seven laps around the promenade deck) to compensate for eating too much good food and enjoying the other spoiled comforts of cruising, I’m squeezing in some work before play on the Mexican Riviera. The skies are now partly cloudy just a few days after Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo escaped major damage from Patricia, billed as the worst hurricane ever in the eastern Pacific, which then moved on to Texas as a tropical depression.

Baja coast

Off in the distance lies the coast of Baja California near Cabo San Lucas. We only passed by on our way to Acapulco, but we’ll return for a visit later. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Where was I? Oh yes, the flying thing. – Earlier I wrote about How to Find Cheap Air Fares to Europe and Germany, but now I have something else in mind related to flying.

Have you ever been on a Lufthansa flight from North America to Germany? When you finally land in Frankfurt all the German passengers break out in loud applause! Like it was a miracle we had a safe landing. (If I were the pilot, I’d be insulted.) I have also experienced the same thing on a flight from Berlin to Tenerife (Canary Islands). Germans have this need to express their joy over a safe landing by clapping.


Landing applause often occurs on charter and vacation flights. Niki is an Austrian airline (owned by Lufthansa) with scheduled flights and travel packages. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Back when flying was less common for intra-European travel, trains were cheaper and the most popular way to get around (remember the Eurailpass?), I could understand that – sort of. But today, when it’s often cheaper and quicker to fly, the landing applause custom seems even more odd than it did decades ago. But it’s one of those quaint German customs, like saying good-bye in the elevator to strangers whom you normally wouldn’t give the time of day. The first time I witnessed this strange German clapping it was a bit of a shock. I had never witnessed it before on any of my many flights in the US. But on most flights with Germans aboard, over time I came to expect landing applause.

As a result, I had always thought that landing applause was uniquely German, but recently my wife and I were flying from Barcelona to Madrid on Iberia for the first leg of our flight back to the States. After a short flight and another successful, normal touchdown in Madrid, people started clapping. Since it was a domestic flight in Spain on a Spanish airline, I was bit surprised. Turns out this clapping thing isn’t just a German custom, but also a European one. In fact, the ovation for the cockpit crew is pretty much a worldwide phenomenon. The landing applause custom is observed by Germans, Italians, Indians, Israelis, Russians, Japanese, Jordanians, Kenyans, and many others. But as far as I know it is almost unheard of in the United States. Perhaps once in a while at the end of a turbulent or difficult flight, but I have only experienced landing applause on foreign carriers and on non-US flights. Landing applause happens more frequently on holiday charter and long-haul flights, but the exuberant Spanish and Italians seem to do this even on shorter domestic flights.

The Barcelona-Madrid flight was not the first time I discovered that something I thought was German was not limited to Germans. A few years ago I wrote a post entitled Comparing Germany and France and… about my discovery that some customs I had thought uniquely German were in fact more generally European.

But, regardless of nationality, these people who clap following a good landing should know that the cockpit crew can’t hear the applause. As I said before, I think it’s something of an insult to the pilot. It’s also a bit like clapping in the cinema at the end of the movie. It’s more for the people clapping than anyone else. Landing applause often has an air of nationalistic togetherness about it as well. Israelis on an El Al flight returning to Israel, or Germans landing in Frankfurt on a Lufthansa flight may clap the loudest when celebrating a safe return home.

If people want to clap after a good landing, let them, but I won’t join them. I think it’s rather pointless, not to mention unsophisticated. A good landing is the only kind I expect. The captain is trained to do that. It’s not something I need to clap for. Should I also leave a tip in the cockpit? Anything besides a good landing is called a crash landing or, worse, a crash. Clapping after a good landing implies you didn’t expect to land safely. Experienced fliers do not and should not indulge in landing applause.

I wonder if the touring Germans broke out in applause after they landed in Atlanta? I prefer to think they did not. After all, it really wasn’t their first rodeo.


More cultural comparisons > Comparison Chart: US vs Germany

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