Like millions of others, I was supposed to be flying over European skies last Saturday night—in my case to do a couple of days of media in Lisbon around the launch of the Portuguese edition of my book,“Porque É Que o Seu Mundo Vai Ficar Muito Mais Pequeno.”
Of course, I never got to Portugal. Most airports in Western Europe were closed due to the ash fallout from the still-exploding Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The much smaller world that I envisioned would come with triple-digit oil prices was coming a lot sooner than even I expected.
The airlines have a little more at stake than I do with my Portuguese book sales. They’re losing some two hundred and fifty million dollars a day from tens of thousands of cancelled flights over the course of the past few days. And the volcanologists suggest the eruptions could continue for several months. If that happens, European-based airlines won’t have to worry about triple-digit oil prices. Most will already have gone bankrupt from what volcanic ash alone will have done to air travel.
While airlines are on the front lines, just think of all the other ways the volcano has short-circuited the global economy. Consider the millions of meetings that never happened, the millions of business transactions that didn’t get made, the millions of missed hotel and car reservations. And think of the thousands of airline passengers who took global travel for granted only to find themselves stranded in European airports.
Naturally there are always exceptions. British comic John Cleese reportedly paid a $5,100 cab fare to get from Oslo to Brussels to circumvent the no-fly zone and make a gig. Those of us of lesser means stayed put; I, for example, am now writing a blog post in Toronto when I should be in some sunny café in Lisbon on a book tour.
But it’s not just people who aren’t able to get around. A good chunk of the global food supply chain also relies on air transport to ensure worldwide distribution. Think of all the havoc caused by broken supply chains in our interconnected global economy. From fresh pineapple from Ghana to fresh flowers from Kenya, Northern Europe’s already beginning to notice the disruption from the loss of air freight. The Freight Transport Association in the UK recently warned that British supermarkets could soon start running out of imported fruit and vegetables if the air embargo continues much longer.
Of course, the wind could change or the volcano could suddenly stop belching and all could quickly return to normal. But while it lasts, take careful note. It may well be a dress rehearsal for what lies ahead. What volcanic ash is doing today, triple-digit oil prices will do tomorrow.