Everyone knows that the fear of dying in a plane crash is an irrational one – unless you’re flying in Russia or Ukraine*. These are less two separate countries and more two sides of a coin that you’re likely to find in the wreckage of one of their planes. If a sign of a functioning democracy is the safety of its air travel, then clearly there is work still to be done.
How much work?
Consider, before answering, the fact that these travelers believe the trip they – and by extension, their country – is on doesn’t require work but applause. This kind of delusion is typically only found in backwater dictatorships, usually submerged in a thick religious fog, and is banished only seconds before making impact with earth – or after having already been buried under it.
Take my current predicament. The plane I’m on is descending or, to put it more accurately, tossing violently through the air like a communist leaflet in a hurricane. The wind can prove an unrelenting suitor, and only seconds before the wings are about to cry out “rape!” the plane smacks the tarmac. It bounces a couple of times, the cabin’s occupants tossing around like kernels in a tub of popcorn. Somehow, the woman beside me has maintained a steady grip on her fashion magazine the entire time – her long, curling nails barely denting David Beckham’s face.
Must be a frequent flyer.
The pilot hasn’t even regained control of the aircraft, which is still casting about like a paranoid dictator drunk on vodka, and yet the entire cabin is erupting in… applause. Yes, they are… clapping. Is this candid camera? Some kind of bizarre psychological experiment being played out on a Ukrainian Airlines’ flight? The airline has always been something of a joke, I just never knew that it was a joke the passengers were in on. After all, this is an airplane and, in 2016, air travel isn’t exactly new technology. Neither is this the Space Shuttle Columbia, though bursting into flames is likely how many of these aircraft go out of service.
Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe the clapping is for all the crap the crew have had to put up with during the flight. The cell phone calls, the crying babushka, the incessant smell of onions… come to think of it, the flight attendant hasn’t been over to our end of the plane in a while.
A man, presumably named Boris, is standing in the aisle, struggling to remove his oversized bag from the overhead. Mind you, the plane is still hurtling down the runway, but Boris doesn’t care.
Boris doesn’t care about a lot of things.
He’s wearing what appears to be a fisherman’s net. His hair, meanwhile, is so greasy he probably ordered it at McDonalds.
What Boris does care about is making sure he’s the first one off the plane. Apparently he’s got a cabinet meeting to chair.
The rush to leave the plane.
This isn’t a phenomenon confined to Ukraine, but under the current circumstances it leaves me feeling like I’m the one who’s gone insane. If there’s a connecting flight, that makes sense, but this is Kharkiv. The next flight out won’t leave for another two hours, and it’s going back to where we just came from.
Clapping on airplanes? Check. Authoritarian leader? Double check. Let’s hope they’re packing parachutes.
Clearing the wreckage
The most common defense I have heard for clapping on airplanes goes something like this: “It’s to show gratitude to the pilot!” Still stupid, but even more so when considering the unlikelihood that the pilot can even hear the passengers, what with the cabin door and the headset and all that.
Tatyana Volkova is a psychologist who counsels individuals who suffer from a fear of flying. And why not? Where she comes from, people probably should have a fear of flying. Volkova says: “Pilots don’t hear the clapping and can only learn about the passenger’s grateful response from flight attendants. Therefore, when we clap, we clap not so much for them as for ourselves.”
Next stop: Full-Blown Dictatorship
*Much has been written on the poor conditions of Russian air travel. See this Wall Street Journal article on why Russia “has become the most dangerous country in which to board an airliner.” http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204449804577068483346152726
They also clapped when I landed in Kazakhstan, so I guess it’s a regional thing. I clapped right along, hoping I wasn’t “clapping American.”
“Apparently he’s got a cabinet meeting to chair.” I’m clapping for that.
It’s got to be a regional thing. Fascinating though! I really do wonder if isn’t connected with the former Soviet Union’s higher crash rates.
Maybe it’s a combination of the two things you mentioned. Flying IS more dangerous there, and they also have a more obeisant attitude toward officialdom, at least in public.
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Brendan, what about the clap-in-unison that audiences do after a performance (ballet, etc)? That thing used to totally freak me out- what fate would befall the person who dared to clap out of sync? 😉 Your thoughts on this, please.
Oh, great point Katherine! I’d actually forgotten about this as its been so long since I’ve been to a performance of something here. Amazing how everyone has this clapping routine down pat though! Quite surreal!