The five minutes of prayer and five seconds of clapping while traveling
As the plane starts to pick up speed down the runway, slowly people start quieting their plane talk while their heart rate starts to mightily speed up. Look around as the plane speeds up and you see eyes closed, hands clenched, opened eyes darting about, and oscillating chests. When the plane starts that lift into the air, there is a silence of voices but loud booming noises. At times, there will be babies crying and at other times there will be plane rattling that is quite unnerving. Yet, there is an eerie cold silence. Everyone is thinking one thing, or rather hoping for one thing: to survive the take-off. It is as if we are all trying to collectively will a smooth burst up into the air. That sense of eeriness is spookily eerie. Whatever anyone’s religious or spiritual beliefs may be, most individuals appear to be in a deep revere and contemplation during those first five minutes of an airplane ride. There is fear, hope and listlessness all wrapped up into one flight mind meld.
It can take about five minutes or so until you hear the bell chime ring twice letting the cabin crew and passengers know that we have reached a level where we can now distract ourselves with electronics. Once those bells chime, there is a massive cabin movement. I once sat next to a young man who was quite nervous about flying. He explained to me that he felt disconnected from everybody and the world and that he needed, as soon as allowed, to connect to the airplane internet service. When the bell chimed twice he sprung out his laptop and started to connect. I followed suit. Then we both sighed at the same time. For some reason our row was not getting access to the internet. He needed a drink; a rather stiff one at that. Considering that I am an anxious frequent flier that was put in the position to calm down my fellow passenger, I was in serious need of a few stiff drinks. You know it is a bad situation when I am the calm one.
After those first 10,000 feet we go from being deep in thought to going about random tasks to distract ourselves. Occasionally, when the plane does a jolt here or there, we go back to those previous five minutes of reverence. As we get ready to land, we start packing our items away and dreaming of what we will do upon landing. Some individuals start to yawn and pop their ears; while others get a bit of that anxiety. Some people are more anxious as the plane is about to land versus while it takes off. Once we land, there are the continuous message and phone alerts chiming about. If you have just arrived from Puerto Rico, you may very well hear clapping. Puerto Ricans are so grateful to land safely that they let out a wide series of claps. Every once in a while, you will hear them yelp “wepa.”
While I always found the Puerto Rican ritual of clapping at the end of a flight to be a tad bit odd, I have sadly noticed that clapping round is on the decrease. Lately, more and more flights to or from Puerto Rico end with a hushed tone and barely a clap. Where has all the clapping gone? The last trip I was on in which I was returning from Puerto Rico, I prepared to hear the sounds of clapping and mirth, but there was not a single applause. I looked around and indeed there were less Puerto Ricans on the plane but there still were Puerto Ricans on board. I wanted to go up to them and ask them why they were not clapping. As a social psychologist part of me believes it is a sign of increased acculturation. It could also point to a decreased sense of fatalism. It very well could just be that more people are having a drink or two and are too otherwise occupied to clap. Either way, it is sad to see a decline in such a jubilant expression of being alive and safe. If we are to start with a moment of contemplative and reflective silence should we not end with a moment of grand glee?
A prayer and a clap should indeed serve as bookends to a long, long flight.
Bring back the applause, I say. Also, you need not be Puerto Rican to clap. You just need to be happy at the thought of making it safely back on land.