MONTCHEVREL â€" Hidden in the hills of the Orne department, in Normandy, is the village of Montchevrel, population 230, with its church, garage and, surprisingly enough, nightclub.
On this Saturday night, the parking lot of the Tempo Club is full and the bouncer is welcoming: even the the people in T-shirts and sneakers, and the ones who've already had a bit too much to drink, are being waved through. Inside, the DJ, busy with his turntables, interrupts his track with a cheerful, "Welcome Norman jet set, youâ€™re at the Tempo, the Orneâ€™s best night nightclub."
Steven and Anthony (all the people quoted in this article wished to remain anonymous) are 20, have gel in their hair, tight polo shirts and shiny necklaces around their necks. Leaning against the bar, they seem to be in a deep conversation, each with a rye-and-coke in hand, their eyes watching every girl that passes by. "Look at her, she came with her mother," one of the young men jokes. "Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™ll help her pick anyone up."
Despite the deafening sound coming out of the surrounding speakers, I decide to approach them. Is it harder to meet girls at the countryside? "We live in tiny worlds," says Steven, a farm worker. "We all grew up together. There aren't a huge number of girls."
Which is why, when his brother, a student in the neighboring city of Le Mans, told him about an application that could "geo-locate girls," Steven downloaded it straight away. Tinder, a social network used by millions of French people, allows users to select profiles according to gender and geographic position.
Steven had high hopes. Only the application didn't really work in his case. "You can imagine my disappointment when I tapped the icon (the famous red flame on a white background) and...nothing appeared, not a single profile," he explains.
The young man gets his phone out from his jeans and demonstrates this before us. Almost no network, the letter E, for Edge, appears, but however long the iPhoneâ€™s small loading wheel keeps on pedaling, Tinderâ€™s message is clear: a white screen, with the words, "there are no new people around."
Alban, who doesnâ€™t really like nightclubs, lives in Frossay, a village located in the Loire-Atlantique Department, with a population of 3,100. He also experienced first-hand the limits of geo-locating dating apps. "When I installed Tinder, all I found was my sisterâ€™s profile, who lives in the same house as me," he says.
Tinder suggests users adjust their "discovery preferences" â€" to indicate whether they're looking for a man or a woman â€" and, most importantly, the "research distance." Therein lies the problem for people in more rural areas.
"The standard distance is 2 kilometers," says Alban, a theme park manager, in his 30s, with blue eyes and a charming smile. "Here, that only reaches the end of the field around my house. The only thing I can "match," as you say on Tinder, is a cow! If I extend it to 10 kilometers, it covers all of Frossay. But over there, the girls, I know them. I went to school with them and theyâ€™re all married with two kids."
And when, after a 25-kilometer radius, Tinder finally starts picking up profiles, the app coomes up against the French digital gap. As of the end of 2014, according to ARCEP, France's telecommunications regulator, nearly 70% of the territory, or 20% of the population, was still not covered by 4G. "It takes ages to see the pictures," says Alban. "It's hard not to get tired of it."
Doomed by distance
An urban bachelor can â€œzapâ€ pictures as fast as he sorts profiles. But in the countryside, the Tinder revolution still hasnâ€™t arrived. "Sometimes it's such a struggle that, yes, I'll admit it, I "like" without looking." This is the so-called "magic thumb" technique, where one rapidly presses the little heart icon a certain number of times, without taking the time to make a selection of the suggested profiles.
No network, not many profilesâ€¦ The other strategy is to go and "pick up your soulmate in the neighboring large city," says Charlotte, Albanâ€™s dark-haired younger sister. "I extend it to 50 kilometers to see the profiles in Nantes. But, when the distances are really long, the radius doesnâ€™t work that well. Sometimes I chat with a guy and realize he lives in Vannesâ€¦ Iâ€™m not going to travel 100 kilometers for a coffee!"
This, even more than the network problems, is the main pitfall of using Tinder in countryside: traveling dozens or even hundreds of kilometers for a meet-up. Doing so requires are car, and that's even more commitment.
"I chatted a lot with a girl who worked in Brest (300 kilometers away)," Alban recalls. "I suggested several times that we meet midway for a drink. She never accepted. Tinder dates in the countryside imply a whole lot of preparation that you canâ€™t do spontaneously. You have to organize your evening and be sure itâ€™ll work,â€ Alban adds.
Steven and Anthony are now drinking Vodka and apple juice under the dazzling neon lights of Montchevrelâ€˜s Tempo Club. They invented their own algorithm to deal with the prolem of long-distance dates: the "physique-fuel" decision. "In the countryside, meeting girls is expensive in gas, so they need to be worth the trip," Steven explains, pleased with his find. "At the same time, there are so few that Iâ€™m not sure we can be very demanding."
This distance issue makes certain apps completely ineffective. Happn, for instance, the â€œFrench Tinderâ€ that gained 9 million users across the world in barely a-year-and-a-half, connects people who physically pass each other. "The app detects other users that you passed, in a 250-meter-large geographic space," explains Marie Cosnard, the startup's young head of trends.
Charlotte, from Frossay, tried Happn. "But I didnâ€™t pass anyone," she says. Are geo-localizing dating apps exclusive to cities? Marie Cosnard admits that the "user experience in small towns and in the countryside has been poor."
"Too good to be true"
"Tinder in the countryside, first off, is a social filter," says Antoine, 30, an engineer living in Abbeville, in the Somme department. "In Picardy, girls still use candlelights, so when you see them on the app, it's the guarantee that they're at least a little smart," the motorbike and bowling enthusiast jokes. There's no guarantee, however, that the women are who they say they are, he admits.
"The problem with Tinder in rural areas is that behind the profiles, the girls aren't real," says Antoine. "They have eastern names and pictures that are too good to be true."
In large cities, the protitution element of Tinder is more hidden â€" lost in the crowd, as it were. It is much more visible in the countryside, where about one in 15 profiles are actually gateways to pornography sites or escort services, according to Antoine, Alban and other rural Tinder users.
"It always starts with a few kind messages, and very soon they ask you to go on another website, "because the network isn't good enough" to use Tinder," Antoine explains. "Sometimes, we even exchange our Facebook profiles, and after, to see the content, you have to give money."
As difficult as dating is for rural heterosexuals, it can be even trickier for homosexuals. "Unlike for heterosxuals, villages will never organize balls for us to meet," says Laurent, a Parisian who enjoys driving in the depths of the Bourgogne region to write. "Thereâ€™s no trendy bar, like in the Marais Parisian neighborhood. But thereâ€™s Grindr, and that can be a lifesaver for homosexuals.â€
Like Tinder, Grindr works by geo-locating user profiles. But it caters specifically to gays, and can be quite an eye-opener in some cases. François lives in a small town in the Var department. "Thanks to Grindr, I discovered the homosexuality of quite a few people I know. Like this discreet seller that I come across every day in his shop, who hit on me online," he confides.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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