Thursday, December 6, 2012

Flying Opera (My sky-high life)

First Officer Thierry Beyeler

Flying Opera
Last week I went to the opera. It was fascinating once again: Acting, singing and dancing mixed with beautiful scenes and an impressive orchestra. Everything was live, loud and dynamic. At the end of the show, the audience clapped their hands enthusiastically and gave the performers a standing ovation, during which my thoughts wandered away from theatre for a short while. People often ask me if we still receive applause from passengers after landings. So I started to think why people gave applause on airplanes some years ago. And why they still do – on rare occasions.

Good old times
Applause has been a sign of acknowledgement for hundreds of years. And applause was apparently often heard on airplanes in the old days. Why? I can only guess. Wasn’t a flight like an opera? Wasn’t it a unique event? The crew prepared seriously behind the scene. When the curtain fell (or boarding began), the crew started their several hours live performance: Standing and sitting in front of the audience. Making melodious announcements for everyone’s safety. Changing altitude to avoid turbulence. Minimizing ground time to be punctual. Everything live! Simply giving their best, so that passengers felt comfortable, passionate and could experience a beautiful event – like at the opera. And after all this, passengers possibly wanted to express their acknowledgement and gave a warm round of applause to the flight crew.

Good new times
May I say that we, the flight crews, are still doing exactly the same as described above. We still give our very best for the “audience”. Moreover, our workload might even have increased. Well, the scenery has changed a bit. Flying has become daily business. It is no longer perceived as being such a unique thing as it once was. And as the cockpit door is constantly locked, we would not really hear the applause (if it happens, though, the flight attendants always tell us). Because I am a relatively young pilot, I never experienced the “scenery” of the past. I “grew up” with the locked cockpit door and without applause after landings. I “grew up” with the tough competition of the low-cost airlines. I would never expect any applause for anything. And this is the main point: As it is so unexpected, it appears to me to be of even greater uniqueness and a special surprise if on rare occasions we receive this form of appreciation. For whatever reason it might be. In this sense, we get less of a thing. And because we get less of that thing, we appreciate it more. Isn’t that true for many other things too?

My thoughts are back at the opera. The standing ovation has ceased. People are now heading home through the cold and foggy winter night. Have a beautiful Christmas time, everybody!


  1. Honestly? I think, it is because nowadays, it is rather ridiculuous to applause for a landing. Still, if a pilot manages to perform a super-soft landing in harsh conditions, applause would not be bad. But if I fly from Zurich to Hannover, a one hour flight, performed probably three times a day by the same crew, what is special about that? Do you applause, if your local busdriver stops at the station? Or in the train? I guess not. Furthermore, people now used to say that someone giving applause after landing basically outs himself as a non-frequent flyer. It even exists a dirty-word for it in German: Charterfluglandungsklatscher. So, even if I totally agree that it is nice to hounour the job done by the pilot, it should remain something special for special occasions (as the mentioned landing in difficult conditions). Applauding for each and every landing would simply turn it into something... routinely normal.

    1. I'm afraid the average passenger is not in a position to asses whether the landing was a good one or not. A super soft landing (especially in harsh conditions) can uqually be a bad landing.
      And also, as a pilot, should I not see every flight as a special one? The beforementioned third flight of a day to Hannover is as unique as the first or the second to every pilot. Otherwise we would not be able to deliver the same high quality, high safety flight on EVERY flight, not only the ones that seem special to the outsider.

  2. Hi Everone,

    To applause it's a good feeling, good recognition, good move for the pilot and his team, as well the company. But sometime, people did it to early, they should wait until the airplane is stop, not during the manoeuvres. They should say that to the passengers.
    No matter the distance, because anything might happen, even during a 10 minutes fly.
    Best regards to all,

    Stephane Belizaire

  3. Nowadays people just clap his hands in two cases:

    1. They do not fly too much.

    2. The weather is so bad and the have been afraid during it.

  4. I wanna fly... nice article..

  5. Hello there! I travelled from Frankfurt to Rome and back just yesterday. Curiosity is killing me!
    Whose are the songs you played on the plane before taking off? That "soundtrack" is amazing! PLease let me know the name of the artist!!! Francesca