Terror in Europe

Drinks For Five, Three Are Gone — A Tale Of Surviving In Paris

Maya and Mehdi were seriously injured at Le Carillon café during the Paris attacks. Three of their friends (including Maya's husband) were killed in front of them. Three months later, moving on is almost impossible.

Life begins anew at Paris's Le Carillon bar
Life begins anew at Paris's Le Carillon bar
Patricia Jolly

PARIS â€" Maya Nemeta, 27, and Mehdi Zaidi, 30, haven't seen each other since the night of Nov. 13. That Friday evening among friends began joyfully at an outdoor table of Le Carillon, the cafe in the 10th arrondissement of Paris that serves as their "HQ," and ended in a bloodbath.

They had met up then with Amine Ibnolmobarak, 29, Maya's architect husband, and Emilie Méaud, another architect and friend, 29, and her twin sister, Charlotte.

The five of them were out for drinks, discussing plans and dreams, when they heard what sounded like firecrackers at about 9:30 p.m.. After that, only two of them were still alive. Amine, Charlotte and Emilie were killed on the spot, never having seen the terrorist approach. Mehdi, sprawled out across two chairs, looked at Maya, though he was riddled with bullets, his elbow and right hip "smashed," his left humerus dislocated, a piece of calf torn off. Lying on the pavement, Maya tried in vain to get up. Her legs and right foot had just been struck by four bullets, and others "scraped" her face and back. "You OK?" "Yeah â€" you?" "Yeah, I'm OK," they gasped, stupefied.

"We weren't OK at all," Maya says today. "We were just making sure we were alive. I was holding my dead husband's face between my hands. I didn't realize how serious Mehdi's injuries were.”

"I'd like to come and see you"

After the first major surgical operations, Maya and Mehdi continued their convalescence and rehabilitation in different hospitals. Their stitched skin is reminiscent of heavily wounded soldiers. One limps, the other uses crutches. Long metal rods designed to repair their broken bones stick out from one of Mehdi's arms and from one of Maya's feet. They each still have to have a section of their iliac crests removed to be implanted on the bones of their injured limbs.

But these physical wounds affect them less than the emotional trauma they now share. The two friends have had very little contact since the attack because the memories are so painful.

After spending four days in an induced coma, Mehdi tried to call Maya, but her phone was still in the hands of investigators. At the end of November, Maya then sent him a text, but because the cuts on Mehdi's abdomen had become infected, he had no strength. He only sent a text back on Christmas day, too upset, not ready to meet up yet.

In early January, just after getting over a staph infection she got during a foot operation, Maya kindly asked again. "I very much hope you're better, that you have the strength to keep on going," she wrote. "I'd really like to come and see you, now that I can. The need is getting very strong, but let me know if you're not ready. I'll understand. Please know that I'm there, I'll be there, to talk, to remember, to laugh or cry, or just say nothing and understand each other."

During the Nov. 13 attack, Maya closed her eyes. She essentially has auditory and olfactory recollections. The sound of the shots, the first-aid workers who kept shouting, "Take care of the conscious people first." She counts on Mehdi to try and put the tragedy's sequence of events in order. "I haven't received Amine's autopsy report, and I don't want to wait for the official crime reconstruction, which will arrive in months, if not years," she says. "I need to know what happened. Mehdi will help me fill in the blanks."

"We'll need time"

So far, Mehdi hasn't fulfilled Maya’s wish. "Seeing each other again won't be easy," he says from his hospital room. "There were five of us and now there are only two. Maya was my oldest friend's wife, I've never seen her without him, and we also lost Charlotte and Emilie." Maya and Mehdi exchanged a few words over the phone in early February. It was warm, but "in a check-up kind of way," Mehdi says. "We'll need time and more than words for the rest," he explains. "It will be a painful but necessary step."

He has a head start on Maya in this. "I have an unfailing recollection of the scenes we went through because I made sure I wouldn't forget them to be able to survive," he says. He also has seen his "good Samaritan" several times: a young woman who helped the rescue teams carry his stretcher. Together, they relived these indelible scenes.

In mid-January, when he was allowed to go outside, Mehdi returned to Le Carillon. At sunset, he pulled a table and a chair onto the pavement, sat down by himself and smoked a cigarette, crying. "My hands were sweaty and my heart was beating like mad," he recalls. "It wasn't a punishment I was inflicting myself, just a necessary step." He left "shaken, exhausted, but appeased."

With the help of her family, Maya has found another apartment "to learn to live without Amine." Near the Buttes-Chaumont park in northeast Paris, the couple shared a floor in a small house, where she says she'll never be able to return. She is now set to move as soon as possible to the sixth floor of a building in the 11th arrondissement, "between the former Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan," intentionally. She now manages to "live with what happened," refusing to succumb to the tyranny of terror.

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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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