Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” These words have begun to haunt everyone who loves the convenience of using computers while in flight.
There are indeed many ways of moving forward with this convenience, but only one thing stands in the way: fear of terrorism.
Increased fear of terrorism and advances in technology have led to devastating policy pronouncements from mainly the US.
And the panic is not over yet as Europe and other countries might take a leaf from the Americans. During a recent trip to the US, I witnessed the difficulty of carrying a laptop out of United Arab Emirates. Throughout the 16-hour flight from Dubai to Washington, passengers were denied permission to use laptops.
As if the security checks in the boarding areas were not enough, disclosing that you are carrying a laptop becomes a nightmare. The carry-on luggage is physically checked and your laptop is taken away and shipped separately.
Just as we surrendered our individual liberties at airport checks, we shall continue to endure renewed fear of terrorism and accept the new measures aimed at minimizing the occurrence of terrorism.
It is expensive, not just to airlines, but also to passengers, especially those who take the advantage of the long trips to do some work in-flight.
The new normal is likely to reverse the enjoyment of the technological advancements deemed to be capable of being exploited by terrorists to nefarious ends.
With increasing Wi-Fi availability in most flights, travel was beginning to change as passengers could respond to their clients almost instantaneously while in the air.
Although it is too early to estimate the economic impact of such policy pronouncement, four of the largest carriers, specifically Turkish, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad, have started to feel the pinch.
The number of passengers using the Middle East hubs is declining. As a result, the Economist of May 13 said that in March 2017, capacity utilization of Middle East airlines fell to 73 per cent, the lowest since 2006. Emirates cut flights to US by 20 per cent while its profits fell by 82 per cent in 2016.
In March, Turkish Airlines revealed its first annual loss since privatization in 2004. Etihad is in a tight spot and contemplating drastic strategic changes, having seen its acquisitions such as Alitalia declare bankruptcy.
Only state-supported Qatar Airways is doing well in these turbulent times occasioned by more strict in-flight regulations on flights from Middle East to the US as well by tumbling oil prices.
The Middle East is waking up to a stark reminder that their economic growth is built on quick sand, largely dependent on the Western world.
They now need a more sustainable strategic direction. It is increasingly becoming difficult to continue believing in the Western magic for economic growth with Brexit, Donald Trump and the general rise of ultra-nationalism.
France, Holland and Austria were within the cusp of falling into the hands of nationalist ideals and this was not lost on the rest of the world.
Ideologies that we knew and could predict are dissipating. In their place, radical nationalist ideals are emerging, mainly driven by fear of not just terrorism but immigration.
The writing is on the wall. If nationalists cannot see that we are all in this emerging uncertain world of terrorist menace together, it is time to create new partnerships, develop new consumers and ensure sustainable development.
The daily happenings in the US point to the fact that it is losing global leadership and the vacuum created has to be filled to avoid anarchy as in the past. The challenge is how to maintain peace in the event there is change especially now with rogue governments like North Korea.
In the meantime, the ban on laptops should herald new innovations. Each seat in a plane should perhaps become a computer terminal linked to a cloud service such that one could still work in the plane and retrieve their work from the cloud into their laptop.