Air travel has transformed the world over the last few decades. The ability to be get from continent to continent in a matter of hours has meant an increase in transatlantic commerce, tourism and much more. Despite the access that air travel has created, travel to the African continent has always been much more difficult than travel to other regions. Flights to African airports continue to be expensive, cumbersome (due to a lack of direct flights) and sometimes, dangerous as evidenced by the recent near crashes at Lagos' Murtala Mohammed Airport when new radar equipment shut down unexpectedly. Furthermore, African travelers typically complain of bad customer service, older airplanes, and outright disrespect as was the case with the 2008 Brutish Airways incident when 130 Nigerians were unceremoniously thrown off a flight at Heathrow Airport. But, now, with the recent revelations that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (now deemed the 'Nigerian Terrorist') attempted to blow up a plane, it is likely that travel to and from the continent could get more complicated.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR KENYANS & LIBERIANS
Direct flights to African airports are often hard to find, so when in June 2009, the United States decided on whether direct flights would be possible from certain African destinations, there were strong reactions. These flight routes were significant because they would ease the access of expatriates, tourists, and business people to specific regions of the continent. Kenyans, in particular, were expecting a new flight route from Atlanta, GA to Kenya's capital, Nairobi, a first between both countries in over 10 years. Kenyan officials planned to welcome the flight and the Minister of Transport bought a ticket on the sold out Delta Airlines flight just to commemorate the event. Not too long before takeoff, however, the U.S. government indefinitely suspended the Atlanta-Nairobi route, citing safety concerns. Kenyans, and others depending on the accessibility of that flight route, were left disappointed. Liberians were equally disappointed when the US government refused to permit direct flights to that West African nation's capital, Monrovia.
THE NIGERIAN FLIGHT ROUTE
Unlike Kenya, Delta Airlines received permission to fly directly to Abuja, Nigeria, thus expanding its reach in the country and region, in general. Nigeria's airports had to satisfy strict inspections and requirements and , were deemed safe. In fact, on December 2nd, 2009, Nigeria's national carrier, Nigeria Eagle, entered into a contract with Delta Airline to expand benefits to customers. The contract has a potential to increase business ties between both airlines.
However, given the recent incident with Abdulmutallab, one can only assume that travel to and from the African continent might become more cumbersome. It can be expected that the introduction of additional flight routes to the continent from the U.S. will be harder to come by, a reality that will affect millions. Travelers going to and leaving from certain African airports will likely be required to endure longer searches and security checks. Not to mention that the already difficult process of acquiring travel visas will become even more problematic for many. Nonetheless, one good thing that has already come out of this situation is that Nigeria announced it will implement full body scanners at airports. When challenged as to whether that announcement was a "vague promise", Harold Demuren of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, reacted forcefully, defending the Nigerian government's intentions to ensure that no terrorists could pass through a Nigerian airport ever again. It is quite possible that other African countries will equally invest in such technology, but most importantly, the focus on the need for better airport security is crucial, particularly in Nigeria which suffers from power outages even at airports.
One can only hope that this push for better airport security will have exponential benefits and in time will result in less difficult air travel to and from the African continent.The reality of Nigeria's economic importance will require that there be some level of accessibility and the growing number of African expatriates across the world will likely guarantee that travel increases, not diminishes between African airports and various international destinations. The only question remaining is how long will it take for the heightened security alerts to calm down. Unfortunately, the answer to that question depends on too many unknowns, but it will reveal itself eventually.
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- 'Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground For Terrorism'(May 2007).