eyes on the U.S.

Unpacking Ann Romney: How A Would-Be Mormon First Lady Looks Abroad

The wife of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney is a mix of trailblazer and tradition, Le Monde's correspondent explains to French readers. Mother of five children, Ann Romney tries to humanize her husband and put to rest any final doubts about th

Mrs. and Mr. Romney (BU interactive)
Mrs. and Mr. Romney (BU interactive)
Corine Lesnes

WASHINGTON - For the Republican candidates even more than for their Democratic counterparts, being with their wives during rallies is a necessity: it's a sign of their commitment to family values. In this respect, Mitt Romney stands as a champion. His wife Ann sticks to him like a leech. Unlike Newt Gingrich's wife Callista, Ann Romney also participates in the campaign: she defends her husband, she's involved in controversies....and she tweets. At 63, she only wears flashy jackets, striking a pose that is anything but unassuming.

To be the wife of a presidential candidate is a thankless job. In 2008, Michelle Obama was pushed aside by her husband's advisers after she made "insufficiently patriotic statements' seen as potentially scaring away white voters. Ann Romney is not held back. The Republican staff look for new ways to push her into the stoplight -- and her husband does not stop talking about her.

The proud husband tells how they met in primary school, about their flirting in high school -- and their marriage of 42 years. If he wanted to dismiss prejudices on Mormons, the former Governor of Massachusetts couldn't do it in a better way: they seem to be the perfectly happy and monogamous couple.

Until now, the Mormon debate has been largely avoided, except for one attack at the beginning of the campaign from an evangelical pastor close to then candidate Rick Perry, governor of Texas. But prejudices don't die easily and for many Americans, the Mormon faith is still associated with polygamy – even if the practice has been forbidden for a century. Comedian Stephen Colbert even joked about it in a recent television appearance, saying Mitt Romney's great-grandfather was exiled to Mexico with "his wife" (a picture appears on the screen), "and his wife" (second picture), "and his wife" (third picture). Miles Park Romney did in fact have multiple wives – five in total. He married the last one just before the prohibition of polygamy in 1890. He also had 30 children.

In 2007, during her husband's first run at the presidency, Ann Romney did not hesitate to joke about the subject. The main difference between Mitt and his (divorced) rivals, she said, was "that, at least, he only married one woman." This time around, however, she is carefully avoiding the issue, choosing instead to highlight Mitt's many attributes as a "perfect" husband. She even made voters cry when she told how "secure and supportive" he was during her fight against breast cancer in 2008, after a presidential campaign she did not enjoy.

Ann Davies, daughter of a Welsh self-made-man who became an industrialist in Michigan, had to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be able to marry Mitt Romney in 1969. The high school sweethearts might have married sooner, but Mitt shipped off to France to do missionary work. While he was gone, the future Mrs. Romney began dating someone else. She wrote Mitt a break-up letter – a painful episode that the Republican candidate sometimes hints at in his speeches. Of course the story had a happy ending. When Mitt returned home, Ann picked him up at the airport. He proposed to her right in the car. The wedding was celebrated in Michigan, and then in Salt Lake City.

Mother of five boys born over the course of 11 years, she tries to humanize her husband, who grew up in a privileged family. She owns racehorses, which she described once as "much needed friends' that help her cope with multiple sclerosis, something she was diagnosed with in 1998. The Romney couple invested $250,000 in a stud farm in California and she was seized by a sudden passion for dressage. If her husband is elected, she plans on bringing horse-riding to the White House.

Ann Romney moved center stage recently after Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen, weary of hearing Mitt Romney saying that his wife was keeping him updated on women's issues, said that "Ann Romney did not work a single day in her life." The Romney team immediately denounced this insult and Ann Romney reacted on her brand new Twitter account. "I chose to stay at home and to raise five children. And believe me, it's not easy at all," she wrote. According to her advisers, she chose not to have a cook or a baby-sitter, despite the fact she was married to a multimillionaire.

This incident couldn't have happened at a better time for Mitt Romney, who has struggled to attract female voters. Women tend to favor the Democrats. But this year the Democrats are doing even better among potential female voters, according to recent polls. The birth control debate, launched by Romney's then rival for the nomination, Rick Santorum, frightened a lot of a women. The Republican Party lost about 10 points in the polls these past weeks. In mid-April, Mitt Romney was 20 points behind Barack Obama among women.

The Republican candidate is hoping Ann will help him gain much of that lost support back. Even Barack Obama felt that he had to say something to defend the attacked mom: "There's no harder job than being a mom," he said.

Read more from Le Monde in French

photo - BU interactive

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

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.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

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.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

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 airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport


Hygiene rankings  

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.

Smoother check-in

​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.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

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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