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Suspected SARS on flight

I successfully managed to fly out of Muscat airport this time, where they were playing 'Winter Wonderland' in the departures lounge bizarrely. On the flight I ended up sitting next to a guy fleeing from Iraq (can't mention any names but he did look familiar). As we flew over Dubai, the pilot put the plane into such a steep dive that I felt all the blood leave my legs while he made an announcement in Iranian, which worryingly sounded as if he'd started praying. For some reason an extra passenger had turned up for the flight and he had to stand all the way - the first plane I'd been on with standing room. We landed on the runway and the Iraqi guy next to me started struggling to get out of his seat. He didn't know how to unfasten his seatbelt (which is incredibly funny if you've seen Eddie Izzard's 'Circle'... but, I suppose, not funny at all if you haven't) so I had to give him a demonstration and help.

Due to different Muslim laws the women in Dubai don't have to be covered up, which after two weeks in Oman seemed almost pornographic. The following day I wandered around 'City Centre', one of Dubai's huge shopping malls, being shocked by them, then headed off to the airport to check in. Dubai's famed duty free didn't impress me too much and didn't seem to be very cheap, but the new terminal is very slick; the best part being that the announcements are made by a soft, sexy computerised voice with a slight echo that sounds as if it was taken straight out of Bladerunner. A man fell down the escalator (maybe his first time on one) while I was figuring out what kind of alcohol I could afford to buy with the rest of my UAE change (settled for some Nepalese rum, which was cheaper than a bottle of shampoo). I sat down and a guy sat down beside me with two hunting falcons on a perch. I'd once flown hunting birds in Scotland, but these were beautiful, powerful killing machines in comparison. While talking on his mobile he slipped his sandals off, and began playing with one of them with his toes.

I moved to the departure gate and waited for the flight to come in. There were only a few other passengers boarding from Dubai and eventually the plane landed and all the transit passengers disembarked and joined us in the waiting room. They were all Germans, one of whom stood in front of me wearing a leather waistcoat and talking loudly, opened a big can of Tuborg, and downed a pint in one gulp.

Finally, they announced that boarding could begin, but as they did so the airline staff began to hand out a stack of notices. I took one and read it. Apparently, someone on the flight was suffering from a suspected case of SARS, and due to this we were now all suspect carriers. It asked us to give the airline our individual details so that we could be reached if the person did turn out to have SARS, and said that the destination country would decide what action to take on our arrival. It also instructed us to take our temperature daily for the next ten days and to contact a doctor if it rose. The thought of getting SARS didn't bear thinking about, but worse than that, being rounded up and put into a sealed room with 300 badly dressed Germans was terrifying. The Germans were all standing waiting to board by this time, but I looked at one of the other guys who was joining the plane from Dubai and he looked back at me as if to say, "Shall we wait in the bar for the next flight?" Out of interest I asked one of the Asian staff if we were being given a choice of getting on this plane or not, but he just replied, "You get on plane!", in an imperialistic Japanese kind of way. I boarded, but had a nagging "Cassandra Crossing" feeling in the back of my mind.

We were all a bit conscious of anyone who was coughing on the flight, but I did get some sleep in the end. When the plane landed in Bangkok we were met by airport staff wearing masks and there were signs saying that everyone would have to undergo a medical. Seeing this, some of the Germans around me pulled out their masks and put them on as if this was perfectly normal on arrival in a foreign country. I got a bit lost in the airport after this, but didn't have to undergo a medical or anything unless I somehow missed it. Now I'm off to find someone to shove this thermometer up my bum.

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