Dispatch, Dubai 1: Swine flu stress

jeriOMANUAE162x120Travel Weekly's Jeri Clausing is on a trip to Dubai and Oman. Her first dispatch follows.

Even though the swine flu has waned, it wasn’t until I embarked on my trip to Dubai last week that I realized that it was going to add yet another stressful level to travel.

My trip was taking me from Denver to Los Angeles, where I would hook up with a 16.5-hour nonstop flight to Dubai.

As I settled into to my coach seat in Denver, a couple with a whining, squirming 2-year-olds squeezed in next to me. Great, I thought.

I like kids, but like everyone, not so much on airplanes. So I put on my headset and did my best to ignore the kicking, screaming and spilling toddler just two inches away.

It was when she grabbed my water bottle from the seat pocket in front of me that I realized I now had yet another thing to worry about everytime I get on a plane -- some new, potentially dangerous and evolving pandemic.

Now, I am not a germphobe. I have two big dogs that romp around in dirty rivers, parks and mountains as well as my bed. I share sweaty weights and equipment at the gym. I sip from friend’s glasses, even pick up food I’ve dropped on the floor. You know, the 3-second rule.

But after the 2-year-old was done playing with the water bottle and her father offered it back, I thought of all the germ factories where little girl may have been in recent days: daycare, playmates houses, etc., and that made me more nervous than the fact that I had been in Mexico when the outbreak peaked.

So I smiled and told him he could put it back in the seat back pocket in case she wanted it back to play with later. I then ordered myself a fresh water from the flight attendant.

Just a few more hours, I thought, and I’ll be comfortably encsoned in an Emirates Airlines busines-class seat with more privacy and enough space to keep potentially flu-ridden hands out of my business .

As luck would have it, I had a row to myself and seemingly healthy people all around me. So I settled in the very long flight on one of the cleanest airplanes I’ve every been on.

Near the end of the flight, the attendants handed out a sheet of paper asking for our names, seat numbers, contact info in Dubai and whether we were exhibiting any signs of the flu.

Apparently several people were, and decided to tell the airlines about it.

So when we finally landed and parked at the gate, we were told to remain seated until health officials cleared our plane. Medics came to the jetway, put the potentially sick people in wheelchairs to check their temperatures and give them physical exams while the rest of us sat impatiently and a bit nervously, wondering how this ultimately might affect us.

I thought of the travelers in Hong Kong, locked in their hotel rooms for a week because one guest in the building had swine flu. And I thought of the harsh reaction in China, where Mexico passport holders were rounded up and quarantined until their government chartered a plane to get them out of there.

I really hoped I hadn’t flown all the way to Dubai to end up in quarantine.

Fortunately, the exams took only about 30 minutes. And because Dubai had just installed the body-heat scanners became standard at major Asian airports after SARS, the rest of us were freed without incident to walk past the scanners and on to customs and immigration.

Even though the swine flu appears to be fairly minor and on the wane, the incident made me think that it could result in the addition of another screening element to a travel process that has already approached a breaking point for stress.

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